Imposter Syndrome: Let’s talk about it
If you are affected by Imposter Syndrome, you know that it can make you feel enormously isolated and anxious at work. The good news is that a great way to begin overcoming it is also very simple and something you can start doing immediately.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome is a conviction that you are a fraud, not truly deserving of your position or your achievements.
Those with Imposter Syndrome describe a constant fear of being ‘found out’ as being incapable, convinced that up until now they have only managed to fool others into thinking that they are talented.
Incidentally, the objective evidence in terms of performance typically screams the opposite and in fact points to someone who is very, very competent.
Contrary to what you might assume, Imposter Syndrome affects men as well as women, is spread across industry sectors, and can affect CEOs just as much as recent graduates or the self-employed.
Note: If you are suffering from acute levels of anxiety, stress and/or depression, you should also seek specialist therapeutic support such as counselling or psychotherapy.
How it takes effect
If you experience Imposter Syndrome you are likely to display at least some of these behaviours: perfectionism; explaining away your successes (all obtained through strokes of luck, obviously); frequently overworking to compensate for your perceived lack of ability; and not speaking up in group settings for fear of revealing gaps in your knowledge. Other more insidious traits include not going for promotion opportunities and not insisting on fair payment for work.
All in all, there is an inability to truly internalise your own success –let alone own it and enjoy it. Imposter Syndrome really is rather a killjoy.
Why some people become more deeply sensitive to self-doubt in this way and others do not is still open for discussion among researchers. Some cite early family dynamics and expectations, as well as cultural and societal attitudes. Others refer to a sense of not belonging or being different due to sex, race or social background. Particularly hostile work environments can also have a part to play.
In my experience as a coach, it is normally a combination of a few of these factors but can also be attributable to an individual’s completely unique personal experiences.
You are not alone
There is enormous comfort to be gained from knowing you are not alone in feeling the effects of Imposter Syndrome. So let us be crystal clear on this: You are not alone in feeling like this. In fact, you are not even close to being alone, you are not even in a minority. Statistically, 70% of people will feel similar effects at some point.
The fact that Imposter Syndrome is common does not mean it manifests to the same degree in those it affects, nor that it should be allowed to continue unchecked. The opposite is true – precisely because of its widespread nature and because of the tools and strategies available for improving many of the effects, we should focus on it more.
Talk about it
There are many strategies and exercises used in coaching that can help you start to overcome Imposter Syndrome. One particularly effective way is also fairly straightforward: talk about it.
Vocalising your experience is empowering in itself and many sufferers find that just the act of saying how they feel out loud helps them to identify ways forward.
So do talk to others about your Imposter Syndrome related feelings. For example, speak honestly about it with loved ones or close friends. Their views and advice can be more insightful than you might think and you will feel less burdened generally.
Also try sharing how you feel with trusted colleagues. If they comfort you, let them and listen to them – their perspectives can help you to close the gap between how you feel inside and how you appear to the outside world.
Others have found seeking out mentors and confiding in them can be of real benefit. They can gain insider tips on how to navigate the way forward.
Build your support network
Another good reason to talk about Imposter Syndrome is that this automatically encourages others who may be suffering in silence to share their experiences too. You are likely to be surprised at how many people admit to you that they can relate to your feelings.
The more colleagues and friends you find who feel the same, the greater the support network you can build. This can be invaluable. Talk to each other and lift each other up. You will hopefully start to slowly view yourself differently as you instinctively champion them to do the same.
Take the first step
If you are going to overcome Imposter Syndrome you have to try doing things differently and this can, understandably, be daunting at first. Talking about it a little more is a simple way to at least start easing yourself into the process.
Nazish Bhaiwala, Founder and Career coach at Red Arbre, is a former employment lawyer who coaches lawyers and other professionals on being happier at work.
In 2018 Nazish carried out a series of interviews of female international human rights lawyers from all over the world about their experiences of Imposter Syndrome. Combining this global scale learning with her own coaching experience means she has an in-depth and unique understanding of Imposter Syndrome and the coaching tools and strategies that can help to overcome it.
As well as career coaching, Red Arbre holds evening seminars in London. Details of the next seminar, ‘Women in Law: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome’, are at impostersyndrome_law.eventbrite.co.uk.