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This One Truth About Imposter Syndrome Will Set You Free

This One Truth About Imposter Syndrome Will Set You Free

When it comes to workplace stereotypes there are plenty to choose from, but have you noticed how many you are unintentionally applying to yourself and the people around you?

The stereotype of the ideal leader in the twentieth century was that of an extrovert, outspoken, well-educated male. This leadership hangover is still being dealt with now, but with recent shifts towards diversity and equity, we are recognising and supporting more and more a culture of inclusion.

However, it’s also clear that many harmful stereotypes are being perpetuated; it’s time to wake up to what they might be for you and release them, so that you can take your career further faster.

The truth about imposter syndrome  

For example,  imposter syndrome (the feeling of not being good enough or of being a fraud), is more often attributed to women than to men. Women are also often deemed to be less confident; both of those labels are likely weighing you down and slowing your career progress.

It’s useful to note that the phrase imposter syndrome used to be called The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women* and originated from a study in 1978 that involved 150 participants (not statistically significant). Whilst it concluded that its subjects did not experience an internal sense of success and felt that their achievements were largely attributable to luck, that doesn’t mean it’s applicable to every woman (and it’s unhelpful to believe that it is).

Scrutinising the evidence

There’s a saying that you get more of what you focus on, and if you keep looking for evidence that you aren’t good enough or lack confidence you’ll find it, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.

When I worked in financial services, I repeatedly heard male colleagues talk about how their weaknesses would be “found out one day.” The vast majority of these men would be considered to have privilege behind them (good education and upbringing), but they still doubted their capabilities. 

Imposter syndrome, to one degree or another, is a universal experience; it’s not gender specific. Would you believe that British DJ, record producer, singer and songwriter Calvin Harris occasionally feels like an imposter? During a radio interview discussing his recent song with fellow music stars Justin Timberlake and Pharrell Williams,  I heard him comment that he felt like an imposter alongside them. If Calvin Harris, the highest paid DJ in the world, can feel like an imposter and reach the dizzy heights of success, you can too!

Pay attention to the stories you’re telling yourself

If you are constantly working within your comfort zone the chances are you feel confident and safe to continue doing so, but if you are facing a fear about not being good enough, then you are pushing yourself to achieve more and entering a growth period. It’d be wise to consider whether you refer to that as “evolving” or “suffering from imposter syndrome”. Which one feels the most empowering to you? Which one is likely to lead to greater progress?

Likewise, recognise that people have a different appetite for risk. If you have bitten off more than you can chew, take a step back, master where you are and then continue to nudge forward because that will likely enable you to advance your career with less stress and overwhelm.

Recognise the part you play

In addition to many professional women taking on the self-limiting label of “suffering from imposter syndrome”, we find that the myth of “women lack confidence” is also being perpetuated (and frequently applied to others).

We cannot assume that what we believe about ourselves or others is correct; someone might be highly confident in one area and less so in another. That doesn’t mean they lack confidence overall.

Think about the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears; the chairs were too big, the porridge too sweet, the bed too hard or too soft, but in each situation Goldilocks found the level (chair, porridge or bed), that was just right for her. Likewise, you will find that some days, and in some areas, you feel more confident than others. Confidence is not static; it’s a skill that you can learn through taking action. You might like to read our earlier blog How To Project Confidence Your Own Way.

Bearing this in mind, you might find it useful to:

  • Avoid judging or diagnosing those around you based on your assumptions.
  • Look at the behaviours (symptoms) and ascertain the facts you can learn from.
  • Recognise that your thoughts are subjective.

Break the chains that bind you

The reality is that, as human beings, we each have a tendency to question our competency when faced with a new challenge or a different approach. However, it’s also empowering to recognise that it’s all relative and contextual. Sometimes you will feel powerful, sometimes you will be riddled with doubt, but hopefully you will be living in the centre of the spectrum most of the time along with the vast majority of other people.

What labels have you been applying to yourself? What changes will you consider making? How have you been assessing others and what might be more beneficial to each of you going forward?

I hope you’ve enjoyed the opportunity to see where you might be unintentionally imposing labels that keep you stuck or applying those to your peers or team members.

In our bid to increase gender equity and create more equanimity within the workforce we each have our own part to play that will, over time, help to increase the female talent pipeline and break down the barriers so that we, along with the children of the future, can be recognised for our unique talents and abilities without carrying the limitations of the past.

If you’d like to find out how we can support you to take your career to the next level please click here to get in touch.

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*Research from Pauline Rose Clance & Suzanne Imes available to read here.