How to identify and manage imposter syndrome

In this article I describe how feelings of insecurity can cause difficulty in optimal functioning and what you can do to overcome them.

Imposter Syndrome Blog Image

Image by 23 Code Street from Medium

If you suffer from a feeling that you’re not good enough and have a tendency towards perfectionism then you are entirely normal since most people feel this way. Feelings of insecurity are particularly common when people are promoted to a leadership position.

However, if your mental health is affected and your career is impeded then it's time to step back and take action to create a more helpful way of thinking and feeling.

The term used to describe this condition is ‘imposter syndrome’. The official definition describes it as “‘high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalise their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.”

These are some indications of a need to take action:

  • A pattern of overworking due to fears of being seen as deficient
  • Feeling incompetent and believing that you will be exposed as a fraud
  • Avoidance of activities for fear of failure
  • Constantly being a perfectionist and going to extreme lengths to avoid mistakes
  • Attributing successes to luck rather than experience and skills
  • Inability to take in positive feedback or acknowledge achievements
  • Being consumed with self-defeating and negative thoughts
  • Inability to find pleasure in work and always focusing on the next goal

Fear of taking risks is one of the most damaging effects of this syndrome. The feeling of being a fraud can affect quality of thinking and problem solving, willingness to innovate and ability to manage due to having higher expectations of others so as to protect against appearing personally deficient.

This neurotic imposture causes many talented, hardworking, and capable leaders who have achieved great things to believe that they don't deserve their success. For example, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, declared in her book ‘Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead’ that she could sit in a room and believe that people saw her as a fraud, that she was not good enough to be there. Neurotic impostors can be found at all levels of an organization.

The following are actions which you can take to change the way you think about yourself:

  • Challenge the imposter voice in your head and look for the evidence to set against your worries and fears - thoughts aren’t facts
  • Replace your self-critical voice with a more compassionate and accepting one
  • Focus on the positive and learn to see everything in context by looking at the true story of your life rather than the tiny percentage of it which you’re unhappy with
  • Recognise what it is to be human and that what you are experiencing is normal
  • Don’t expect to feel happy every day, no one has it together all of the time - all emotions are normal and they are all necessary and useful to us
  • Embrace your vulnerability, that it's OK not to know and recognise that being an adult is an endless journey of figuring out how to be an adult
  • What you do every day makes a difference and the choices that you make play a huge part in how you feel, so face your fears - pull back from overwork and see if it makes a difference
  • Perfectionism can be dealt with by recognising that uncertainty and the potential for failure are essential traits in all levels of work
  • Remember that social media is mostly an airbrushed version of reality – avoid looking at it if you’re not feeling great
  • Life is an adventure, not a race - enjoy the process rather than overly focusing on your goals

Remember that our fears never leave us entirely and they can surface at any time, but we can learn to manage them more effectively rather than being driven by them. Knowing this is understanding what it means to be human and fallible.

Whilst practising the actions above will help, working one to one with a trusted other, such as a coach, is a much more effective way of expediting the changes you want to obtain, whilst making the process easier and more enjoyable.

Nick Harris, ICF Master Certified Coach

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If you are considering one-to-one coaching with a professional coach, Nick Harris invites you to get in touch for a free 45 minute coaching session to explore your current situation, future aspirations and discuss next steps.

Call 0800 776 5696 to book your free session