Imposter Syndrome: Why it’s a good thing after all

Imposter Syndrome – you may have heard the term. It’s doing the rounds.

The terms puts a name to that feeling you get when you don’t think that you belong and you’re going to be found out at any point.

You feel like you’re winging it when everyone around you thinks you’re plain sailing.

It sounds like some kind of disease that you can’t shake but there’s good news!!! 

Phew! If you feel like you might have a dose of imposter syndrome then you’re a high achiever! It strikes people with exceptionally high standards and those that are driven to achieve and move forward.

Who’s that I hear you ask? Well it’s goal getters, leaders, people with ‘high potential’, ‘high professionals’ and those who are committed to quality and delivery. In other words, it’s the person sitting next to you, your colleague you watch presenting, peers, superiors and friends.

Being a high achiever is something to be proud of, so if you’re feeling the side effects, just know that you’re in good company.

Chances are the people you’re comparing yourself against are feeling it too. 

So, it’s not all bad. The even better news is that you can recover from imposter syndrome! 

For those of you that haven’t heard the term or want to learn more, let’s take a closer look at this confidence zapping Imposter Syndrome.

What is it and how do you catch it?

After this we’ll look at some ways to shift it. 

The bottom line of Imposter Syndrome is that you feel like a failure or a fraud despite overwhelming evidence that this is not the case. People who relate to Imposter syndrome often: 

  • Feel like they don’t belong
  • Think they are inferior
  • Lack confidence and self belief
  • Feel like they have less to offer than their peers
  • Believe that luck or fluke has led them to the position they are in
  • Find it hard to accept praise, recognition or feedback and dismiss it as ‘nothing’ 
  • Feel stressed and overwhelmed at the thought of being ‘found out’
  • Worry about making mistakes
  • Believe that everyone around them is more capable than them

If you can relate to some of the above then chances are you’ve caught this ugly syndrome. How did this happen? Well, drawing on some of the work from Dr Valerie Young who has written about this in her book “The secret thoughts of successful women”, and sharing some of my own observations as a coach, let’s take a look at how you might have caught it. 

1. Being a perfectionist

Perfectionists set themselves impossibly high standards, because, they want to be perfect!

The sad thing is that there is no such thing as perfection and so perfectionists rarely if ever get a sense of achievement or satisfaction from their work. They are too busy consumed by what they could have done even better, or what they didn’t get to do. 

If you never feel that you achieve, or worse, always feel that you are not good enough, that’s a one way ticket to feeling like an imposter. 

I wrote a blog about perfectionism a number of weeks ago. You can check it out here

2. Having something to prove

Do you work to prove or improve? 

When you work long into the night, putting in beyond reasonable hours are you doing it because you just LOVE what you do? Are you happy to sacrifice your hobbies and family time for work? OR, do you secretly feel that you have to put in the work and keep up the pace because you have to prove that you can? What would happen if you didn’t? Maybe you feel that you’d fall behind and ‘get found out’. Can you only be ‘good enough’ by going beyond the extra mile? 

If you feel you have something to prove then you leave yourself wide open for Imposter Syndrome. Try asking yourself, what is it I’m trying to prove? Chances are you’re not sure. How do you know when you’re done proving? You won’t. You’ll keep proving, and keep working. It’s likely that only burn out will stop you. 

3. Finding something hard means you’re stupid

You can catch imposter syndrome if you expect to find things easy all the time. Perhaps you look around and see that people can do things you can’t. You see other people’s unique talent and assume that you have none. 

Maybe you’ve been blessed with an easy schooling, or you’ve been gifted in sport. Perhaps you’ve never really had to try that hard – until NOW. 

In a world where companies are fighting over the best talent you are going to be working with some of the best people in your game. They are going to be able to do things that you can’t and they’re going to have skills that you don’t. But you know what, you have qualities that they don’t. The beauty of bringing talented people together is that you get to work as a team, using each others strengths in your creations. 

If you fail to recognise your own talents and gifts, you’re a likely candidate for Imposter Syndrome! 

4. The need to be an expert

Some imposters have a high need for being the expert. Their value goes hand in hand with how much they know. Breaking news here – you can never know it all. When faced with a situation where you don’t know all the answers, or you’re working with someone who knows more than you then watch out – Imposter syndrome could be coming your way. 

 So now you know how you catch it, how do you avoid catching it in the first place, or if you do have it, how do you recover? 

1. Set yourself realistic expectations

Keep in check with reality. When you are setting goals and setting your standards be realistic. 

I recognise this is controversial because being realistic is a game of judgment. However, if you recognise you have standards that are impossibly high, or leave you feeling stressed, overwhelmed and, dissatisfied with your performance then try adjusting your standards. 

Recognise what good enough looks like. Calibrate with others. Save your impossible high standards for the things that really matter. I’m not talking about underselling yourself, I’m talking about re-calibrating. 

2. Celebrate your successes

Linked to #1, celebrate your success. Pause and take a moment to reflect on what you have achieved and how you achieved it. Who has been part of your journey? Wouldn’t they like to stop and honour the effort they had to put in. 

When you stop to celebrate your success you tell yourself “I’m worth this”, you put a deposit in the bank of achievement and mark it as a moment worth remembering. 

The reflection will help you to learn and grow. By reflection, I’m talking about what went well, what worked, what are you proud of. Yes, it’s important to consider what could have been better, but if you know it’s in your nature to spend too much time on this then force yourself to flip your thinking and focus on the positives. 

I wrote a blog about celebrating your successes recently. Check it out here. 

3. Learn what your unique gifts and talents are

You bring something to the plate. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be feeling like an imposter. You wouldn’t have the chance to be an imposter if you really weren’t any good! 

What do you bring? Where do you find things easy? What are your strengths, talents and qualities? Which roles do you enjoy playing in a team? What do others see in you? When you’re asked for help, what are people coming to you for? 

When you stop focusing on what others do better than you it gives space for your own personal refection. 

If you’re not used to this kind of thinking you might need to involve others and get some help with this. 

4. Let go of the need to have all the answers. 

No-one has all the answers. It’s not possible. There are very smart people in the world, you could even be one of them, but there is always something you won’t know. That’s the joy of learning! 

Needing to have all the answers gives a false sense of security. You’re focusing on the impossible. Instead, focus on what you do in the instances where you don’t have the answer.  How resourceful are you? Where do you go to get your answers? How strong is your network? 

Not knowing something does not make you ‘less than’. Where you might fall down is if you can’t work out where to go to find the answers or how to handle situations when you don’t. 

5. Recognise where your comfort zone begins and ends

When you know what you’re doing, you have the answers, things are going well, you feel confident and strong, it’s likely you’re firmly inside your comfort zone. If you’re challenged and under pressure, or things are ambiguous and unclear you feel less confident. Perhaps you feel anxious. 

These are all normal feelings. You’re moving beyond your comfort zone. You’re entering your stretch zone, also known as your learning zone. As humans we’re hard wired to avoid any sense of danger. These feelings of discomfort are designed to make us retreat, but push through the discomfort and you learn, grow and develop. Your comfort zone gets bigger. 

If something is uncomfortable it doesn’t mean that you’re no good at it. It just means you’re learning. Everyone you’re comparing yourself to feels the same way when they’re learning something new. Maybe they don’t need to learn the same things as you, but they have at some point had to learn it!

Stay focused on your needs. 

6. Step up and be proud

If you find yourself as an imposter then take a moment to recognise what that means. You are in the company of Kings and Queens. This means that you are most likely one to. Someone is likely to feel that way about you. Be proud that you have achieved at such a level that you are accepted as one of them. 

Use the opportunity to learn from these Kings and Queens, build your relationships with them and challenge yourself to up your game (in a healthy way), because you’re inspired by the company you keep. 

Work with a coach

Still struggling with Imposter Syndrome? Try working with a coach. A coach will help you to identify your strengths and talent, they’ll also help you to confront any fears/worries you have and work with you to build new habits and strategies that enable you to overcome those fears. 

Working with a coach will help you to see where you sabotage yourself and they’ll help you to create empowering behaviours that propel your career forward. 

A coach knows that as an imposter you’re a talented, hardworking, successful person and they will help you to see yourself as others see you. 

If you think I might be the coach for you then contact me now on hello@zoe-hawkins.com. I’ll be happy to talk about how I could help. 

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