Imposter syndrome. It’s a hot topic – we’re talking about it on social media, major news outlets are grabbing our attention with thought-provoking headlines, and well-known public figures are sharing their stories with us. It’s no wonder, then, that many, many leaders out there (including myself) – in being the humans that we are – also suffer from this deadly-to-the-soul syndrome.
Exactly what is the Imposter Syndrome, anyway?
It may be simplest to explain what imposter syndrome is by clarifying what it isn’t. We’ve all probably felt tinges of performance anxiety or stage fright before a major presentation at some point. I know I sure have.
Imposter syndrome is much deeper than a few minutes of anxiety ahead of a big event. It’s a feeling that we don’t belong – that even if we’re a part of something, we don’t deserve to be there. Perhaps you can relate to some thoughts common to imposter syndrome:
- I don’t belong here.
- Everyone will know I’m faking it.
- I didn’t earn / don’t deserve this.
- It’s a matter of time before I’m exposed.
- I know they’re secretly judging me.
More specifically, the Cambridge Dictionary defines Imposter Syndrome as:
“the feeling that your achievements are not real or that you do not deserve praise or success.”
How often do we let the imposter syndrome block our greatness?
It doesn’t take much effort to realize the profound impact imposter syndrome can have upon our life – as a leader and as a human being. Yet, many of us experience it to a certain degree. We may:
- Second-guess ourselves excessively
- Focus intently on how others might view us
- Overemphasize what we “should be” doing (this one’s my favorite J)
- Downplay (rather than embrace) our achievements
- Overly fixate on small or insignificant “failures”
In an aptly titled article, I Don’t Deserve to be Here: Presence and the Impostor Syndrome, Amy Cuddy shares the following quote.
“Impostor-ism steals our power and suffocates our presence. If even you don’t believe you should be here, how will you convince anybody else?”
Wow. How’s that for some deep reflection? Deep but true. Why should anyone else believe we deserve to be here if we don’t? Sounds so simple. If only it were easy to get over. But still…
Envision the power you have to transform your own life experience. What if all the self-deprecating thoughts running through your head were replaced by a celebration of you as a being from the sky with a distinct purpose that only you can fulfill? And more importantly…how do you get to that level of awareness and understanding?
Banish that Imposter and say hello to the authentic, precious YOU!
As with any true transformative experience, imposter syndrome isn’t something you can make vanish with the wave of a magic wand (don’t we wish!). Instead, you’ll need to make a commitment – step by positive step – to come into your own presence and to be ever aware of the inner dialogue that’s running through your head.
Here are some simple steps to help you out on this:
1- Consider a socio-cultural component, rather than a worthiness one: Ask if you’ve been conditioned to see yourself as “less than” or never quite “good enough” to belong. An HBR article points out that research indicates in professional settings, insecurity experienced by women and minorities is more a social issue rather than a psychological one.
“While women are constitutionally just as confident as men, a cocktail of conflicting messages and personal feedback tinged with bias — be more assertive but less confrontational, be authentic but less emotional — puts them in circumstances that would make anyone second guess themselves,” assert authors Weber and Petriglieri.
2- Practice the power of the present moment. In leadership and in life, practicing awareness has benefits that stretch far beyond what’s happening in your life right now. After all, INSEAD and Harvard did not list Mindfulness as the #3 top leadership trait for nothing ;-).
We’re all aware that the first step in addressing an issue is recognizing it, and that’s where awareness comes in.
How often are we aware of our own thoughts? The next time a disagreeable or stressful situation arises, we can take a quiet moment to center ourselves and to notice our thought patterns – how familiar is this pattern? What shifts do we notice in our bodies or our minds?
“New situations may stoke old fears; future sensations of inadequacy might reawaken long-forgotten insecurities. But the more we are aware of our anxieties, the more we communicate about them, and the smarter we are about how they operate, the easier they’ll be to shrug off the next time they pop up.”
3- Put it all in perspective. Very often, we humans become so focused on “me” that we forget all about the greater “we.” While we’re obsessing over what someone else will think of us or wondering how the perceptions others have of us will affect future professional interactions, we are leaving little time to focus on the bigger picture.
Why is it that we don’t consider that other people – yes, even those we would never guess – are also experiencing many of the same thoughts that we are? What do you think the #1 fear of executives worldwide is?
If you guessed being found incompetent, you’re right on target according to at least one survey. We might all find that by taking the focus off ourselves and expanding our conscious awareness to those around us, our authenticity naturally shines.
And, as always, let’s remember not to be hard on ourselves. Like anything else, this is a process of growth. Over time, the deepened understanding we gain of ourselves expands to include others as well. It’s like peeling away the thickened layers of your consciousness to reveal our unique greatness waiting within.
The result? Deeper meaning and greater authenticity in all that we do, which positively influences our relationships (and just about every other area of life) as well.
Jumpstart your efforts to banish the inner Imposter – sign up today for my FREE e-series, 5 Steps to a More Confident You!
Colleen Slaughter Raue, Managing Partner of Authentic Leadership International
Colleen is a transformational leadership coach who guides international leaders as they attain the clarity, courage and self-confidence necessary to realize higher levels of productivity and fulfillment in both their personal and professional lives.
Her purpose is to facilitate her clients’ transformation from limiting beliefs and self-doubts into a deeper, more powerful knowingness of how much they – and what they envision for themselves – truly matter.
Colleen’s perspectives were recently featured in an article on the International Coach Federation’s website here.