sImposter Syndrome- What is it?
Imposter syndrome is a concept that has been floating around recently and has sparked a lot of curiosity. People researching the meaning of imposter syndrome have risen by 100% in the last year. Out of all the countries, the UK shot all the way up to the first ranking, as most researched in that country. (reference google.) If you are someone who feels like you might struggle with imposter syndrome, but you are not sure what it means and how to combat it, I am writing this article for you.
Dr. Pauline Rose Glance and Suzanne Imes first coined the term imposter phenomenon in 1978. (reference). They noted that many high achieving women did not experience an internal feeling of success and in fact felt that their success was an attribute to chance or luck. Women with imposter syndrome feared that their perceived incompetence would be discovered by those around them, leading to exposure as a fraud or imposter. (reference) In their research, the feelings of imposter syndrome existed despite earning degrees, receiving recognition from their colleagues, or achieving success in their fields.
How do you know if you have felt it?
From personal experience, I would best describe the feeling as not belonging, having anxiety around my skills and achievements, the need to overwork to prove myself, and the fear of someone discovering I am not good at what I do, thus discrediting my success. With research conducted by Glance and Imes, women who exhibit the imposter phenomenon do not fall into one diagnostic category. The clinical symptoms most frequently reported are generalized anxiety, lack of self confidence, depression, and frustration related to the inability to meet self-imposed standards of achievement. Odds are, if you have felt any of the above mentioned in relation to your work, you might have had an encounter with imposter syndrome.
How to combat feeling like an imposter?
I am a Career Development Professional and have been trained in counselling and case management and when I work with clients, it is a barrier that comes often. I listed below 5 tools that I have learned through my practice and have done in my own life in order to start challenging any limiting beliefs.
1. Recount Significant Experiences
This is a profound exercise that will take you back down memory lane and help you recall the notable things you have done so far in your life. The best way to go about this is to put your life into 5 year age brackets. For example, ages 5-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, and so on. From there, you will want to write down any positive memories that come up for you for each of these age groups. The key component of this exercise is that you write about anything that makes you feel good and makes you feel energised as you recall them. It can be anything from drawing a picture, tending to your plants, or organising your closet. It only matters how YOU feel about it.
From there, you will want to prioritize the top 5 stories according to your joy in doing them, and level of energy in recalling them. You will then want to try to tell a story around these activities and go into as much detail as possible. Notice what skills and themes come up.
If there are several skills that make you really feel joyful, use that as a navigation towards things that will fill you up, rather than deplete you.
2. School of Life
An organization I love is School of Life. They are an educational company that offers advice on life issues, and I recently got my hands on their career therapy deck. I pulled the imposter syndrome card and it states, “whenever we encounter a stranger; we’re not really encountering a stranger; we’re in fact encountering someone who is- in spite of the surface evidence to the contrary-in basic ways very much like us.” This is a fancy way of saying that we all experience negative emotions at some point or another and that perhaps reminding ourselves of this will help us feel better.
3. Reflected Best-Self Exercise
In my opinion, this is one of the most profound exercises because it allows you to use your community to uplift you.
In the RBS exercise, you ask 10 to 20 people who know you well professionally and/or personally to send you some input on the following questions:
(a) Please describe me in two words; (b) What are two of my personal strengths? How do you see those manifesting in my life? (c) What two personal challenges, weaknesses or pieces of advice would you like to give me? If applicable, how do you see those manifesting in my life?’
After collecting the data, try to assemble a portrait of yourself, preferably in writing, building on the common themes and tensions you see in the data.
4. Take A Strengths & Skills Assessment
There are formal assessments out there that are meant to analyze different parts of who you are and measure that against various careers. While standardized tests have been criticized for not always playing to the best parts of a person, you can definitely choose some that are reliable, valid, and have a strength-based approach. I would suggest VIA character strengths and DRIVE by skill scan. They are self-assessment tools and have great resources paired with the results. It’s best to have a counsellor go through the results with you, but even taking a moment of your time to really think about yourself is impactful. For some, having information laid out in a graphic is an easy way to get instant validation and gain self-understanding.
5. Break Down Your Fears
This is something that I learned from working with my personal therapist and I feel that it has worked wonders in terms of my career development. Essentially, the idea is to question the logic and root of your fear until you break it all the way down.
For example, let’s say I fear conducting workshops, despite all the wonderful reviews that I receive after I deliver them. I start to question what part of them is making me feel afraid. Right away, I think that it’s the public speaking component that makes me feel anxious. I dig deeper and ask more questions. What part of public speaking scares me? I realize that it’s less about talking to others, but it’s the fear of saying the wrong thing. What part of saying the wrong thing scares me? My answer is that I typically like to know what I am talking about and I worry that if I make a mistake, people will judge me. I do this until I can realize what the core problem is. My root problem is no longer conducting workshops, but it’s a fear of being judged. At this point, I can shift my focus to solve this issue.
Overall, the 5 tools that I presented in this article are rather simple, but a lot of the hard work is found in actually making the small steps to do the work. Instead of overwhelming yourself by trying to do all of these exercises, try to choose one or two that you can focus on over the next while. If you need any help working through these feelings, I would be glad to work with you 1:1, support you in any of the exercises, or facilitate the skills or strengths assessment process. You can contact me below!
- Google Trends on Imposter Syndrome
- Clance PR, Imes SA. The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: dynamics and therapeutic interventions
- School of Life
- HBR- How to play to your strengths
- VIA Character Strengths Assessment
- DRIVE by Skillscan
About your author
Bree Dunn-Hucko is a career development professional and the Founder of “Career Bloom”. She focuses on self-discovery, strategy, and tools to better your career. She specializes in resume writing, Linkedin optimization, holistic counselling and is certified to provide level B assessments.
You can find out more about Bree and her business here:
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