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Everything You Need to Know About Imposter Syndrome

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You’ve been told again and again that you’re good at your job. Talented, even. You accept these compliments but deep down they make you uncomfortable. You believe you’re a one-trick pony. Sooner or later, the truth will come out. Everyone will realise you’re an imposter.

Sound familiar? Then you might have Imposter Syndrome. We examine this common psychological problem with the help of leadership coaches and freelancers. Also, discover tactics to overcome impostorism.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

ImposterSyndrome is the feeling of “inadequacy that persists despite evidence to the contrary,” says Martin Murphy in his eBook on impostorism.

Martin is a former Special Forces soldier, international adviser and coach to leaders and high-performance teams (who has helped Adam on numerous occasions). His eBook explores the origin of Imposter Syndrome and the ways to conquer it. An excellent resource, we will refer to it throughout this article.

Negative thoughts regarding one’s self-worth are textbook Imposter Syndrome symptoms. They are usually triggered “by the fear of being judged socially,” explains Martin.

Imposter Syndrome has far-reaching consequences, especially regarding work.

For example, imagine you’re at a networking event. As a shy person, you’re intimidated by all the confident people around you. You feel like you don’t belong, so you decide to leave early. As a result, you miss out on making
valuable business connections.

Who does Imposter Syndrome effect?

Up to 70% of men and women of various race, background and occupation will fall prone at some point with many over-working, showing reluctance to share ideas and excessively people-pleasing,” says Reeya Patel, a freelance Marketing Communications

How does age factor in? Martin has discovered how younger people may be more prone to impostorism: “In a study of 3000 people, 62% of them had experienced imposter syndrome in that year. The percentage increased to 86% when the researchers focussed on younger professionals aged 18-34.”

An evolutionary trigger?

Following the right leader at the right time was a key survival skill. If one person attempted to gain an unrepresentative advantage, the community had ways of dealing with them. It is important not to upset the group and become socially isolated,” says Martin.

He continues: “Such is the survival drive to remain connected to the tribe that we experience social anxiety in the same areas of the brain as we experience physical pain.”

Over time, our intrinsic need to feel connected has caused us to develop empathy and humility.

These traits allow us to stop being a nuisance to people, making it easier for us to belong. But they can also trigger feelings of self-doubt in individuals who are hyper-aware of other people’s opinions. Martin believes technology has made this issue worse.

“Technology has taken us back socially”

According to Martin, technology has trapped us between two social drives:  

●      To compete for status

●      To remain connected to the group

The result is inner tension that makes people want to stand out to gain professional and social success. But they don’t want to appear foolish in front of a group.

Consequently, this ignites self-destructive behaviour:

Self-Doubt: despite evidence to the contrary, they feel like a fraud and worry about being found out.

Trivialise: they downplay their own achievements and ideas.

Oversensitive to social cues: they sense that people are looking at them disapprovingly and that others can see through their façade of confidence.

Procrastinate: they hold back on starting projects, meeting people, proffering their ideas because this keeps them safe from criticism and rejection.

But we don’t all suffer from Imposter Syndrome

Martin explains that “if somebody is able to present themselves confidently at social and professional events without feeling some inner tension, it’s probably because of one of two reasons:

1) The person is confident and humble in the right balance making them influential for the right reasons.

2) The person has higher than normal levels of atypical personality traits such as psychopathy, sadism, Machiavellianism and narcissism.”

To build a better world, we need more people who fit into the first category. But how can they get to a place where Imposter Syndrome doesn’t affect them?

How to beat Imposter Syndrome

Lean into it

Freelance Content Writer, Brad Ewin, says: “The best way to deal with imposter syndrome is to lean into it. Accept that you're not an infallible expert in your field, but also that no one else is either. Truly internalising that knowledge is going to make the biggest
difference. From there, plan your way out:

  1. Ask yourself why others in your field don't look like imposters.

  2. Identify the traits that trend and start adopting them yourself.

It might be having a great LinkedIn profile, publishing blog posts every day, or speaking at events. Make that shortlist and get to work, ticking them off one-by-one."

Know your value

Cath Brown has practised as a barrister for 15 years at Kings Chambers in Manchester. She is now the Founder of Skilful Conversation, a business coach and trainer service.

To overcome Imposter Syndrome, she explains how you need to understand and believe in your values. Cath recommends the below exercise to achieve this:

“Dedicate a notebook, or a file on your computer to listing your wins to create a new story. Practise being in that story. Try it on for size. There’s so much you can do to reframe your current reality to free yourself, allow you to walk on a different path, or on this path with a spring in your step.”

Don’t obsess over the competition

Ben Potter, a Business Development Mentor for agencies, advises people to stop obsessing over the competition:

owners only ever talk about the good stuff that’s going on. Behind the scenes, the vast majority will be facing the exact same challenges as you … and probably just as much doubt as to whether what they’re doing is good, bad or indifferent.”

Separate fact from fiction

Founder of The Wheel Exists, Kate Carlisle and Michelle Pratt, owner of Dive Deeper Development do a brilliant podcast together called 99 Problems (but a boss ain't one). In episode one, they talk about Imposter Syndrome. Here’s some stellar advice from the session:

“Some people believe they’re not really good at what they do. But that’s not a fact, it’s an opinion. Talking to other people puts that into perspective. You’ll get different views and realise that your opinion isn’t the same as everyone else's. This helps you separate fact
from fiction.”

Helping others overcome self-doubt

Alex Heywood is the Co-Founder of 4and20million which provides training and consultancy services to businesses.

He highlights the importance of leaders praising their people “loudly and often” to teach them how to appreciate their value. And how this, in turn, ignites success for a business:

“By ensuring your celebration of strengths outweighs the identification of weaknesses, the environment will be healthier, happier, more productive and imposter syndrome - that scourge of modern work - can become less potent and present.”

Know your purpose

“When you have a sense of purpose your perspective shifts to one of service and helps overcome the feelings of shyness in social situations,” advises Martin Murphy.

To achieve this: “Start small. Just begin to think about helping one person or animal. It might be a neighbour or elderly person living in your street. Do what you can, with what you’ve got, right where you are. From there the idea may grow.”

Martin has other brilliant insights into overcoming Imposter Syndrome. You can discover them in his eBook.

Let’s keep this discussion hot!

Have you experienced Imposter Syndrome? Perhaps you’ve also discovered tactics to feel more self-assured. If you’d like to share your thoughts on this subject, we’d love to hear from you. Chat to us on Twitter!