Have you ever felt like a fake or a fraud despite all your achievements and successes? If so, you’re not alone. Many people experience what we all know as “imposter syndrome.” But the thing is, imposter syndrome isn’t actually a mental health condition. It just describes a feeling of self-doubt and inadequacy, where you constantly question your abilities and worry that you’ll be discovered as a fraud.
- It was normal to feel this way?
- It was necessary for our growth?
- It meant we were learning?
- It could be a catalyst for connection with others?
Despite evidence of your achievements, you might feel like you’re only succeeding due to luck or the ability to deceive others into thinking you’re competent. But here’s the truth, this feeling is quite common, and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you!
Imposter syndrome is part of the learning and growth process. When we’re in new situations or taking on new challenges it’s natural to feel like we don’t know what we’re doing or that we aren’t capable. This feeling of uncertainty can be uncomfortable, but it can also fuel our growth.
Imposter syndrome can come from internal and external sources. On the outside, our society values perfection and success, often to the point that failure is seen as a weakness. This pressure to be perfect can create a constant need to prove ourselves, leading us to doubt our abilities and accomplishments constantly.
Internally, we often compare ourselves to others rather than our personal journey. We see others who seem to have it all together and assume they’re not struggling with the same self-doubt and uncertainty. This comparison can further fuel our imposter syndrome, making us feel inadequate and like we don’t belong.
But, the exact opposite is true. You do belong! Others are feeling the same way you are. Rather than feeling like you will be exposed, open up about how you are feeling, be vulnerable, and create a safe space for others to do the same.
Imposter syndrome is not a mental illness. It’s a shared experience. Studies have shown that people who experience imposter syndrome tend to be highly motivated, dedicated, and hardworking. Embrace the journey of self-exploration.
So, what can you do to overcome imposter syndrome?
Embrace, accept, and have a relationship with the emotions rather than identifying with them. Become curious, look inward, and lean in; imagine what could be on the other side of that fear!
That’s very aspirational, but making such a big shift is easier said than done. So, if you find yourself struggling with imposter syndrome, here are four steps to transform imposter syndrome from being a stressor into an opportunity to learn about yourself:
1. Recognize It
If you can see it, you’re not it. Stop and pay attention to the story you tell yourself about the moment, find the fear, and talk to it. I might say, “there you are, my inner 13-year-old, insecure, jealous girl. Welcome, would you like cake? You’re a part of me, and I love you. You’re in the car with me, and I know you care, but I’ve got this, and you’re not the one driving.”
2. Enroll Your Inner Detective.
Look for the facts that can support you. They want you to be a coach, to work on the project, and to be part of the team. Identify the facts. Facts alone can break through imposter syndrome.
3. Reframe It.
Think to yourself, “I’m perfecting, not perfection. I’m learning and growing through practical application.” Adopt a growth mindset where every mistake is an opportunity to learn something new. Just open your heart to making mistakes. Reframe it as a learning opportunity, not a failure. Turn it around in your head and lean in. You are capable, and you belong!
4. Rinse and Repeat.
The cycle never ends. Well-being comes from your ability to notice you’re stuck. Pay attention to the stuckness and put that imposter syndrome in the passenger seat.
Celebrate your successes. Be bold and acknowledge and celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small. This will help you build confidence and combat feelings of self-doubt.
People who experience imposter syndrome often feel like they are alone in their struggles, but the reality is that others are feeling the same way. When we openly acknowledge our insecurities and limitations, we create an environment of vulnerability and openness that allows others to do the same. Being vulnerable can lead to deeper, more meaningful connections with colleagues and peers.
While imposter syndrome is often seen as a negative phenomenon, it can actually be a good thing! That’s right, imposter syndrome isn’t always a dark cloud hanging over our heads. It’s a sign of growth and a catalyst for change. Imposter syndrome doesn’t define who you are or your worth. Embrace it, reframe it, and lean into whatever is next.
Disturbance, confusion, and a sense of impending chaos are not signs we are about to be destroyed. They are, in fact, the conditions that awaken us to our possibilities.
Kathleen Seeley is an acclaimed corporate leadership consultant, transformational coach, facilitator, and international speaker. For nearly 30 years, she has consulted and coached individuals and corporate leadership teams, facilitating game-changing transformation in a leadership capacity and team functioning. She has worked with various clients from large and small-scale companies, governments, and higher education institutes like eBay, George Washington University, Siemens, Royal Roads University, and The Canfield Training Group.
Her work develops resilient values-based cultures and forward-thinking leaders. It has been globally recognized as a pathway to a more stable and sustainable future. Kathleen and the Massively Human Leadership team are committed to bringing the human out in organizations by using values as a metric to tap into their greatest asset: their people.