More on the Impostor Syndrome

Posted by: on Dec 11, 2013 | No Comments


We have had a very positive response to our recent post about the Impostor Syndrome .  Many of you said that you recognised it in yourself and – in true impostor style – thought you were the only person who felt the same way.

Well this weekend in the Guardian – the feature interview with Peter Higgs – Nobel prize winner for being the man who “discovered” the Higgs Boson showed another (slightly staggering) example of the Impostor Syndrome at work.

This Nobel prizewinner spoke of “an underlying incompetence”:  “Not having studied particle physics at PhD level, he was… struggling to keep up with developments in his own field. “I got left behind by all the technical details, and never caught up. So I have,” he starts to chuckle, “this kind of underlying incompetence.””

So even Nobel prize winners can feel like this (or networking queen Julia Hobsbawm at global leadership events) On a much smaller scale, Helga recently did an exercise from The Artist’s Way at Work where she had to confront some of the “impostor feelings” that she harboured.

“One of the things I wrote in the exercise,” Helga explained “was that I work with Business leaders and CEO’s but I did not have an MBA (Masters in Business Administration) or other specific business qualification.  In fact, I teach at Aston Business School and I often expect a pupil to quiz me about the business degree that I don’t actually have.”

The exercise encouraged you to take issue with your impostor feelings and argue the other side on your own behalf.  Helga found that even just writing her guilty secret down made her feel a little better.

“In airing this concern, even if it were only on paper, I started to realise that there were many ways to counter it:

  • First, and possibly most importantly, I had never pretended that I have an MBA so clients know that  – nor have I ever been asked about my degree or masters (which are in French and Drama and Commercial Law respectively).
  • I have never lied about having a business degree and I am careful in our marketing to explain the way we work with clients and what we do so that we don’t make false claims.
  • I have never lost a job because I do not have an MBA.  Most of the business leaders I work with don’t have one either and they run very successful companies!
  • Businesses buy us because of who we are, how we do things and the results we achieve.  Not because of the letters (or lack of them) after our names.

I think I mostly realised that the expectation or belief that ‘consultants have to have an MBA’ came mainly from me and not from the people who really matter – our customers.  So I decided, in the end, that they knew better than me.”

So one way to loosen the grip of the Impostor Syndrome is to face your fears head on – but in private and only on paper.  Then rather than drown in a sea of self-criticism marshall your thoughts and start to fight back.  Give your inner critic a run for his or her money:  “give good argument” as Julia Cameron et al say in the book.

If I were Peter Higgs I hope I would have the wherewithal to remember – “I won the Nobel prize for particle physics…I can’t be completely useless!”

If not, perhaps he could have some coaching from Creative Shift – we’d be happy to help!

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