Will the real Mrs W please stand up? Banishing The Impostor in the room

 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 ?

Join me for Coaches Connect   and Follow me on Twitter @verawoodhead

 Image by Google Images


About verawoodhead

I help professional women, aspiring leaders and managers to get ahead, progress their careers, be confident and successful by developing their leadership skills and capability...through coaching, mentoring and skills development workshops. Connect with me on Twitter @verawoodhead
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