A few years ago, 20-something-year old me went to a tech meet-up where Katy Leeson, now Social Chain’s Managing Director, gave a talk on Imposter Syndrome. Since her rise at Social Chain she had struggled with Imposter Syndrome and had sought therapy to help her combat this fraudster complex.
I remember watching Katy thinking what the hell is she talking about. A self-assured and certain 20-something. I didn’t get it.
Fast forward 5+ years later, a baby, maternity leave, returning to work during a global pandemic and promoted to Ops Director. I now know what Katy was talking about that day.
I come from a working class background, with no University education and I’d just had a child. Which in modern day history means my career is over. And now with the title Operational Director. How could this be?
What is Imposter Syndrome?
It was first observed in a study of “high powered women” by Dr. Pauline Clance in the 1970’s. She found that “despite objective evidence of success” the women couldn’t comprehend their success as their own. They felt like “intellectual frauds and feared being recognised as impostors.”
Despite being in Senior positions, praised for their performance and working their way to the top – in what was back then, very much a man’s world. They didn’t believe the success was their doing.
Key traits of Imposter Syndrome
- Perfectionism – the need to be the very best is often linked to IS. Individuals who have been ‘top of class’, or high achievers, when put in to different scenarios begin comparing themselves to others. The comparison leads to discounting of their own abilities
- Superman/women tendencies – ‘super’ tendencies mean the ‘imposter’ puts unrealistic and unachieveable expectations on themself. Having to do everything and do it flawlessly. And when the unrealistic expectations aren’t hit this turns in to generlising oneself as a failure
- Fear of failure – closely linked with perfectionism, individuals with impostorism are afraid to fail at a given task. Thus feeling not good enough and experiencing shame
- Denial of competence – despite proven achievements or ongoing praise imposter syndrome sufferers often dismis these. They put their success down as luck or being misgiven and fear being ‘found out;
- Guilt about success – often felt by those who will experience a negative impact from their success. For example if it is not something experienced by their family and peers it can lead to rejection (or fear of)
Over coming Imposter Syndrome
“Research has shown that it’s not a fixed trait but something that exists on a continuum and that about 70 percent of people experience it at some time.”
- Acknowledging achievements – this is important and easy to forget along the way. But you are where you are, all down to you. Write a list of what you have achieved and things you are proud of. This helps to keep the imposter voice quiet and builds confidence
- Setting achievable goals – the super hero voice will have you trying to run before you can walk. And when you fall at the first hurdle leave you feeling like a failure. Being able to see the bigger picture is great, but breaking it down in to bitesize chunks means you can achieve what you set out to
- Reframing – this is a big one, but we have to tackle perfectionism. We have to look perfectionism in the eyes and say not today my friend. Standards are good, striving to be better is normal but when we can’t move forward because we’re stuck on perfect, this doesn’t serve us. Progress beats perfect every time
- Normalising “failure” – we also have to reframe failure. If we try something and it doesn’t work out the way we planned why is that deemed a failure? You did something, put your time, energy and effort in to progressing. If it didn’t work out the way you planned is that a bad thing? Is the new result better or worse, or does it not matter? Did you learn anything?
- Career coaching – if your imposter syndrome is in relation to your career it’s important you work with a coach or mentor that you trust. Career coaches have experience in helping to understand your strengths and weaknesses. They set achievable goals and recognise progress, as well as any gremlins that are preventing progress
- At some point in life we’re likely to suffer from Imposter Sydrome but it isn’t permanent. Repeat after me, “this to shall pass”
- It’s experienced by both women and men
- It’s routed in perfectionism, fear of failure, denial of competence and guilt. Sometime we have to let that shit go
- Ways to manage Imposter Syndrome include; noting your achievements, setting achieveable goals, letting go of perfectionism and normalising failure. You are enough!
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The Business Book of Coaching – Anjit Nawalkha & Neeta Bhusahan