Episode 27 - It’s Time to Slay Imposter Syndrome
Hey Rebels! Welcome back to the podcast. So, let's talk about imposter syndrome. I know there's a lot of information out there about it, but I want to add to the conversation and provide some insights that may help you deal with this monster. Statistically, over 70% of people experience some form of imposter syndrome, so chances are it's reared its ugly head with you too.
I want to talk about imposter syndrome because if not dealt with, it can prevent you from being confident in all you have to offer, which can impact your productivity, effectiveness, and income. Imposter syndrome keeps you stagnant and unmotivated, which can lead to burnout, stress, and unhappiness. Ultimately it keeps you from living up to your full potential. Also, it's essential for you to know that imposter syndrome can manifest in very different ways and as Maya Angelou said, "when you know better, you do better."
Now the signs of imposter syndrome can vary, but if you:
Agonize over the smallest flaws in your work
Are you crushed by even constructive criticism, seeing it as evidence of your ineptness
Overthink everything or constantly second guess yourself
Understate your successes and exaggerate your failures
Downplay your achievements or successes
Discount compliments given to you
Have anxiety every time you face a new challenge
Over are constantly pursuing degrees, certifications, or trainings
Then you're probably suffering from some form of imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome doesn't discriminate. It can present whether you're already wildly successful or working to achieve some measure of success. But it's a feeling of fear caused by faulty thinking or a thought error that robs you of all you've achieved.
For example, your faulty thinking may look like this:
I just got lucky
I was just in the right place at the right time, or the "stars were aligned."
It's because they like me.
If I can do it, anyone can do it. I'm not that special.
They must let anybody in.
Someone must have made a terrible mistake.
I had a lot of help.
I had connections.
They're just being nice.
They felt sorry for me.
Fooled 'em again!
So, instead of success eliminating those feelings of fear, however, it only seems to make it worse because NOW you have to do it again to prove it wasn't a fluke. But it's all just a lie, a thought error, that we're choosing to believe, which is exhausting and frankly unnecessary.
Now, before you beat yourself, just know that you're in good company. Michelle Obama, actresses Emma Watson, academy award winner Olivia Coleman, and even Maya Angelou, to name only a few prominent women, have all suffered from imposter syndrome. In fact, Maya Angelou said, "I've written 11 books, but each time I think, 'Uh oh, they're going to find out now. I've run a game on everybody, and they're going to find me out."
Amy Cuddy has described imposter syndrome as "The deep and sometimes paralyzing belief we have been given something we didn't earn and don't deserve and that at some point we'll be exposed."
So it's this constant uncomfortable fear of being exposed or found out.
Imposter syndrome is not a low self-esteem issue or not believing you can do something because if that were the case, you would not have achieved your successes. Instead, it's a fraud complex and insecurity related to your knowledge or skills. You're not trying to pretend to be something you're not; you've just become a master at coming up with ways to explain away your success.
Now, I've found that most of our beliefs come from one of three places: familial, cultural, or societal, so you want to try and trace back where your imposter syndrome thoughts first originated. Knowing where they came from and whose voice is actually in your head.
Maybe as a kid, you heard or were told by family members, friends, teachers, or other close people around you things like:
You're not as smart as your brother or sister
Why can't you be more like Mary?
That's too hard for you, or "I just don't want to see you fail.'
"Stop showing off" or "You're always trying to be seen?"
Who told you you were that good?
Over-praised by parents
Under praised by parents
Your parents or siblings, or other family members constantly expressed their own fears and limitations
I can't "out achieve" my parents/siblings
Other family myths, narratives, and labels
Or maybe cultural origins like:
You have to work twice as hard as XYZ to be successful or get ahead (held to a higher standard)
You "can't" do that, or "our people" can't do that
"Stay in your lane" or "keep your head down," and you'll get ahead
Don't draw attention to yourself
You don't need help or don't ask for help; you just need to be better.
The burden of "collective success" - going to the right college, getting the right degree, landing the right job, working in the family business, marrying the right person, etc. (what you do reflects on everyone)
What school did you go to?
What degree(s) do you have?
What job do you hold?
What title do you hold?
How much do you make?
Where do you live?
What do you look like?
There could also be other things that contribute to or play a factor in your feeling like an imposter, such as:
You're a student (or in training), so you can't possibly know anything or as much as your mentors or teachers
You work alone - isolated
You work in a male-dominated field
You work in an environment or for a boss that breeds self-doubt
You're a creative among technical/analytical people
You're a technical/analytical person among creatives
You're changing careers, industries, or professions
If I'm too successful/competent/successful, I'll lose friends and family or be perceived unfavorably.
So, as a result of this way of thinking and the accompanying feelings of fear and discomfort that you're desperately trying to avoid, you usually engage in various coping mechanisms like:
Over-prepare and work overtime
Hold back from doing your absolute best
Procrastinate ("work best under pressure")
Never finish (it's in progress)
Use humor to play down your brilliance.
Now, Dr. Valerie Young is a leading expert on imposter syndrome. She co-founded the imposter syndrome institute and is the author of the book "The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It."
Through Dr. Young's research, she found five types of imposter syndrome, and I think it's important to understand them so you can discover which one you may suffer from and also learn the strategies to avoid it.
The five types she found are:
The Natural Genius
For the Perfectionist, this type of imposter syndrome manifests in unusually high and unreasonable standards and expectations. They're highly critical of themselves, and their work and success are rarely satisfying because they always believe they can do better.
Now, if that's you and you identify as a perfectionist, you'll want to slow down and learn how to celebrate your successes instead of glossing over them. The truth is, what you consider "satisfactory" far exceeds what's probably required, and you need to get comfortable with progress over perfection.
Author Julia Cameron of the Artist's Way said: "Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It's a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough."
Next is The Natural Genius. This type doesn't believe things should take effort. The thought around this fallacy is, "if it doesn't come easy, then I must not be good at it." If you were always called the "smart one" growing up or grades came easy to you in your early education, you may question whether or not that's true when you come across something hard or when they advance to higher levels of education. You may question your whole identity because of it. The problem here is that you're completely focused on your performance or appearing competent instead of believing that you don't know everything and can grow and learn new things.
Now, if this is you, you need to learn how to embrace the "in-between" and that learning something new doesn't negate your intelligence in other areas of your life and career.
Like Michaelangelo said: "If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful after all."
While you may possess some natural genius, and many people do, it doesn't mean you don't have to practice and improve your craft or learn something new to stay current and on top of your game. When you can learn to embrace that, you'll be able to embrace the truth that even as a genius, you can always learn something new. Effort always raises the bar on ability, so appreciate that great achievement requires lifelong learning.
Next is the Expert. Here Young describes this type as someone who feels like they never know enough. Their competency isn't based on what they know but on how much they know. I believe women are prone to this one because they grow up with an underlying message about a deficiency in their knowledge or abilities.
If you struggle with needing to be the expert, you believe that competence requires absolute knowledge, so you continuously pursue unnecessary training, degrees, and credentials. In fact, you won't go after a new role or position or engage in a career change until you feel like you've mastered all you need to know in that area.
The truth is, however, you don't need to read any more books, take one more class or get one more degree or certification before you can declare yourself an expert. It's only a way to hide and cover a deeper insecurity within yourself, maybe from some messaging you received about your abilities or intelligence in your youth or from your family.
To combat this, you can mentor junior colleagues or volunteer to engage your inner expert. And remember, you don't need to know everything; you just need to be smart enough to find someone who does!
I love this quote by Mike Myers that encompasses the Expert type of imposter syndrome so well. He said, "I still believe that at any time, the No-Talent Police will come and arrest me."
The Soloist type doesn't like asking for help. It sounds like, "If I know what I'm doing, why would I need help?" The belief is true competence equals unaided achievement. That if you receive help, support, or coaching, it doesn't count. Women who labor under the mythology of the "strong black woman" or the "tough" or "badass woman" also struggle with this because they interpret asking for help or support as an act of weakness.
This is one of the most dangerous types of imposter syndrome, especially for women of color, because it's isolating, and you never learn how to own your power and authority. When you're already one of the few in places and spaces of leadership, you live under the misguided assumption that everyone else got there on their own. When the truth is everyone who has achieved some level of success did so with the support or aid of someone or something else. And instead of seeing and knowing that truth, you question your abilities and competencies when you receive the slightest bit of support.
It's why so many women of color DO NOT hire or utilize coaches like myself, or if they do, they do so secretively, so no one will know. It's like a badge of shame instead of intelligence and professional savvy.
This over-inflated sense of self-sufficiency causes women to overcommit, overwork, and overtax themselves to the point of burnout, stress, high blood pressure, obesity, and heart disease. I believe that's why it's the number killer of women.
I think Les Brown had it right when he said, "Ask for help. Not because you're weak. But because you want to remain strong."
Help doesn't negate your abilities or competencies. Competency isn't knowing how to do everything yourself but instead knowing how to identify the resources needed to get the job done. And having additional help can mean more time, access, information, space, or money.
You don't need to be the "Lone Ranger" to be a strong woman, a badass, or effectively get the job done.
Finally, there's The Superwoman. This type sees themselves as inadequate next to their colleagues and peers. This can also be relatively prevalent in women, and people of color who have been conditioned with ideas such as "men are smarter at math and science" or "people of color have to work twice as hard to be seen as competent." These types of messages become internalized, causing us to consistently see ourselves as inadequate.
Comparison is your kryptonite because you often make unequal and unrealistic comparisons. In other words: you think you're supposed to look like Halle Berry, have the ambition of Kamala Harris, the financial savvy of Melonie Hobson, the flair of Anna Wintour, and the benevolence of Mother Teresa. It's like the Perfectionist, natural genius, and soloists all rolled into one and on steroids.
If this is you, you'll have to learn to stop comparing and judging yourself. Also, stop overextending yourself and learn to distinguish between what's essential and what's not. "No" is a complete sentence that needs no further explanation.
Keep in mind that while "You can do anything. You can't do everything." To celebrate all you have to offer, get support where you need to, and stop thinking; the buck must always start and stop with you.
It's important to know that imposter syndrome doesn't really go away, but its power over you can be greatly limited. So, when experiencing fear and anxiety related to imposter syndrome, don't try to suppress it; instead, explore it so you can understand how it may manifest in your life and career so you can stop operating within its limited framework.
Try these six steps:
Acknowledge they you're feeling like an imposter and try to determine which type you're experiencing.
Determine what you're thinking and where it's coming from family, cultural, societal, or other.
Look at the coping mechanism you're engaging in or about to engage in.
Ask yourself: How is this impacting me? What is it costing me? What opportunities am I missing out on?
Spend some time brainstorming intentional thoughts about what you want to believe instead. Find thoughts that will work for you.
Then consider what new action steps you can embrace to reinforce your new thoughts, beliefs, and feelings.
Spend time leaning into your genius, strengths, skills, and values. This is the work I do with my clients in the Career Rebel Academy, and it's the FIRST step of my Triple-A Framework. When you can develop cellular level confidence in these things and learn to manage your mindset and faulty thinking, you're in a better position to combat the adverse effects of imposter syndrome.
Also, start normalizing conversations around success and achievements, and get comfortable talking about your capabilities. If you're in leadership, do this with your team. When you start shifting your thinking, you'll ultimately shift your results.
It's a daily practice. After all, you didn't get here overnight, and it won't change in one sitting.
These steps will help you slay the effects of imposter syndrome once and for all.
Well, there you have it, Rebels.
Before we go, I want to invite you to attend a monthly facilitated discussion on how to successfully navigate the key issues facing midlife career professional women, particularly those who are senior leaders, rising executives, and experienced high-achievers. I call it, The Boardroom.
Our next roundtable will be on Friday, June 24th, at 10 am PST. You can register at www.carolparkerwalsh.com/boardroom, and I'll also add the link in the show notes for your convenience. If you can't make it, you'll get a recording of the roundtable, but if you attend, you'll have a chance to submit questions in advance or get your questions around the topic answered live in our session.
It's an excellent opportunity to discuss the things you don't have space or time to discuss anywhere else, and it's just for you.
Ok, until next time, have an amazingly rebellious week!