I was having a glass of wine with a friend recently and she said, “Impostor Syndrome is the domain of the high achiever. Those who set the bar low are rarely its victim.”
We were discussing how some people seem to live in fear of being “found out” that they are not as good as others think they are and hold themselves back from doing things because they “feel like a fraud”. I’ve been interested in this topic, “Imposter Syndrome”, for some time and have been researching ways to overcome it. It’s a habit and like any habit, can be changed.
Imposter Syndrome is quite different to having moments of self-doubt. I remember listening to acclaimed novelist Maya Angelou being interviewed by Oprah and saying something about having written a dozen books and still wondering when some one was going to “find me out… the I can’t write”
Self-doubt makes us anxious and uncertain about whether we can do some thing or not. I’ve always believed that a bit of self doubt is healthy, is a “good thing” because it gives me an “edge” that forces me really to focus on what I’m doing and bring out my best everything.
Vincent van Gough said:
“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced”
Vincent is saying: “Fake it till you make it”. Today this is a key piece of advice for some one suffering from Imposter Syndrome.
When it comes to Imposter Syndrome, remember you are in good company. Some of the most famous and accomplished people have admitted to bouts of Imposter Syndrome; some of my personal favourites are Merryl Streep, Maya Angelou (above) and Michelle Pfeifer; “I still think people will find out that I’m really not very talented. I’m really not very good. It’s all been a big sham.”
Mostly it affects women, although apparently some men as well: Tom Hanks for instance and Seth Godin wrote in The Icarus Deception that after a dozen best sellers he still feels like a fraud all the time.
OK, so what to do? I’m with Vincent “fake it till you make it” also one of my personal favourites is “Just get started” and this is backed up strongly with “Stop thinking and stop talking about it’ The more we focus on some thing the more of it we create in our lives.
Often when I’m working with clients and they are deep in “what will they think of me?” or “They’ll find out ….” I ask them about their customers, their clients and what is the value the clients are seeking? I encourage my clients to focus on: What are you trying to do to help your client?
This takes the focus off the individual and being an imposter and puts the focus back where it needs to be – with their client and what it is the individual is doing for them to provide value – for them.
Years ago I heard Dr Phil say “You wouldn’t care so much about what people think about you if you knew how little they did” The reality is that so many people are worrying about being an imposter and being found out – by whom? Not that many people are actually paying attention to what you are doing nor are they particularly interested!
Which brings me to another fav: “Get over yourself” A friend said this to me years ago and while it was quite harsh at the time (I did go home and cry into my pillow) I did find it helpful.
One of the nicest ways to help ourselves deal with Imposter Syndrome is to keep a file of all the nice things that people say about us. Many years ago a mentor of mine suggested this as a way of keeping track of all the positive feedback I received from my (internal) clients over a year so that when it came to my performance review (a strange custom carried out annually in that particular large Corporation) I would have all the evidence of a job well done.
I have continued to do this and have a folder in my emails and in my electronic filing for all the compliments, thank you messages I receive. They come in particularly handy on days when I’m feeling a moment of self-doubt because they remind me of what I have done and what I am capable of doing.
This is a similar tactic as Make a list of all your key attributes, focus on what you can do and what you have achieved. Imposter Syndrome is a focus on what cannot be done and what cannot/ has not been achieved.
Glass half full, glass half empty
All in all I’m not sure I agree with my friend’s statement “Impostor Syndrome is the domain of the high achiever. Those who set the bar low are rarely its victim.” I believe that it’s not about where you set the bar, or whether or not you are a high achiever.
I believe Imposter Syndrome is a habit and like any habit it can be changed. Habits are created to help us primarily by reducing decision-making. Habits become stronger when they are rewarded. How to change the habit of Imposter Syndrome? Here is a summary of my suggestions from this article:
- Fake it till you make it
- You are in Good Company – lots of people feel the same and still manage to do Great Things
- Just Get Started
- Stop thinking about it AND definitely stop talking about it
- Focus on your clients/ customers and the value they are looking for
- Get over Yourself
- Keep a Compliments Folder/ File
- Make a list of all your key attributes, skills, achievements
I’m Ingrid Thompson and thank you for reading this post.
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