Do you feel a fraud? Do you feel like you’ll be found out at any moment? Do you try to act like someone else? If people feel they can’t be themselves at work, it can mean talent wasted and opportunities missed.
If you think your success is due purely to luck, that other people have got it wrong about you and that you’re going to be rumbled – you’re in good company. It’s high achievers who suffer most from the imposter syndrome.
And it’s not just successful people like Jamie Oliver, Nicola Sturgeon and Sheryl Sandberg – who have all admitted to feeling like imposters – many of us experience it at some time or other in our lives.
Maybe when we start a new job, switch careers or feel disadvantaged because of gender, age, cultural background, education – all kinds of things can prompt that feeling that we don’t fit in. Many compensate by trying to act like other people but if we start aping others we lose touch with ourselves.
What is it?
Dr Denise Cummins, an American Research Psychologist, offers a succinct definition: ‘The tell-tale sign of imposter syndrome is a disconnect between perceived and actual performance. “Impostors” have ample objective evidence that they are doing well—good performance reports, promotion history, grades, etc. Yet they feel that somehow they’ve been faking it or skating along on thin ice. Any minute now, they are going to be unmasked and revealed to be a fraud.’
Who has it?
Research shows that imposter syndrome affects both women and men. Women are more likely to be open about recognising it in themselves. For men it’s often more difficult to do that, perhaps because it feels like admitting to weakness. But for both sexes the habit of self-sabotage is likely to lead to risk avoidance, missed opportunities and talent wasted so it’s important for organisations to deal with it.
What can you do about it?
There are ways of overcoming the imposter syndrome – self-awareness is key. So is looking at other perspectives – perhaps other people’s good opinion of you is valid. It’s also worth exploring what you see as models of success – are you truly following your own ambitions and dreams or is your career based on someone else’s expectations? Where do these expectations come from? Childhood? School? Peers? Once you’ve identified and become aware of the expectations of yourself and where they came from, you can start taking the pressure off yourself and start measuring yourself by what you think is important. Is your work in tune with your own values and ethos?
As the imposter syndrome is fundamentally based on fear – fear of failure or an insurance against failure, coaching sessions can help restore confidence and encourage you not only to be yourself but also to value yourself.
It’s important to develop your own voice and style, to engage with people from the heart and to be authentic. Then the career path is clearer, you can face the future with confidence and make a difference on your terms.
About the authors
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