If you are a high achiever, then you have probably experienced it — imposter syndrome. The good news is that if you have, it means you are in good company. Just Google imposter syndrome quotes and you will see the likes of Maya Angelou, Mike Meyers, Sheryl Sandberg, Tina Fey, Tom Hanks and Serena Williams.
“How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?” Tom Hanks, NPR interview.
The bad news is, that if you let it, it can be debilitating. Especially if you start to believe your own press. But I have found there is one easy way to combat it. I would love to say ‘conquer it’, but if you are constantly pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, to do bigger and better things, you will always be dealing with it.
Automatic thought would tell you that if you practice something more, you will become more confident and therefore experience the feeling of being a fraud, less.
But here’s the thing. Imposter syndrome does not come from lack of confidence. Confidence is what pushes us to think we can do better and be better. So where does it come from?
In a way, feeling like an imposter could be thought of as needing to deal with failure. All of my life I’ve thought that I’ve had to be perfect at things from the beginning. Perhaps it’s because some things came so easily to me as a child. It took a lot of personal development to know that when I start something new, I shouldn’t be comparing myself to people who have mastered that thing. Nor should I expect not to make mistakes along the way. Yet I still fear the thought of failure even though I’ve experienced it and know that I can live through it more times than I can count. As Carol Dweck wrote in her outstanding book on Mindset, when we inhabit a growth mindset, we focus on our efforts instead of our intelligence which in turn can help us achieve more. But there you are, right back to being a high achiever. So what do you do when you get there and start feeling that someone is going to find out that you don’t belong? That you are indeed a fraud? To begin with, you can start with what Carol teaches. “In a growth mindset, challenges are exciting rather than threatening. So rather than thinking, oh, I’m going to reveal my weaknesses, you say, wow, here’s a chance to grow.” Carol Dweck As I am sure you already know, this is easier said than done. You can set those big hairy audacious goals only to be undermined by your own thinking, your own doubts, your own feeling of being found to be a fraud. So the next time you decide to try to accomplish something big and tackle something new, start at the very beginning by telling yourself that the main thing you want to get out of this is to learn something new. My strongest times of feeling like an imposter now is when I get asked to speak at an event. It is a double edged sword for me because I love it and hate it all at the same time. I love the idea of pushing myself to reach the audience, to learn new ways of connecting with them and of being a light. But the imposter always shows up questioning me by saying, “What were you thinking? You know they are going to see that you don’t have a clue what you are talking about!” But I have felt it in so many other circumstances too, like when I first got asked to be on a board of directors, when I first went into management, and even when I’ve been asked to teach a class. So the next time you find yourself in a similar situation where your imposter shows up, start to listen. “One of the best tools I learned early on is listening.” Sheldon Cooper, Young Sheldon And then question. Questioning is the number one tool I have found to combat imposter syndrome. From questioning my own thinking to questioning the others in the room or situation, questioning can take all the pressure off when you realize you don’t have to know it all, that there is no comparison game, and you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. Questions like the following can help with your own thinking.
What is the worst that can happen?
Is that the truth?
How else can I look at this?
What can I learn?
How far have I come?
And then be humble enough to ask questions of others. “Will you explain to me how that was offside? No! I’m asking you. Seriously. Explain offside to me. It makes no sense.” Ted Lasso Realizing that we don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, even when we are the leader, is so freeing. If you want to go even deeper, start to dissect the situation like an experiment.
What happened that made me feel that way?
What happened that made me think that?
How can I be better prepared for it next time?
And lastly, ask yourself this question: but did you have fun? One of my sons coaches used to always ask the kids that question all of the time. But especially when they didn’t do very well. And isn’t that the beautiful part to ask yourself? Did you learn some thing?