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3 ways to nail that imposter syndrome

I avoided the term like the plague when I first heard about imposter syndrome (IS) because it just seemed over-rated. But I keep hearing my clients raise them again and again so I knew I wanted to address its domino effect.

Did you know?

That the term was first coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in the 1970s. Clance and Imes observed that "many high-achieving women tended to believe they were inadequate or not competent despite academic and professional accomplishments. Those exhibiting the syndrome were convinced they were frauds, not nearly as bright as others thought they were, and attributed their successes to luck. Impostor syndrome was first observed in successful career women, but it has since been shown to occur in both women and men."


I like to think of Imposter Syndrome (IS) as just the perennial self-doubt that plagues us over time and we are familiar with it. So here are my thoughts on some ways I've worked with clients on nailing the syndrome.

1. Call it as it is

Labels can liberate but they can also limit our willingness to dig deeper into the issue at hand. My observations and experience show that hiding behind the IS label is a comfort blanket to avoid change or the courage to act on something. For years, it has kept me from fully stepping into my identity and role as a coach & consultant.

How about this? Leave the imposter label behind and ask yourself what else is holding you back from living up to your level of professional proficiency or personal achievement. What insights surface from that? Are there steps you can take to address that? Or is it an unattainable goal you have set to keep you from what you truly aspire?

2. Get some clarity

I always encourage my clients to use this as a simple litmus test. When the first thought of being an imposter surface, ask yourself "Is this a fact or an opinion?"

Facts are objective and substantiated by evidence

Opinions are subjective and contextual most of the time

How about this? There's a good chance your IS thoughts are anchored in opinion. But if there are elements of fact within, for e.g a lack of professional certification then that is manageable as soon as it becomes apparent. But the idea is not to knock yourself down and undermine your potential but to take actions to address the issue if you have assessed that it is required for your next steps.

Let me tell you a story. One of my clients was upset that her professional experience and credibility in managing events was being undermined by a senior team member. She could sense his stonewalling at every turn, questioning her decisions. Even though she could have put a stop to this waste of time - she chose not to as she wanted to be trusted without having to fling her achievements at him. Did it work? Of course not. The more he pushed, the more she felt like an imposter. She finally saw that his opinion of her was not aligned with the fact that she had in fact, acquired extensive experience in leading teams across various event management systems and matrixes all validated with data insights. When she finally conveyed this to him -his response was "so why didn't you tell me earlier? I respect experience".

3. Pick your David to this Goliath

Think of IS as the Goliath symbolising your fears of being a fraud. We all know it's a battle of the mindset first and then of strategy.

How about this? Pick one area of your life you feel most like an imposter. Now look back in time and identify any achievement/s or more over the last 6mths that you can use in your battle to balance this perceived fraud. Reflect on how you achieved that? Were you feeling like an imposter when you accomplished that? What was your belief? Can you create a similar environment and embrace that belief to motivate you the next time you feel like an imposter again? The point is, however small or meagre you may think of this David of an achievement -it is sheer fact to prove that you took a step and acted on something. Build upon that. And no, luck probably had little to do with that -go google the probability on that if you like :)

Let me know how it goes.

Blessings, Dawn

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