The first episode of the series discussed Imposter Syndrome: the fear of feeling like a fraud - especially at work. Many people experience it, it happens to men and women in equal measure and even the most powerful and most creative people in industry fall victim. Sarah*, 35, who works in the film industry, admitted she is convinced she’s a fraud at work, a chancer, who has reached her position because of luck, not talent, despite regular praise for her achievements. We talked to one of the show’s panellists, executive coach Deena Gornick about Imposter Syndrome and how she helps her clients to overcome it.
During the show, you mentioned that we all feel some sense of Imposter Syndrome, and that we can all feel we are faking it, even the most successful people. Is it something we can ever truly get over?
Yes, I do think we can get over it. Like all disempowering belief systems we create for ourselves, the first step is to name it, the second is to look at the habits those systems enable within us. Imposter Syndrome can be an obstacle to us accepting praise, for example, and that can stop us from allowing the nurturing feedback to influence our self-esteem. I suggest my clients simply say ‘thank you’ when they receive praise, resisting the temptation to deflect it. Eventually, they hear that important information about their talent, and they take it in. Another common habit is for people to undersell themselves; I suggest clients learn how to talk about their unique offering, and to highlight their skills rather than hiding them. Those of us who do have imposter syndrome are normal, and in excellent company.
You explained that while men and women generally suffer from imposter syndrome equally, you have found that women are more likely to be limited by its effects because we are less inclined to ask for what we want. Why is this?
The short answer is women have been taught some very serious limiting beliefs when we were girls, such as, ‘it’s not ladylike to ask’. Women generally spend a lot of energy hoping; we learnt to hope rather than create when we were little girls. The journey is to change that within ourselves. There are some women who have successfully unlearned these limiting beliefs, and there are some who do not have them at all. On the show, I mentioned that women have an external focus of control; we believe outside forces predicate us getting a pay rise, rather than an internal process, where we walk into our boss’s office to ask for one. My fellow panellist Gráinne Maguire, gave an excellent example of this when she talked about her fellow females working really hard so that one day they would ‘surprise’ the public and succeed. She spoke passionately about how she had never heard a male colleague speak in such words. I hear similar words with female clients who say they work really hard to get noticed, and are disappointed because they don’t get what they want.
You discussed the importance of being gentle to ourselves and staying conscious of the praise and compliments we receive. What is the most useful exercise we can practise to help us with this?
Practise silence when the compliment comes. Let it land, breathe, and say ‘thank you’. Be aware of your habit of deflecting praise, and choose to break it. You’ll be amazed at what you hear, and how much the world appreciates your talent. If you did not have that talent, you would not suffer with Imposter Syndrome. Breathe in and accept that.
*Name has been changed