Debunking Imposter Syndrome
Read time: 10 minutes
More than a decade ago, I supported a colleague of mine to access a management position (the first for the person). A couple of months into the new assignment, the colleague came into my office and, with the most disarming honesty, told me about believing in suffering from an Imposter Syndrome strike.
At that time, although aware of many organisational behaviour concepts, I did not know details about the Imposter Syndrome. In fact, I didn't even know it had a name.
But I knew exactly what our discussion was about since for years I also felt the same. Five years before this discussion, a fresh MBA graduate myself, I entered management to realise that I have lots of knowledge and support from the people around me, but I was continuously doubting the value of my contribution, got frozen any time I had discussions in front of or with decision makers with higher technical or managerial experience or where high stake things were discussed, and I was consumed by my anxiety of whether I’ll ever be able to obtain the results I was entrusted with.
I shared to my colleague my own “fraud” experience, that I managed “somehow” to survive. My immediate feedback was reciting the fashionable phrase for the time “fake it till you make it”, and what I meant was to continue to show up daily the same my colleague used to do before feeling the bite of this syndrome, without hiding from, nor avoiding any new experience of his new role, step by step, without rushing into anything, while being mindful about the way he feels and behaves.
Today, at more than a decade's distance, there is no coaching program to not touch in a way or another the topic of the Imposter Syndrome. And my take is there is no gender, nor age, nor previous experience that will make one bullet proof to it.
My coaching practice based on Positive Intelligence© and the 10 Thinking Saboteurs helped me see that whenever we entertain a self judgement attitude (manifesting a Judge towards self), and we measure our success only through the achievements we are capable of (manifesting a strong Hyper-Achiever accomplice saboteur), we are then prone to develop and exhibit the Imposter Syndrome.
WHAT DOES IMPOSTER SYSTEM COMMUNICATES US
It is just one way for our mind and body to tell us to pay attention and focus in the present, to do our best, when we do something for the first time.
It does not say pay attention to what you will miss if you will not obtain it.
It does not say think about the stake you will miss if you fail now.
Nor it says that you have to remember how you screwed it up last time, 5 years ago.
Nor to concentrate to show you are more powerful or knowledgeable than you are.
Nor that you are in an unsafe place.
Nevertheless, the human mind oriented to first catch the dangers rather than acknowledging safety, enters into an automatic pilot and fills in some blanks with assumptions it holds close for “the sake” of self protection.
Therefore, our mind starts first with the negative part of the script above, and while we pay attention and consume energy to deal with it, there is no mental space nor energy left to concentrate fully on the job at hand.
IMPOSTER SYNDROME MINDSET
The mindset of the person under the Imposter Syndrome is to:
- Compare themselves with others’ talents, knowledge, achievements
- Rearrange facts favouring others
- Become blind to own contribution, effort or results
- Forecast failure in spite of existing knowledge and effort
- Believe on their contribution only when others appreciate it
- Wait / Look for other’s appreciation
- Put extra effort to be sure they did everything to achieve
- Believe they have unforgivable or inexcusable flaws or imperfections
- Feel exposed as if anyone see they are not enough
Do you know the saying: Where attention goes, energy flows?
Look above! Where do you see it goes the attention of the person with an Imposter Syndrome mindset?
The answer is: to what is missing, or is lacking, to what they believe they do not have yet, they do not know yet, they feel are not capable yet.
In other words, the imposter syndrome mindset is a type of a loss mindset, paying attention to what is missing instead of what is present or in abundance.
Whenever one focuses on what is missing, their energy will go spent on covering or hiding what is missing. Masks or shields will be used to not let other people see the perceived inner weakness.
In reality, the person with imposter syndrome will behave as a kitten pretending it is a lion. Of course, everyone will see the exaggeration - it is part of natural intelligence we all humans are endowed with, except the person wearing the mask or shield.
Paradoxically enough, the person under the imposter system will be able most of the time to read correctly a situation when a person outside themselves, tends to wear a mask or a shield. The funny part is they truly believe they are masterful in covering it so no one can tell about themselves doing it.
Another manifestation alternative to bearing a mask or a shield, is not letting other people too close, for fear these people will see their inner weaknesses.
For that, people with imposter syndrome will find themselves often alone, and it will be difficult to create communication bridges. Even when there are genuine attempts to create ones, the partner will fill the lack of authenticity since they will have to deal with a mask and not with the real person behind.
8 WAYS FOR SHEDDING THE IMPOSTER SINDROME
To get out of this vicious thinking and feeling circle, you need to disrupt your own habitual (loss) thinking. This thinking is made out of what it perceives, what it feels, and what it believes.
Remember all these are just concoctions of a self sabotaged mind and not reality.
How to disrupt this circle?
Firstly, maintain a portfolio of hard evidence: your detailed results and achievements.
As a project manager or manager, building a portfolio of management results and achievements helps you a lot to see not only your results accruing, but you will start to also integrate better and acknowledge your own competences and skills that made those results possible.
Any time you feel you doubt yourself and your value, take one hour and have a look at everything you managed to accomplish to that moment.
Any time you have cold feet about not being enough knowledgeable or prepared, have a look again on the knowledge or experience you used to obtain those results.
Second, adjust your expectations about yourself to a more realistic alternative.
For example, you are a very good technical expert who got his first assignment as a project manager. You need to account for a disruptive period, in which you will be seen learning and that will bring you close to making errors.
It is unrealistic to expect from yourself to be the former technical proof expert, up and running at full speed, since you are on an unknown territory. Even if you have a map of it (for example you did an exhaustive course of project management), you have never put your foot on this territory and have no idea how it feels.
Be sure when you hear the words “learning curve” you also account for a period where you account for making many errors.
If your initial expectation has been that you will be a great manager fast, disrupt it.
Give yourself time to internalise your new surroundings and know yourself (your thoughts, your reactions) better in this new environment.
Accept you will make mistakes. Accept you are not perfect and that it is OK to be so.
Forgive for the mistakes or errors done, they say something about one moment in time and are not a reflection about your full capability or who will be after the learning curve period.
Third, judge yourself and others less.
When under the imposter syndrome, our safety is under attack.
To survive emotionally, our inner Judge gets activated to the point we start either judging ourselves bitterly or, similarly, we judge others to make us show better. Disrupt such tendencies since it gets you into negativity and it fogs with negative emotions both your mind and your ability to make good decisions.
This means to intercept yourself any time you are in the Judging mood, and consciously, to choose to stop judging (which in itself is a loss of energy), and direct your energy to whatever you can do best in the moment to move yourself forward towards your results.
Judging less (or at all) has a second advantage: will disrupt the habitual comparison you make with others, and will let yourself focus on comparing yourself today with yourself of yesterday. This makes it possible for you to notice your own progress.
Talking to persons you trust inside the organisation or with a coach or mentor about the decisions you intend to take, will bring you a new habit to open up and check your logic and thinking before a wrong thing.
Not only do you learn faster from people more experienced than you, but also it helps you adjust faster your ego or swollen sensitivity. Do not get me wring, both ego and sensitivity are helpful, but not in this way.
Keep your ego and use it only as a trademark of your brand to distinguish in the masses, but you need to pay attention to be distinguished for the right and useful things. Similarly, keep your sensitivity: being an empath is absolutely important in any management job, but do not forget to use it also for you. Blaming yourself means killing your own spirit, not self care. Accepting mistakes are inevitable and acknowledging you feel disappointed or anxious when doing them, is self care.
Fourth, think as if there is no limit in you, others and in your environments (since high chances that limit is created by your mind).
To disrupt a loss mindset always avid to see something is missing, any time you found in yourself “missing” knowledge, time, money, other resources, luck or feeling like you are not enough, ask yourself:
What would I do if this limitation wouldn’t exist? This is one reliable way to understand whether the limitation is real or just in your imagination. You may also want to discuss this limitation with people you trust in your circle, to also get their view on it.
Fifth: be decisive and ask for feedback.
If you still need to hear from someone outside you how well you are doing, just ask directly. Under the Imposter Syndrome, good people have the tendency to wait for the others (usually with more authority) to come and let them know whether they are doing OK.
Disrupt your natural tendency of waiting for this feedback. Go and get it.
But be prepared to also have a discussion where some aspects will be good and others will be for improvement. Afterall, you really need to know what to improve. Do not be offended when you receive such news.
Sixth: create a useful definition of success
To disrupt your (negative) reaction to your “work in progress” performance as a manager, you need a new definition of success in line with this period where you know there will be errors and learning is steep.
Therefore, your success in this period is rather related to how well you emotionally handle your own expectations and (re)actions rather than on your actual management performance.
Moreover, where attention goes, energy flows, remember?
Your awareness should sit rather on how you walk each step of the process, rather than the dimension of the result of each individual step.
You can at any time let yourself be inspired about how other people who got through the same transition managed to redefine success and to reframe your own definition.
Seventh: look for and acknowledge the signs of your success, according to your upgraded definition
Remaining faithful to recognising your own signs of progress is the best way to cut the dependency from any external validation.
Making a habit of reflecting daily on what went well, creates in you a powerful shift where you are able to acknowledge yourself your daily or periodical growth and evolution, will be able to see results showing up in line with your adjusted expectations, and will teach you to live relaxed and confident about being the right manager in the right place.
This will cut a lot of stress and will create conditions for you to recognise your success, to know you are on the right road and will give you room to enjoy your success.
Eights: expect the Imposter Syndrome to occur at any new beginning.
No, it is not an overstatement. It is my experience. Any time I started something new, something with a high stake in my life, something were I bet a lot, I was visited by my Imposter Friend.
Remember what I told you about the 10 Thinking saboteurs? Do you also have a Hyper Achiever and a Controller or Stickler? Then you definitely need to account for this visit.
My lesson here is when you know how to deal with it once and manage befriend the imposter, already know that masks and shields are useless and know how to integrate the parts in your you like less and treat them as weaknesses, then you are safe anyhow. Knowing you are safe, sets you in a totally different mental space to meet the next time with the Imposter Syndrome.
If not, agen will do it for you! After 50 nothing is impossible. Smile! But why wait to reach your 50s, when with a little guidance and accountability you can befriend this Imposter.
Afterall, it is YOU you need to befriend!
Your mindset trainer
💥🎉 That’s pretty much all for today 💥🎉
- Imposter Syndrome has bigger chances to occur when we hold the following thinkingh savboteurs: Judge, Hyper-Achiever, Controller and Stickler
- Imposter Syndrome is a coping mechanism quite broadly spread
- Imposter Syndrome communicates one thing: pay attention to the present since you have not been here before
- We have the tendency to create meaning about what else it means, and that puts us in defence, occupies lots of mental space and eats up or energy
- There are tendencies of our automatic behaviour accompanying Imposter Syndrome, which does not serve us: masks, shield, keeping people out
- Imposter syndrome is based on a specific mindset that predominantly pays attention to what is missing and not good.
- I listed my 8 ways which proved to be successful to me in managing my Imposter Syndrome
- As in many cases, time helps in straighening our mindset for a life with more welbeing.
- There is no need for you to wait reaching your 50s to gain mind clarity and heart peace of mind. We can work together on your Imposter Syndrome and save lots of energy spent without real value.
- Take the test of the 10 Thinking Saboteurs below and check how you make it possible for the Imposter Syndrome to exist.
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