Updated: Nov 4, 2021
I have experienced the impact of imposter syndrome my whole life. I get nervous every time I step onto stage (or turn on my Zoom these days) to give a workshop or keynote talk. No matter how many times I hit it out of the park, I remember that time I bombed. Every time I am in front of a new audience, I experience a twinge of doubt that sounds like this, “What if they already know all of this, and feel like I just wasted their time?”
My experience as professional speaker is a classic case of imposter syndrome. I have been a highly successful entrepreneur for decades, as well as a successful speaker and author. If you judge me by my accomplishments, I look confident and self-assured. I am called a “warrior”, a “badass” and “Wonder Woman”. However, if you could climb inside my mind, you would hear those whispers of “just who do you think you are?” and “I am not [fill in the blank] enough to do this.” I know I am not alone. There’s a reason Imposter Syndrome is a syndrome – because far too many of us have it.
Leaders, especially, must learn to recognize Imposter Syndrome – not only in themselves – but also in their teams. It can cripple productivity and any level of an organization if left unaddressed.
The Signs Of Imposter Syndrome
The #1 challenge when it comes to battling Imposter Syndrome is realizing we suffer from it. That’s right. Most people who have it aren’t aware it is the root problem, and spend much of their efforts battling its symptoms instead. Here are some of the signs you real issue is imposter Syndrome. You might resonate with one or two, or all of them may hit home for you:
1. You Are Overwhelmed
Overwhelm results from trying to do too much, all at once. Beneath it is the belief that if we don’t do it all, right now, and by ourselves, we will have somehow failed. The irony is by trying to be all things to all people at the same time, we are setting ourselves up to fail at one or all of the things we are attempting. This only further validates a sense of being not enough.
2. You Can’t Get Enough Credentials
There is always more to learn. However, if you find yourself collecting an endless list of acronyms, taking unending classes and courses in order to gain confidence in your ability or authority, this can be a sign of Imposter Syndrome. It blocks you from learning through action, which is ultimately necessary.
3. You Constantly Put Others First
It is wonderful to be supportive and helpful. When we do this to our own detriment, we are depleting our internal resources, creating scarce energy for anyone at all. This is apparent when we never get our own work done, lose sleep, have no time for relaxing and personal growth activities.
4. You Feel Stuck or Blocked Inexplicably
Imposters tend to work extremely hard, but their progress doesn’t reflect the effort they are expending. Often this shows up as under earning, or a career stall out.
5. You Suffer from Negative Self-Talk, Doubt and Uncertainty
We all have negative self-talk. Imposters are deeply influenced by it. They question themselves constantly, shifting direction, seeking out other people for validation, and often are immobilized as a result.
6. You Compare Yourself To Others
Social media makes comparison to competitors and peers all-to-easy. This is an Imposter’s worst nightmare, where they can see all the external success of others, and question why we aren’t there in their shoes.
7. You Feel Like A Victim of Your Circumstances
If you feel like bad things happen that are random and beyond your control, that is one expression of victimhood. Feeling like good things happen without your influence is another. Both deny our role and responsibility for mistakes and successes.
8. You Have A Difficult Time Identifying Your Feelings
Imposters are often unaware of their own internal compass. Feelings such as desire, hope, fear, anger, disappointment and joy lurk just below the surface. These feeling are only acknowledged as a direct result of a particular event, or are delayed until well after the event. Sometime the feelings surface so far from their original source that they seem almost random or disjointed.
The Different Imposter Archetypes
According to Valerie Young, in The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, there are five common Imposter types – and candidly – I’ve been every one of them at one time or another. See if any of these feel familiar:
The Perfectionist: Perfectionists are never satisfied and always feel that their work could be better. Rather than focus on their strengths, they tend to fixate on any flaws or mistakes. This often leads to a great deal of self-pressure and high amounts of anxiety.
The Superhero: Because these individuals feel inadequate, they feel compelled to push themselves to work as hard as possible.
The Expert: These individuals are always trying to learn more and are never satisfied with their level of understanding. Even though they are often highly skilled, they underrate their own expertise.
The Natural Genius: These individuals set excessively lofty goals for themselves, and then feel crushed when they don’t succeed on their first try.
The Soloist: These people tend to be very individualistic and prefer to work alone. Self-worth often stems from their productivity, so they often reject offers of assistance. They tend to see asking for help as a sign of weakness or incompetence.
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
It is 100% possible to overcome Imposter Syndrome, regardless how long you have been under its influence. It is a process that requires extensive practice. Next week I will explore some of the best tools to break free of Imposter Syndrome’s grip, but for the meanwhile, I encourage you to begin with a very basic, powerful one:
Grow your self-awareness. Becomes a curious and interested observer of yourself. Detach from the inner dialog, and simply witness it. The common thread in all the symptoms of Imposter Syndrome is an imbalance in the amount of attention we are giving to our inner and outer world. By bringing the focus back to your internal motivations, skills, feelings and beliefs first, and more often, you will begin to recognize your own inherent worthiness and real power.
The best way to loosen the grip of Imposter Syndrome is to call it what it is. When you do it loses its power over you. That doesn’t eliminate it entirely, because it is an old habit and a long-standing limiting belief. Still, once you know what is going on, there are some wonderful tools that help you own your greatness, even in the face of inner doubt and criticism.
Have a handy set of positive affirmations that retrain your brain. You don’t even have to fully believe them at first. Just keep saying them until they become familiar territory.
Be willing to take imperfect action and learn by doing. No learning process is faster.
Keep a written record of your wins. It can be easy to dismiss, overlook or – worse – forget your successes. The more you make a point to record them, the more aware you are of you amazing track record.
Celebrate your wins. Whether you do a happy dance or buy that new handbag – stop and savor your moment – yes, even if it was simply doing the dishes after a grueling day.
Delegate up. Ask for help and do so with people who might be more experienced or outwardly successful than you. When you can spot greatness in others, and compliment them for it by asking for their guidance, you are claiming that greatness for yourself.
Give your gifts, talent and time. But do it because you know the powerful value of each one, instead of to get approval and recognition.
Have a humorous dialog with your inner critic. Acknowledge her – there you are again! Thanks for sharing!