Impostor Syndrome – sounds disturbing doesn’t it? Synonyms for impostor include creepy words like phony, fraud, sham, and pretender. In other words, it’s someone who is pretending to be something they’re not.
In an interesting twist, Impostor Syndrome is the opposite. It describes someone who struggles to own their accomplishments, so they feel like they are fooling everyone and that at some point they will be exposed as a fraud. I think it’s a logical extension of not owning your wins.
I know I’ve experienced it. I’ll lead a group or have an amazing coaching session and think to myself “How did I know that? There’s no way I could have come up with that strategy.” This thought is quickly followed by “How quickly will they figure out that what I said was nuts? That will never work.”
And guess what? Every single time my clients come back to me and rave about the strategy or tip or insight I shared with them. I feel like an impostor because I find it hard to believe that my coaching is that powerful.
Impostor Syndrome Story
One of my favorite stories about impostor syndrome comes from a strategy I figured out several years ago. My son, Ken, and I were driving back from Boston when a client called me. She was struggling to get her career search work done with her kids underfoot. She needed strategies for both accountability and dealing with the kids. I don’t know, maybe it was because I was with Ken, my #1 cheerleader, that this strategy came to me.
I suggested that she enlist her children as accountability partners. They created a chart where the kids awarded Mom with a star for every hour she spent on her search. When Mom earned a predetermined number of stars, they all went to the park. It worked like a charm. The kids were motivated to do whatever they needed to do to help Mom earn those stars and Mom got her work done.
I hung up the phone and Ken said one word, “Wow” and I asked “Where on earth did that come from?” implying that there was no way I could have developed that strategy on my own. Well, I could have and I did. Just because it was a spontaneous answer to a difficult situation doesn’t mean that it wasn’t an informed opinion. All of my experience to date went into that strategy. By the way, the mom involved still refers to that strategy as life-changing.
Believe them when they want you!
There’s another area where Impostor Syndrome trips me up. People are always telling me that I should write a book and make speeches. My responses (in my head) are always “Who would want to listen to me prattle on about anything?” and “What would I write about?” Maybe instead of doubting that I have anything to say (ok, some of you are laughing at the idea that I would ever struggle to find something to say), I should respond with “Thanks!” and ask for their ideas.
How do you know you’re suffering from impostor syndrome? If any of these thoughts and questions cross your mind when you’re offered an opportunity, you are in the throes of impostor syndrome:
- They really don’t want to hear from me.
- Why did they give me that title? That’s not me.
- Really, you want me to do that?
- How did I get here, doing this?
I’ll bet you’ve had these types of thoughts more than once. Each of these thoughts and questions imply that the people who are offering you an opportunity have no idea of what they need or who you are. Wrong and wrong.
You’re being asked to tackle that task, or make that speech, or accept that promotion because the offerer knows that you can do it. They’ve seen you in action. They’ve talked to people who know what you can do and they want you.
So how do you combat those feelings of being a fraud or a phony? First, practice owning your wins. Then, act like you do know what to do. You know, fake it til you make it. A little hint here, if you can fake it, you can already do it. Just saying.
And, please, don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you have to work harder or longer than everyone else to prove that you’ve earned that promotion or opportunity. You’ve already done the work; you’ve proved your worth or you would never have been offered the chance to do something new and different. Your body of work and experience prove that you’re the real thing – not an impostor.
So this just happened…
On a break from working on this post, I went in the kitchen to get some water. The mail was on the counter, so, of course, I looked through it. A friend had sent me a greeting card with this on the front:
“Do you have any idea of how powerful you really are? How far your thoughts reach? How many lives you’ve already touched? How much you’ve already accomplished? DO YOU?”
Really, I’m not kidding. That’s me behind the card in the photo. So, I think I’ll leave it right there.
Do you have any idea?