Dan Beverly

A common phenomenon

The Impostor Syndrome – that feeling experienced by otherwise successful and intelligent professionals of not deserving their accomplishments, of somehow having faked their way to success – is a common phenomenon.

I’ve seen research suggesting as many as 70% of professionals have suffered from it at some point in their career. And based on my own executive coaching practice, I’d say that number’s right – and maybe even a bit soft.

Despite its prevalence, the Impostor Syndrome is not often spoken about. Hardly surprising: it’s hard to spot; easy to rationalise; at times, serves us positively; and above all, affects those who are afraid of being found out – so who’d draw attention to it?

Whilst understandable, this is unfortunate because the Impostor Syndrome (unchecked) can be debilitating and have significant negative impact – both on us and our teams. Symptoms include excessive stress, intense fear of failure, performance anxiety and general loss of confidence and which play-out in the workplace as procrastination, perfectionism, indecisiveness, risk aversion, micromanagement and workaholism.

But by learning to internalise accomplishments, challenge limiting beliefs, showcase strengths and cultivate more helpful patterns of thinking, the Impostor Syndrome can be beaten.

1. Which of your successes are you not taking ownership of?

An inability to acknowledge and internalise accomplishments is a key theme of the Impostor Syndrome.

To help make a more objective assessment of your achievements: make a personal success inventory. List recent key achievements. And for each: make a note of your skills, capabilities and personal qualities that contributed to your success.

Recognising and capturing these “success drivers” will likely reveal patterns of flawed thinking, and uncover contributions otherwise dismissed or attributed to others or to “dumb luck”.

When complete, take a mental step back. What do you notice? Which of your successes are you not owning? How much of your success have you been discounting; or attributing elsewhere?

Having a strong self-awareness of your strengths and their part in your success is the first step to internalising your accomplishments – and beating the Impostor Syndrome.

2. Which of your beliefs about success are holding you back?

Flawed beliefs about success and failure lie at the root of the Impostor Syndrome. Overcoming this mode of thinking requires awareness and realignment of inaccurate beliefs.

Start by identifying your beliefs about success. Ask yourself: what do I need to do, to be, and to have in order to be successful? Make some notes.

And now think about any beliefs you’re holding about perceived limitations. Ask yourself: I am not worthy of my current successes because I have not done, am not and do not have. Note these beliefs.

Now, again: take a mental step back and make an objective reassessment and challenge of these beliefs. Look for fact. And allow yourself to consider that previously-accepted success criteria may not be wholly accurate.

Which of your beliefs are supporting you? Which of your beliefs are holding you back? What would be the effect of updating your beliefs? How would things be different?

Our beliefs are fundamental to the nature of results we create for ourselves. By reassessing our beliefs objectively, we have the opportunity to challenge and reshape them.

3. Which of your strengths are you overlooking?

People who suffer from the Imposter Syndrome often overlook their strengths, preferring instead to focus on (perceived) weakness and shortcoming to reinforce other flawed beliefs.

Shift your thinking by first conducting a strengths inventory; and then investing time to ensure those strengths are maximised and showcased in your day-to-day work.

Brainstorm a list of things you do well. Give yourself 5 minutes, no more. If you’re having trouble, start with small and obvious stuff. Or think of a time when you were really pleased with your performance. What did you do particularly well?

Now that you have a list, take that mental step back: what do you notice? What patterns are you seeing? What are the common factors? What did you do to develop these strengths?

And now: what strengths have you overlooked? What’s not on the list? What have you forgotten? What common themes do you notice? Add these additional strengths to your list.

Now consider how these strengths play-out in your day-to-day. Ask yourself: which strengths are not featuring as much as they could? What more could I do to further use my strengths to benefit myself, my team and my organisation?

Get clear on your strengths. And dedicate time to showcasing and maximising them.

4. Who are you talking to about this?

Of my 5 questions, this is perhaps the one we’re most likely to resist. After all, why risk exposure and increase one’s vulnerability? But as with so many psychological burdens, sharing with someone we trust can greatly reduce the stress and strain.

So: who are you talking to about this? Who could you talk to?

Look for a trusted confidant, perhaps someone outside of your organisation or immediate circle. And it doesn’t need to be discussed in the context of “The Impostor Syndrome”. Talk instead about a temporary struggle with confidence, a bout of procrastination or perfectionism. Keep it light and conversational.

Finding an avenue to talk about challenges such as the Impostor Syndrome helps to normalise the situation, bring fresh perspective and encourage new modes of thought. Try it: it will help.

5. When you beat the Impostor Syndrome, what will you be losing?

When embarking on a significant behaviour change – as overcoming Impostor Syndrome must surely require – it’s always useful (I’d say necessary) to consider what we will be losing.

For no matter how unhelpful or destructive a pattern of behaviour or thinking may seem, there will always be a secondary purpose that serves us. And whilst we’re always quick to focus in on the benefits of a new behaviour, we all too often underestimate how attached we are to the existing behaviour and fail to acknowledge that secondary purpose.

For many, the Impostor Syndrome will have contributed to their success: hard and diligent working (but which then became workaholism); determination and focus (which became anxiety and stress); quality preparation (which became over-preparation and procrastination); quality output (which became perfectionism). And so on.

So: how has the Impostor Syndrome been serving you? What do you stand to lose? And does that loss need replacing with some more productive mode of thinking?

Consider what higher purpose is being served by the Impostor Syndrome. Then look to develop alternative and more productive behaviours to maintain desired benefits

Self-awareness and self-acceptance are key

The Impostor Syndrome can take an exacting toll on even the most successful of professionals and, unchecked, has the potential to derail careers.

But Impostor Syndrome can be overcome. And these 5 questions – and the suggested follow-on exercises – can help develop the self-awareness and self-acceptance necessary to do just that.

If you’re noticing some of what’s been discussed in this article in your own working life and would like to have a conversation, please do feel free to get in touch.

Dan Beverly

Dan Beverly is a leadership and performance coach helping high-calibre, high-performing professional women embrace the pivotal career moments.

To work with Dan, go online to book your complimentary “Session Zero” – and start capitalising on your pivotal career moment, today.