Who me? No, it was nothing, just luck really….How Impostor syndrome keeps us all small

Posted by: on Nov 6, 2013 | No Comments

Continuing our focus on confidence, today Helga discusses Imposter Syndrome…

I have supported start up businesses, medium-sized enterprises and coached high powered executives.  At some point in our work together, regardless of how senior or experienced the person is, the client admits to a feel in that one day they will be “found out”.

That one day someone will walk up, possibly in front of others, and accuse them thus:  “You haven’t the first idea of what you’re doing have you?”

And the accused will hang their head, admitting shame-facedly “No, I really, really don’t.”

The prevalence of this “imposter syndrome” is astonishing .  Some writers (including the helpful Wikipedia entry on the subject) posit that this is more often observed in high performing female executives.  My experience, while not perhaps statistically significant, is that men and women alike can experience the traits (identified by Dr Valerie Young) such as :

*Minimising achievements or dismissing them as “luck” (“Oh anyone would have done the same” said a woman who was so moved by the plight of a sick child she saw on television she raised £12,000 for this stranger through organising events.)

* Feeling that when you do succeed, you’ve “fooled them again.” (“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’” – Maya Angelou…. MAYA ANGELOU says this stuff to herself!)

* Agonise over the trivial flaws in your work or are crushed by criticism even if it is constructive and useful. (“Why didn’t I think of that – that’s so obvious!! How stupid am I??!!”).

So if you are familiar with such feelings of inadequacy, what can you do? In The Artist’s Way at Work
the authors suggest that the voices of doubt and low self-worth (in their terms the “inner Censor, Critic or Sniper”) that give rise to the Impostor Syndrome can be silenced, or at least rendered less vocal.

“The negative inner voice is a learned voice.  It may sometimes say thing that by now you have probably traced back to a creative monster:  to a critical parent, teacher or boss; to a nasty lover; to a jealous sibling or friend.

The good news is that if the negative voice is a learned voice, a positive inner voice can also be learned.  We learn to dispute the negative voices by learning to be still and silent in the moment.  The first step is to build a silent inner self that notices the negative voices as they speak.”

In a future post we will look at how to build up the positive voice that can counter the inner critic.

Impostor syndrome is characterised as an inability to internalise achievement   You can start to reverse this trend when you spend a little time noticing what you say to others (or to yourself) when praised or complemented… Do you dismiss it, quickly pointing out the contribution of others, the bit that was missing or chalk it up to luck?  Or do you take it in – metabolise the praise – and know you deserve it?

Suffering from impostor syndrome robs us of satisfaction for our genuine achievements and clouds our judgment when it comes to self-improvement, often leading us to “work on” an aspect of our performance or personality that is already first-class.  Accepting praise and validation will not make you “big headed”:  it will make your wonderful head just the right size.

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