Beating the Imposter Syndrome


Feelings of self-doubt can plague all of us.

In rare cases, these harbored doubts can threaten to derail our work lives.

The internal chatter and disconcerting “pangs”, can become quite vocal as we approach (or settle) into a new challenge. Actively considering a method to neutralize the negativity, is both worthy and necessary.

There is a name for this dynamic: The Imposter Syndrome. First documented by psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 70’s (read the source research here which explains how family experiences can serve as an instigating culprit), it illustrates how high achievement doesn’t automatically translate into a deep sense of confidence. We can harbor experiences that make us feel vulnerable and unworthy. In fact, some us fear being discovered as less than competent (even a “fake”) as we progress career-wise.

When suffering from the syndrome, internal doubt concerning whether an individual is deserving or worthy of success can dominate your thoughts. Research examining this dynamic, recorded greater anxiety levels for those who identified as “imposters” before a challenge and greater loss of self-esteem after a failure. Others examining IP as it affects us career-wise, found that IP decreased career planning, career striving and the motivation to lead — all of which can spell real trouble for development.

You’ve likely heard the urban legend of a freshly minted groups of MBA students at a prestigious university. On the first day of lectures, a professor inquired if they entertained the thought that their acceptance may have been in error. (Surprisingly, the majority of students raised their hand in response.)

They had unceremoniously diminished their hard work and accomplishments to something as capricious as an office error.

Many if us diminish our own successes in this manner.

The truth is this, I’ve been there — and in all likelihood you’ve been there, as well. We must make every effort to squelch the negative inner voice, as it attempts to trump our hard work. In fact, we should unpack the “whys” and “hows” of the syndrome.

Self-managing these pangs is an important task.

Some elements to consider:

  • Challenge the source of your doubt. This a worthy, yet very tough question to answer. In many cases, past experiences are so ingrained in our daily lives that we have forgotten to challenge them. Has an early career failure or unhealthy family dynamic plagued you in some way, for example.
  • Watch the stress of transitions. Feelings of anxiety can accompany new surroundings and periods of uncertainty. Recognize this is completely normal and will likely pass as you become more settled.
  • Challenge the “perfection” trap. Feelings of doubt can be fueled by the penchant to achieve perfection. Try to determine if perfectionist tendencies cloud your judgement concerning your knowledge set, skills and experience.
  • Consider the facts. Take a deep breath and examine the facts. (In fact, sit down and review your accomplishments.) There is likely much more evidence that you are competent, than not. Remember, that an organization chooses to engage you, betting you will succeed — rather than fail.
  • Process setbacks in a healthier manner. Failure is an ever-present possibility — and the greater the challenge ahead, the more likely your protective mechanisms will kick into high gear. Yes, there is a chance that you might fail. However, if all does not go well — be careful to “unpack” the low points without sacrificing your own self-image.
  • Monitor self-talk. What normally dominates your thoughts when you have an opportunity on the horizon? Excitement? Doubt? Negativity? Monitor (and auto-correct) the dialogue marching through your head.
  • Share your concerns. If you have nagging doubts about a specific element of your work life, put the cards on the table with someone with who can offer an impartial opinion. Go there and discuss perceived weaknesses. This may offer you a needed perspective.
  • Still doubtful? Focus on skill building. If you still have a suspicion that you may actually be lacking somehow (even though others may not share that assessment) explore methods to satisfy your inner critic. Carve out strategies to help you feel comfortable and build confidence. (Brush up on skill sets, circulate your ideas for review/comment, etc.) This may do your workplace “soul” a world of good

Read more about this topic:

Live.Work.Think.Play shares observations concerning a wide array of topics from running a company — to the perfect fragrance. It is designed to share lessons learned from a variety of perspectives.

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