‘’If I work harder than everyone else, they won’t find out I am not as good as they think I am’’
‘’I only got promoted because no one else wanted it’’
‘’They only gave me the chance because they like me’’
Does this sound familiar? It may be that you have an inner imposter running your show, and suffer from the common psychological phenomenon – Imposter Syndrome.
And it’s not just an issue that is a minor irritation, something you can ignore and put to the back of your mind. Consistently thinking you are a fraud, that you’re going to be found out, doubting skills and achievements can lead to high levels of stress and anxiety. At best, it can stop you from achieving your potential, but at it’s worst – overwhelm and burnout.
And the irony is that if you have imposter syndrome, I bet you’re already incredibly successful. High achieving, driven and intelligent.
But being driven by imposter syndrome to succeed can leave you miserable, looking for the next foolproof way that you won’t be found out as a fraud.
It’s common though, and particularly an issue for Quiet Leaders. Feeling different as a leader, more introverted and sensitive, can lead to feeling you’re not good enough, and that you’ll be found out as a fraud – because your strengths are different to louder, more extroverted leaders.
Here are five common signs that you have Imposter Syndrome:
1. You are unable to recognise or accept your achievements.
Complements just pass over your head, you don’t pause to reflect on a job well done when things go well, and promotions or qualifications? Well, anyone can do them, surely? In fact you might be sure you are never complemented, because you’ve never listened to them! But any offers of constructive advice leave you spinning as you might just have been found out as the imposter you believe you are.
2. You attribute your success to just about anything but you.
To luck, or to people liking you, feeling sorry for you. Maybe you believe no one else would have been interested, or you were just in the right place at the right time.
3. You ignore, downplay or forget amazing things you’ve achieved or skills that you have.
Forgetting that masters degree you did and the skills it conferred, never mentioning how your experience means you’re an authority, and hiding the award you won.
4. You feel a constant fear of being found out as a fraud.
Working harder, longer, overpreparing to make sure that no one finds out you can’t do it. And then the viscous circle begins – your inner imposter tells you that the overwork meant you weren’t found out, so you work harder. This is a real source of stress and burnout.
5. You believe that if you can do it, everyone can, so it’s not worth much.
Lots of people achieve that degree, anyone could have brought that collaboration about, that perceptive idea that met everyone’s needs was so obvious. You believe anyone could have done it, and even if it’s an unusual skill it comes really easily to you, so you undervalue it.
Overcoming your imposter syndrome starts with awareness of having it, accepting it’s there, and choosing to do something different. By getting to know your inner imposter you can understand what makes her or him tick, and what you can do to soothe and quiet her (or him).
Here’s a fantastic exercise to try out, that gives you and your inner imposter evidence that actually you’re pretty amazing…
A timeline of your career success:
- Create, on paper or digitally, a timeline from the start of your career to present day. Mark on it all the successes and achievements you have had – qualifications, courses, promotions, great feedback, milestones, important skills and experience gained. Don’t hold back, this is not the time for any modesty, get it all down.
- Think about the strengths, skills and personal attributes you used to achieve these – again don’t hold back. Again, writing them down.
- Come back to this at least three times over a week, as more will come to you as you internalise the exercise – those things you forgot, ignored, found hard to accept as your brilliance
- Put the timeline somewhere prominent and come back to it every month – what else can you add?
Imposter Syndrome, the belief that you are an imposter, holds you back from success, erodes your confidence, and can cause significant stress. But with the right support you can overcome it.
If you woke up tomorrow and all thoughts of being an imposter had gone (yes I do have a magic wand), what would change for you?