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The lies our imposter syndrome tells us

Updated: Jan 10

Ever felt like you might be winging it? That you’re not good enough? That you don't belong? That your success is just luck? That you’re going to get found out at any moment?

Personally, I’ve felt like this walking into numerous boardrooms over my career. I’ve often been the only white woman in her late 30s where everyone else is “pale, male and stale”.

Feeling comfortable in an environment that you perceive to be a boys’ club – or any type of clique – is tough. It makes you doubt yourself. It makes you question your ability. Sometimes it makes you wonder if you’re there as a gender box-checking exercise rather than on merit.

But this isn’t just a female complaint; there are many men out there who also experience this sort of self-doubt and limiting beliefs.

Woman struggling with imposter syndrome

Feeling incompetent, that you’re faking it and harbouring a fundamental dread that you’re going to be exposed or “found out” at any moment are signs of Imposter Syndrome – a psychological behaviour identified back in the late 1970s by Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes. Symptoms include a propensity to explain away success, a tendency for perfectionism and a fear of failure.

It isn’t something to feel ashamed about. Despite your colleagues appearing confident and self-assured, everyone at some point has those introspective moments of inadequacy. If it takes hold it can be distracting, damaging and pervasive. It can cause toxic stress and even lead to depression.

Make sure you don’t let the voice in your head get in the way of your achievements and your goals – here are a few tips to help:

Support is crucial.

As leaders it is imperative that we are approachable and find ways to share our journey. Research has found that women are more likely to internalise mistakes and criticism – perhaps because we feel that we are judged and more closely scrutinized (either consciously or not) by a different standard. This can mean that we pull up the drawbridge. But if we share our experiences then the sense of isolation lessens, and we can help each other move forward.

Know your value.

Take time to think about what you have to offer, accept that you have had some role in your achievements thus far – it’s not luck that has driven your career to date. We’re all learning and improving so have patience. Try to recognise learning opportunities and use them as a chance to grow. Don’t be afraid to fail from time to time and know that we all do.

Flip your thoughts.

Imposter syndrome is a mind-trap that stops you believing in yourself. This negative internal narrative has been circulating for a while so it will take time to change your thought pattern, but it can be done. Just take it a step at a time.

How about a little exercise?

  • What one negative thought is bothering you right now?

  • How would you like to feel about it? (How can you turn your negative thought into something positive?)

  • How does that make you feel?

  • What can you do to make this positive thought a reality? (Focus on four or five things here)

  • What could you gain from making this a reality?

  • What could be the first step?

We run regular in-person and virtual workshops on building confidence and resilience for individuals. Find out more about our confidence and resilience coaching.

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