Feel like a fraud? Join the club
“I’m a fraud. It’s only a matter of time before someone finds out.”
Does this sound familiar? Do you ever feel less worthy of success than everyone else in the room? Do you fear your cover could be blown? Does the success of others make you feel inferior?
I have had an inferiority complex throughout my professional life. From that first temp job when I realised I was completely out of my depth, through to launching myself into career coaching. I have always felt fear, compared myself to others unfavourably and been looking over my shoulder, waiting for the arrival of the blagger police.
This particular brand of fear has a name, it’s called ‘Impostor Syndrome’ and was coined in the 1970s to describe how we can feel like frauds who do not deserve success, despite all the evidence to the contrary. People suffering from Impostor Syndrome often dismiss their success as luck or being in the right place at the right time.
You are not alone
Both men and women feel it acutely – 70% of us will feel it at some point in our lives (Sakulku & Alexander, 2011). Even the most accomplished people feel unworthy of their success.
Like the client of mine who was invited to an event to celebrate the most influential men and women in his profession. He is one of the ‘power players’ (the industry association’s phrase, not his) and yet, when the invitation arrived, he thought there had been an administrative error.
Sheryl Sandberg sums it up nicely: “Every time I was called on in class, I was sure that I was about to embarrass myself. Every time I took a test, I was sure that it had gone badly. And every time I didn’t embarrass myself — or even excelled — I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up.”
We’re in good company!
In the past, this fear of feeling like an impostor has stopped me from taking on challenges. Doomsday style ‘but what if’ scenarios played out in my head. Sometimes it felt paralysing.
Now that I’m self-employed, working in a partnership and don’t have a ‘boss’, I’m no longer under any obligation to put myself in any vulnerable situations. I could quite happily lock myself away in my office, communicate with everyone by email, compare myself unfavourably to all my peers and quietly trundle along.
But seriously, where’s the fun in that?
Feel the fear and do it anyway
During the last five years I have embraced – no, inhaled – self-development books. Believe me, I’ve read a LOT of them, starting with Susan Jeffers’ Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. And I’ve learned to ‘lean in’ to fear.
If you want to learn and experience something new, you will feel fear. The only way to feel better about that fear and overcome insecurity, is to just push through and do the thing that scares you.
As Susan Jeffers says, “the ‘doing it’ comes before the feeling better about yourself.”
The only way over is through
There can be satisfaction, even joy, in walking towards the things that make you fearful in your professional life. So instead of shying away from situations where I will feel like an impostor, I now walk towards them.
For example, I delivered two lectures at a University. When the invitation came through to deliver a couple of guest lectures I said yes immediately. My thought process was: ‘say yes to the opportunity and figure out how to do it later.’
The first time someone contacted me about coaching, my impostor syndrome reared its ugly head. But I knew the only way to get over it, was to go through it.
Yes it was scary, but I did it anyway. And the feeling of achievement was amazing.
The fact is that everyone experiences fear. Even the most composed and accomplished people, those who you admire for their nonchalance and ability to do seemingly anything, are also crapping themselves at the thought of that next big challenge. It’s just human nature.
Each time you do something scary and smash it, it increases your self-esteem. Even if it didn’t go all that well, you will have learnt something from the experience. The pay-off for feeling the fear is huge. Not only the sense of achievement that follows it, but the knowledge gained in learning that new skill, or doing something that initially feels uncomfortable.
7 tips for overcoming impostor syndrome
Here are a few tips I’ve learned during my own self-development journey which have helped me deal with my Impostor Syndrome:
- Embrace the small failures, they are steps towards your success. If every toddler that fell down was too scared to get up again, as a species we would have developed much bigger knees.
- Know that the majority of people feel the same way as you do. So, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” (Plato)
- Stop comparing yourself to other people. You and your skills are unique. No one else speaks with your voice or has your set of experiences. As Dr Seuss said “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.”
- Surround yourself with positive people and read books about positivity when you’re feeling low. People are either drains or radiators. I know who I’d rather be, and be with.
- Remember, you have been employed or engaged in a contract for a good reason. Someone, somewhere has seen something great in you. As the adverts say: you’re worth it.
- Don’t make perfection your goal. Trying your best is good enough. Waiting for perfection is a procrastination tactic.
- Get a coach. I would say that wouldn’t I? But seriously, a coach will support you in your self-discovery and will be your cheerleader.
Let’s stop comparing ourselves to other people, be proud of our successes and use fear to help us rather than letting it paralyse us.
I would love to know what you think. You can leave me a comment below, email me or contact me on social media.