“I feel like I’m going to be found out”.
“I don’t feel ready for this job – they just haven’t worked that out yet”.
“Everyone else in the meeting seems so confident and clever, I have nothing to offer”.
Let’s lay the cards on the table. I hear this refrain almost every day of my working life. And though I hear it from people at all levels, I hear it most from those at the top of the tree.
And of course as you may know this beastly feeling has a name. Impostor syndrome was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Susan A. Imes. They initially thought that it afflicted women more than men. This has largely been disproved, something backed up by my experience of working with men and women and hearing it equally from both. Here are three ideas to help you overcome this horrible feeling when it afflicts you at work.
1: YOU’RE NOT ALONE:
What you may not know about impostor syndrome is that Pauline R. Clance said that she’d got the name wrong. “If I could do it all over again, I would call it the impostor experience, because it’s not a syndrome or a complex or a mental illness, it’s something almost everyone experiences”.
Feeling that you may be found out or that you don’t deserve the success you’ve achieved is a normal, natural response to being asked to teeter on the edge of our comfort zone – the presentation, the speech, the board meeting, situations where all eyes are on you, where you feel the potential judgement of an audience you respect. Just knowing that in any meeting room at least half the room are feeling it will help you.
2: MIND THE GAP:
Helen Mirren observed recently that there’s always a gap between the person you know yourself to be, and the person you are perceived to be by the outside world. You just have to learn to work with the space between them, and keep the gap manageable for you, the right level of tension to stretch you without stressing you. You can learn to live with this feeling of being found out, own it and work with it. Parents are taught to embrace the gap between how they are and how they should be with the advice to be “good enough”. It releases you from perfect and allows you to dance a little in the space between the perception of others and your own experience of your human, flawed self.
3: YOU’RE ON TRACK:
What if the impostor experience was actually a sign of your own power and growth? What if it tells you you are on exactly the right track, stretching, growing, learning? In my own life I want to do something that scares me a little each working day, sometimes the big fear – the big stage, the high stakes audience, sometimes just the frisson of trying something new. What that feeling tells me is that I’m learning, I’m growing – the fear is a badge of honour.
NB: If you want to welcome the impostor experience what you must, must make sure to do is be prepared for those spotlight moments. Get the content clear. Speak it a couple of times at home, run it by someone else if it’s a big event. Because then when the voice whispers in your ear “you don’t deserve this” you can whisper back “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be, and that’s good enough”. Then you can carry it with you as a badge of honour, knowing that it makes you a perfectly flawed human with a healthy humility.