“I have written eleven 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,” once said acclaimed novelist Maya Angelou.
Her fear is one I’ve heard expressed before by other women. Women like Andrea, the Global HR Director for a large cosmetics company, who shared with me she is sure that any day executive management will realize she wasn’t fully qualified for her role. Or Debra, a successful DC attorney, who told me that she often feels like people think she knows more than she does and, ironically enough, the aspects of her job in which she feels the most insecure are those in which she has the greatest expertise.
Ever fear being exposed as an “Impostor”? That’s Imposter Syndrome
The sentiment these women shared is one I’ve heard many times, and nearly always by women! That is, they feel undeserving of their success and often fear being ‘found out’ as not smart or talented or deserving or experienced or (fill in the blank) as other people think. As self-doubt gradually chips away at their self-confidence it drives them to settle, to sell out and stop them from reaching higher, where they run even more risk of being exposed as impostors.
It’s a common phenomenon. Researchers believe that up to 70% of people will suffer from it at some point in their career (and yes, more women than men!) Of course, no one (apart from serial narcissists) is immune to self-doubt. It’s very human to occasionally wonder whether we really have what it takes to accomplish our goals and fulfill the expectations others have of us.
What matters most is not whether you occasionally (or regularly) fear failing, looking foolish or not being ‘enough’; it’s whether you give those fears the power to keep you from taking the actions needed to pursue your ambitions, achieve your goals and fulfill the potential still dormant within you.
Unfortunately, too often people do.
5 Ways to Beat Imposter Syndrome: FOCUS ON YOUR VALUE, NOT PERFECTIONISM
As I wrote in my latest book, Brave: 50 Everyday Acts of Courage to Thrive in Work, Love and Life, there’s a distinct and crucial difference between giving your best and being the best. Likewise, there’s a difference between trying to better yourself and being better than everyone else on the planet.
Overcoming the “Impostor Syndrome” requires accepting that you don’t have to attain perfection or achieve Da Vinci-like mastery to be worthy of your success. It’s not about lowering the bar; it’s about resetting it to a realistic level that doesn’t leave you forever striving and feeling inadequate. You don’t have to be Einstein to be a valuable asset to your organization and those around you. You simply have to be the full quota of you!
5 Ways to Beat Imposter Syndrome: NEVER DIMINISH YOUR SUCCESS
It’s likely no surprise that those who set the bar low are rarely victims of the Impostor Syndrome as it is the domain of the high-achiever. And so if you are relating to what I’m sharing, then just know that it’s because you are someone who isn’t willing to settle for mediocrity and rather, you’re a woman who reaches high; who wants to do your best at work and give your best to the world. A noble aim to be sure.
But just as we owe it to ourselves to take responsibility for our mistakes and failures in life, we must also take responsibility for our wins and successes. People struggling with Impostor Syndrome often attribute their success to external factors – like luck or a helping hand. Unsurprisingly, women tend to do this much more than men who are more likely to chalk up their good fortune to a combination of internal factors, like grit, talent, brains and sheer hard work.
Minimizing your success doesn’t serve anyone. So if you sometimes feel undeserving of your success, write down a list of all that you’ve accomplished (including all the challenges you’ve overcome) over the last 12 months. We may have never met, but I would hazard a guess that even the fruits of 12 months effort will help you realize that you’ve earned every bit of the success, influence and respect you enjoy.
5 Ways to Beat Imposter Syndrome: CEASE THE NEGATIVE COMPARISIONS
“If only I could read a P&L as well as Ruth
“If only I was as creative like Chris.
“If only I could speak with the confidence of John
As women, we can sometimes become too good at comparing our weaknesses with others’ strengths. All of which only fuel any nagging sense of inadequacy. All the while, others are hoping to be good at X, Y and Z as you are!
Likewise, we also often compare our insides with others’ outsides. Acutely aware of how hard we’re working to keep our head above water and enjoy the confidence, clarity and courage we want, we often assume others are getting by effortlessly. The reality is that most people are struggling just like you. Perhaps not in just the same way or with the same gremlins, but in their own way with their own unique set of challenges, insecurities and internal struggles.
Fear of being ‘found out’ can drive us to stick with what we know we’re good at, where risk of being uncovered is minimized, letting fears sit at the helm in life is a surefire recipe for lackluster mediocrity; or as Thoreau put it, “a life of quiet desperation.”
While playing safe removes the immediate risk of exposure, it opens up the greater risk of never knowing just how capable, deserving and “more than” worthy you truly are.
Sure, it takes courage to take on challenges and pursue aspirations that leave you vulnerable to being exposed as unworthy. But in refusing to let your inner gremlin dictate your choices, you open new doors to discover new strengths, reinforce old ones and validate the unique value you have to bring. And even if you never accomplish all you aspire toward, you will accomplish so much more than you otherwise would and, in the process, come to realize that the only impostor you’ve ever had to worry about is that fearful voice inside your head.
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