I can’t remember when I first heard the phrase imposter syndrome – I feel like it’s only since I became a coach three years ago but who knows, my 40-something-year-old memory is definitely not what it once was. But according to Google Trends, it’s one of the most common searches done today.
Though I may not have called it imposter syndrome, I definitely experienced it when I was 34 and became a Director at a large multinational bank.
I had a six-month-old and a two-year-old and had beat 80 applicants to land my “dream job.”
Except what happens when you beat 80 applicants, are sleep-deprived and then get handed a bigger mandate than was in the job description?
A heck of a lot of feeling like it was too good to be true – like you’re not cut out for the job and any second now someone is going to come and tell you, oh I’m sorry, we meant to hire SHARON Talbot, not SHANNON Talbot.
Kidding aside, what I’m describing above is known as “imposter syndrome“.
So let’s take a look at what it is and what to do about it.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
In 1978, two psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, wrote a paper called “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention” and the term was born. In this paper, they talked about how individuals, especially high-achieving women, experience feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy and fear of being exposed as a fraud despite being quite competent.
In essence, imposter syndrome is a feeling of self-doubt and insecurity that makes you believe you don’t truly deserve your accomplishments and are just pretending to be capable.
Your mind goes from “holy crap, I just nailed this promotion or a new job or new project or client” to “Uh oh, they’re going to figure out I can’t actually do it and take it away from me.”
Then what happens? You set your expectations of yourself too high. You forget about any boundaries you have. You work your butt off to prove you are capable and deserving of this new responsibility. Your stress and anxiety mount.
And if not dealt with, this mounting pressure can lead to burnout and health issues or you start to believe you’re really not capable and hold yourself back from showcasing your true abilities.
But like any syndrome, there are ways to beat it so let’s find out how, shall we?
How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
With conscious effort, time and support, anyone can overcome imposter syndrome. Here are five steps to follow:
1. Recognize that you feel like an imposter.
The first step to any habit change is being aware that you a) have the habit and b) want to change it.
If you found yourself nodding and seeing yourself in what was described above then you’ve already done step #1 part a. And guess what? You’re not alone. In the 1970s when this phenomenon was first researched, 70% of people had experienced imposter feelings at some point in their lives (research done by Pauline Clance) and I’m guessing that number has only increased over time, especially with social media and the challenges people face in the workplace today.
But now let’s talk about step 1 part b – do you want to change the habit? If you were able to feel less like an imposter, what would that do for you? How would it feel? Is it worth the time and effort?
2. Reframe what you think and say about yourself.
If your child was just learning to walk, would you expect them to do it perfectly the first time? Heck no. You’d expect them to fall A LOT before they figured it out. And how do they learn to walk? Through time and practice. You can’t do it for them. They have to figure out their balance on their own. And the same goes for any new role, project or task that you are given. No one is expecting you to be perfect right away and if they are, that’s a red flag you might not be in the right place or with the right people.
So instead of beating yourself up for not knowing more or getting up to speed fast enough, I ask you to cut yourself some slack, give yourself some grace and talk nicer to yourself. If it helps, here are some ways to reframe what you tell yourself.
Instead of I’m never going to figure this out try With time and practice, I’ll be able to do this.
They’re going to uncover I’m a fraud => I am in a period of learning where mistakes are OK
I should never have taken this role, it’s too much pressure => I got this role for a reason. I am awesome and I have to remember it’s like learning to walk all over again but I will get there.
3. Set realistic expectations and goals
When I switched from my corporate role to running my own business in a completely different field, I set extremely unrealistic revenue goals for myself. I thought that after 6-months I would be making what I made in the corporate world. And when it didn’t happen (as it was completely unrealistic), I felt like a fraud and a failure.
Don’t be like me. Don’t set yourself up to fail! Be realistic with what you can do and achieve and remember that going through any change, positive or negative, is mentally draining which means you won’t have the same energy at first that you might be used to having.
And while you’re at it, set the right boundaries from the start. If you’re so focused on proving that you were the right choice, you’re more likely to work longer, say yes more and sacrifice your personal well-being and time and once you’ve set the bar for yourself in a new role or company, it’s hard to go backwards.
4. Ask for help
If you’re about to go through a big change professionally, look at some ways you can get extra help at home. Here are some examples:
- Can you get someone to clean your place for the first few months?
- Are there places you can order ready-made, healthy meals from so you’re still eating well but not having to come home and cook each night or doing unhealthy take-out at lunch?
- If you have kids, can you start a carpool for their after-school or weekend activities?
- If you have a partner, can you ask them to take on more for a little while as you get settled?
Workwise, one of the best things you can do is work with a non-biased professional to help you through the first few months. A mentor, coach or therapist are great resources during transitionary times to act as sounding boards and to help build up your confidence on those days when it’s hard to see what you’re doing right.
5. Keep track of your wins
The first question I ask my clients in each session is for them to share a win they’ve had that week. And NOT a big win. A win like I actually washed my hair today or I went for a ten-minute walk or I’m proud of making it through the week. Or professional wins like I spoke up in a meeting even though I was scared, I asked someone for a coffee to get to know them better or I asked a question that I was worried I’d look stupid for.
The more you can keep track of what is going well in your life, the more motivated you’ll feel. And during any type of transition, there are growing pains. You will make mistakes. But the beauty is, that’s how you’ll learn and excel. Remember, falling when learning to walk is a necessary step to achieving balance. And the same applies to any new learning opportunity in life.
In summary, feeling like an imposter is completely normal, especially when experiencing any change in your life. The first step to overcoming it is to recognize you feel this way. Then you can work on reframing what you tell yourself, setting realistic expectations and goals, asking for help and keeping track of your wins will all help you to feel more confident in time.
Now, get out there and be the incredible you that you are because as Dr. Seuss would say, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
🙋♀️ Are you recently starting a new job or returning from a leave? I’ve created a checklist to help set you up for success, at work and at home. Click here to download your free checklist to start a new role with greater confidence.