noun: imposter syndrome
The persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills. People suffering from impostor syndrome may be at increased risk of anxiety.

As a frequent sufferer myself, it’s humbling when someone I perceive as confident, knowledgeable and, often, at the top of their game, tells me that, actually, they’re terrified that they’re going to get “found out”. That someone will rumble them and realise that they’re underqualified, under-experienced and only there because of plain old luck.

If you feel like a fraud, you’re in good company. Plenty of high profile people, in every career you can imagine, have felt the same way. Tom Hanks, Sheryl Sandberg and Maya Angelou have all talked publicly about their anxieties. Michelle Obama has said, “It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is”.

So, how do we overcome this feeling that we’re out of our depth and surrounded by people who are far more brilliant than we are?

  1. Listen: it’s everywhere. No one likes to talk about it, because they feel it undermines their power. But, according to research published in the International Journal of Science, 70% of people will experience imposter syndrome at some point. Basically, most of us feel like we’re blagging it.
  2. Have a word with yourself. Seriously, we can be so unkind to ourselves, can’t we? “You don’t deserve to be here”; “You have played no part in your success”. Imagine talking to a friend in that way! It simply wouldn’t happen.So, sit down with yourself and go through all the things you’ve done on the path to where you are now. Your training; your qualifications; your experience. Be honest, congratulate yourself and mentally note the positive part you have played in your successes.
  3. Bask in the glory. Keep a file of every nice thing anyone has said about you, professionally or otherwise, and re-read it when that noise in your head is making you doubt yourself.
  4. Stop comparing yourself to others. Yes, Jane in accounts might be great at explaining the intricacies of next year’s forecasts, but she will be lacking in another quality that you may have in abundance. It does no one any good to pitch yourself against other people (or to knock others down to elevate your own position, for that matter).
  5. Think about how you carry yourself. If your body language is small, inward focused and self-protective, that’s how you’re going to feel. Shoulders back, chin up and deep breaths will make you feel more confident.
  6. Get over yourself. You know what? You’re not perfect. No one is. Stop trying to tick every box. We all have different skills, and a great team will have skills that complement each other. You have been chosen because you bring something, not everything, to the table. Let’s rid ourselves of shame at not reaching our unrealistic expectations.
  7. Change your internal monologue. This takes practice, but it is achievable. Resolve to block irrational thoughts about yourself, and to replace them with positive affirmations. Instead of, “everyone here knows what they’re doing, and I don’t”, tell yourself “I’m part of this organisation and I have something to offer”.
  8. Failure doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be here. We learn by getting things wrong; by trying something, and then trying it a different way if the first way hasn’t worked out. But if you give failure too much airtime, it will consume you. It’ll stop you putting ideas forward or making decisions. You can’t go through your life avoiding mistakes, unless you plan to spend the rest of your time sitting in a room not doing anything. Human beings make mistakes. Every single one of us. Accept it, acknowledge it and move on.
  9. Talk about it. Find someone you can talk to about how you’re feeling (I can almost guarantee their response will be along the lines of, “me too!”). If we just shared our vulnerability a little more, we wouldn’t be so ashamed to feel the way we do.
  10. Develop your skills. It’s a no-brainer that, when we get better at doing something, we feel more confident. And that confidence gives us a self-assuredness that we don’t need to “put on”. Communication skills are key, so work on those; social confidence is everything. If there’s an area of your professional life that you know you’re a little weak in, book yourself some CPD and learn a new skill.

Get in touch to find out how you can work with me on your body language, communication and public speaking skills.