Earlier this week I was working down in London and took the opportunity to catch up with a friend. I inquired how her morning had been as she did not seem her usual bouncy self. She responded that she has had a couple of graduates working with her and went on to say, “You know V, sometimes I just wonder how I have got here (here is the CFO of a global organisation). I never went to university, haven’t got any degrees or spent years studying. I felt such a fraud”.
My friend has a professional qualification, has worked her way up the organisation where she has been for 12 years, is highly proficient, part of a small minority of women at her industry level, leads several global teams and is regarded as a very high performing and astute business woman. However, she is not alone in experiencing feelings of being a ‘fraud’ or ‘impostor’.
I have worked with a number of successful and high achieving women who admit to feelings of inadequacy, a fear of ‘being found out’, that they are not as knowledgeable, competent or skilled as others perceived them to be.
This is not the same as having a low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence. The phrase “imposter syndrome” was coined by psychotherapists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes who studied a group of successful women and found that they had high levels of self-doubt, an inability to internalise their success and felt that they got to where they did because of luck.
I can recall numerous episodes in my life where I have felt that I would be ‘found out’, and that sinking feeling of, ‘oh hell how did I end up here’. An early experience was in my NHS days sitting round a table with academics, advisors, experts, government officials…and me. In creeps the, ‘they will discover that I don’t know much, they are much smarter than I am, they will find out that I am not as good as they think I am…” I made an excuse to go to the toilet and spent a few minutes reframing my thoughts.
More recently, I suffered pangs of ‘intellectual fraudulence’ when giving a talk about coaching teams despite having 15 years experience of working with teams, conducted and published research on the subject and holding a Master’s Degree in Coaching and Mentoring.
Some strategies that I and my clients have found useful include:
– Being aware of such thoughts and feelings and dealing with them immediately. Reframe to more positive ones
– Validate, appreciate and continually reaffirm your achievements, accomplishments and successes
– Attribute your success to ability, hard work, resilience…and not just luck
– Accept that failing and making mistakes are part of life… if you are not doing these then you are not learning, growing or stretching yourself
– Recognise that it is impossible to know everything – if you don’t know, admit it
– Share your feelings with others – you will be surprised how many others have similar feelings
– Refrain from comparing yourself to others
– Think about someone who has similar qualifications, skills, expertise, abilities, knowledge… would you call her a fraud or impostor…so why call yourself one?
Have you ever felt like an impostor or a fraud ?
Do you have a fear that you will be ‘discovered’ as not being as good, knowledgeable or the capable expert as others think you are?
What strategies have you used ?
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