Imagine for a moment that you’re a counselor at a women’s college. You love working with ambitious women, and you’re honored to help them sort out their problems on their journey to success.
But, you start to notice a pattern – a strange one that doesn’t add up.
The most successful women walking into your office looking for help, the high-achievers with the strongest track records, all express the same sentiment over and over again.
They feel like a fraud. Worried, anxious and stressed, despite perfect test scores and the highest remarks from teachers, they all feel like they’re going to fail or be “found out.”
“I shouldn’t be here. It’s some kind of fluke, and the entrance committee must have made a mistake. They’re going to find their mistake and kick me out.”
That scenario is what happened to Dr. Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970s, and it inspired her to study the young women’s experiences and coin the term “Imposter Phenomenon.”
As it turns out, the Imposter Phenomenon is extremely common – nearly 70% of all highly successful people will, at some point, feel like their success is a result of luck or hard work, absent of talent and skill.
This is especially true for women in positions of power, like business owners, coaches, entrepreneurs and public figures.
So, if you’re frequently battling the feeling that, despite all of your experience and knowledge, you aren’t qualified for the job you’ve set out to do, know that you’re not alone.
Together, we’re going to break down the Imposter Phenomenon, or Imposter Syndrome as it’s more commonly known.
- I’ll share the Imposter Cycle with you, helping you discover what’s going on in your mind at each step.
- You’ll learn how the Imposter Syndrome affects your beliefs and actions.
- I’ll share stories from successful women and celebrities about their experiences with the pervasive phenomenon.
- Finally, you’ll learn the steps you can take to prevent it, conquer it and move past its destructive tendencies.
But first, let’s look at the symptoms of Imposter Syndrome and see how many fit with your beliefs about yourself.
Do You Have Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome may be a destructive force in your life when you don’t even realize it. Sometimes, it’s so pervasive and consistent, it just feels like a normal experience.
Everyone has experienced the feelings listed below, but the stronger and more frequent they are, the more they indicate that Imposter Syndrome is getting in the way of both your success and your ability to accept it.
- You succeed even though you were certain you wouldn’t
- Others think you’re more competent than you believe you are
- You cringe at the idea of someone evaluating you
- Compliments make you feel like you’re being given a standard you can’t live up to
- Your success is a result of luck – right place, right time
- Times where you weren’t your best are more memorable than when you did a great job
- You hardly ever complete anything to your satisfaction
- You feel like you should have accomplished more than you already have
- You’re afraid others will find out you aren’t as knowledgable or experienced as you let on
- When you do a good job, you’re afraid you won’t be able to repeat it
- You downplay compliments after you receive them
- You compare yourself to others and often feel they’re better than you
- When you know you’re going to be recognized or rewarded, you avoid telling anyone until after it’s done
- You feel bad, ashamed or guilty when you don’t outperform others
If you relate to most of these feelings, then it’s likely Imposter Syndrome is interfering with your life in bigger ways than you probably realize.
Even though you can succeed and have all of these feelings, it will block you or, at the very least, make your goals far more difficult to reach than they should be.
One study found that the Imposter Phenomenon can make you less likely to seek out opportunities that you’re qualified for (like starting a business) and instead settle for positions with less responsibility and less pay.
Take a moment to let that sink in – the feelings described above can prevent you from making more money and doing satisfying, rewarding work.
That alone is probably enough motivation to get Imposter Syndrome out of your life for good. But before you can get rid of it, you’ve got to understand how it works.
The Seemingly Unending Imposter Syndrome Cycle
One of the reasons the Imposter Syndrome is so tenacious is because it works as a cycle, where the beginning feeds the end and it goes on and on.
The feelings of fraudulent qualifications and self doubt become a habit, an automatic reaction, making them difficult to cut out of your life.
But once you recognize the cycle, you have the power to stop it – at any point on its journey.
So, let’s take a look at how the Imposter Syndrome creeps in.
- You set out to work on an achievement related task – something that you could be recognized or rewarded for. The reward could be a payment, a testimonial, a recommendation, or recognition from your peers or superiors.
- Anxiety settles in. Accomplishments naturally bring anxiety with them, but this is where Imposter Syndrome starts to whisper nasty thoughts – “You don’t deserve this.” “You’re not good enough for this.” It may be that loud and obvious, or it could just come across as a feeling of worry and doubt.
- You react. Most people with Imposter Syndrome react in one of two ways:
- Over-working – You put in far more energy and effort into the task than is actually necessary. You go way far above and way far beyond.
- Procrastination – You put off the work until the last minute where you then work in a frenzied panic to meet the deadline.
- You finish the job and feel good. The task is complete and there are feelings of relief and maybe accomplishment. You got the job done, and that feels nice.
- You are rewarded/recognized. You get the reward you were expecting and it might come with positive feedback. The job was done, and it was done to the satisfaction of the person who paid you, gave you a positive testimonial or recommendation, or recognized your effort in some way.
- You discredit any positive feedback.
- If you over-worked you believe your success was a result of hard-work and had nothing or very little to do with talent and ability. You tell yourself “If anyone worked that hard, they’d have been successful too.”
- If you procrastinated, you believe your success was a matter of luck. You tell yourself things like “I’m lucky I even finished on time. There’s no way I did that great of a job. I didn’t have time to do my best.”
- You feel like a fraud. -Not recognizing your talents and abilities that made your success possible, you reinforce the belief that you’ll never be successful again.
- You receive another task. Because of your success, another task comes your way, but because you have reinforced fraudulent beliefs about yourself, you get anxious about being able to achieve success again.
- The cycle goes on and on.
If you’ve experienced Imposter Syndrome, you’re probably feeling like I just peeked into your life and told all your secrets. “How does she know that I constantly do this?”
It’s not magic.
Imposter Syndrome is a well-studied phenomenon and you, along with many other successful women have experienced it.
It’s a good feeling to know you’re not alone. There’s hope in finding something in common with someone, even if it’s a negative feeling.
That feeling is multiplied when you look at someone extremely successful and discover they’ve felt those same negative feelings.
This article is meant to give you hope – hope that you can move past this destructive cycle and catch up with the success you’re meant to have.
So, let’s take a look now at some women you’re familiar with and how Imposter Syndrome has affected them.
You’re Not Alone: Successful Women and Imposter Syndrome
“Each time I write a book, every time I face that yellow pad, the challenge is so great. I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.’”
Sheryl Sandberg, (COO of Facebook)
“Every time I was called on in class, I was sure that I was about to embarrass myself. Every time I took a test, I was sure that it had gone badly. And every time I didn’t embarrass myself—or even excelled—I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up.”
“I thought it was a big fluke. The same way when I walked on the campus at Yale, I thought everybody would find out, and then they’d take the Oscar back. They’d come to my house, knocking on the door, ‘Excuse me, we meant to give that to someone else. That was going to Meryl Streep.’”
“I feel every time I’m making a movie, I feel like [it’s] my first movie. Every time I have the same fear that I’m gonna be fired. And I’m not joking. Every movie, the first week, I always feel that they could fire me!”
“It’s almost like the better I do, the more my feeling of inadequacy actually increases. At any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved. I can’t possibly live up to what everyone thinks I am and what everyone’s expectations of me are. It’s weird — sometimes [success] can be incredibly validating, but sometimes it can be incredibly unnerving and throw your balance off a bit, because you’re trying to reconcile how you feel about yourself with how the rest of the world perceives you.”
6 Effective Ways to Combat Imposter Syndrome
Now you understand the ins and outs of Imposter Syndrome, how it affects your beliefs and actions, what each phase of the cycle looks like, and you’ve got a little hope because you realize even the most talented, successful women feel the same way.
But now it’s time to turn the tables. You’re about to learn the 6 most effective ways to kick Imposter Syndrome out of your life.
Break the cycle and conquer all those nasty self doubts. They’re going to try and sneak back in the more you keep moving up the ladder of your own success.
That’s ok, because with these tools you’ll be prepared to trust yourself, ignore the doubt, and just keep moving forward
#1 – Realize the purpose of the feelings
It’s easy to throw feelings like doubt under the bus because they feel terrible and get in the way of taking action, but don’t be so quick to judge.
Imposter Syndrome itself is ineffective and is a result of the cycle we talked about earlier, but the feelings of doubt that accompany it aren’t all bad.
Imagine being rewarded for something you did and being overcome with the exclusive feeling, “I completely deserve this. I am amazing.” – no humility, gratitude for things outside yourself, or respect for the hard work of others.
Feels pretty unnatural and gross right? That’s because a reaction like that would be totally ego-based and emotionally overreactive.
Your gut instinct tells you that an overwhelming one-sided emotion isn’t healthy, and you know that’s true.
Doubt often creeps in as a way to regulate ego-based emotions like pride and arrogance.
Your role is not to trust either emotion, but to find the middle ground between the two.
- When you trust the arrogance, you become rude, abrasive and pretty unlikable.
- When you trust the doubt, you fall into the cycle of Imposter Syndrome.
When you start to feel doubt creep in, step back and ask yourself if you were just feeling a sense of pride or accomplishment.
Try to uncover the role doubt is attempting to play, and then find the comfortable space in-between.
#2 – Embrace imperfection – Wabi-Sabi
Imposter Syndrome and Perfectionism go hand in hand. They are attached at the hip, and it’s hard to separate the two.
When you strive for perfection, you will always fall short.
Let me repeat that, because it’s really important to understand – you are never going to achieve perfection.
Guess what happens when you strive for perfection, don’t attain it, but still succeed anyway? You end up feeling like an imposter. It’s an inevitable reaction that you’re not going to be able to change.
So you’ve got to address the root of the problem – perfectionism. But how?
That’s where the concept of Wabi-Sabi comes in. Wabi-Sabi is an ancient Japanese tradition that is heavily engrained in Eastern culture, and very far removed from Western culture – so much so that there isn’t even a translation for the word.
Wabi-Sabi is about embracing perfection and accepting things exactly as they are.
- It’s displaying a cracked vase on your mantel instead of turning it around or throwing it out.
- It’s looking at an abandoned, dilapidated building and allowing it to stand without destruction or reconstruction because it is a natural occurrence to be respected.
- It’s understanding that nothing is permanent, nothing is ever complete, and nothing will ever be perfect.
It would be extremely difficult and improbable to fully embrace Wabi-Sabi in the modern, Western world, but understanding the wisdom it brings can help you let go of the obsessive need for perfection.
Try practicing a little Wabi-Sabi every now and then. The more difficult it is, the more you’re attached to perfection, and the more embracing the tradition could help fight the end result of your perfectionism – Imposter Syndrome.
#3 – Fight pessimism with gratitude
One of the biggest feelings associated with the Imposter Syndrome is feeling like you’re going to fail – feeling like it’s inevitable that at some point you’re going to stumble and your true fraudulent behavior up until now will be exposed.
Your instinct might be to tackle this pessimism head on.
You feel, “I am going to fail” and you try to force yourself to think, “I’m going to succeed.”
It won’t work because pessimism is blind. It refuses to believe that anything could possibly go well, and simply telling it, “Yeah it will” won’t do anything.
Instead, focus on gratitude. Gratitude is proof that things do go well. It is undeniable evidence that life can be beautiful, happy and satisfying.
Don’t just think about gratitude either. Write it down. Start a gratitude journal. Make it a daily habit to think of at least 3 things you’re grateful for.
Soon enough, when pessimism rears it’s ugly head telling you things always go sour, you’ll think of the giant list of things that prove otherwise.
#4 – List your accomplishments
Along the same lines of creating a gratitude journal and forcing pessimism to see that it’s just not right, you can use a list of accomplishments to combat insecurity.
Imposter Syndrome is full of insecurities; it’s the opposite of confidence and belief in yourself.
Just like pessimism, insecurity doesn’t listen without evidence. Simply negating an insecurity won’t get you very far.
So go ahead and write down a list of all your accomplishments. Yeah, you’re probably going to come up with tons of excuses and reasons that negate every single one. Make the list anyway.
The louder your insecurity gets, the longer and bolder that list should be. Shout your accomplishments at yourself if you have to.
The point is, to get over Imposter Syndrome, you’re going to have to take ownership of your success thus far.
You might have to force it or fake it at first, but with enough practice, your confidence will be much louder than your insecurity.
#5 – Visualize success
Never underestimate the power of visualization. Without a clear vision, it’s hard to know where you’re going.
When you’re feeling all those draining emotions that come with Imposter Syndrome, take a moment to step back and fully engulf yourself in a sensational vision of what success looks like to you.
Make it as real as possible. The more senses you engage, the more powerful it will be. Create a moment where you’re reaping the rewards of your success – see it, hear the sounds, smell what’s around you, taste something, touch things – let yourself get lost in the vision.
Oftentimes, this powerful exercise is enough to snap you out of negative feelings, and every time you re-imagine it, the more powerful it becomes.
It’s easy to blow this off as a hokey, ineffective exercise, but it’s enormously powerful and there’s plenty of research to prove that it works.
If it works for them, it’s worth a shot.
#6 – Develop your skills
One of the best ways to fight off feelings of inadequacy is to develop your skills and prepare yourself for the task you’re facing.
If all else fails, you can always rely on the fact that you’ve spent money, time, energy and effort into learning and training.
Developing your skills helps you overcome insecurity and doubt, fight off pessimism, get over the need for perfection, and take ownership of your accomplishments.
It does all of this by giving you a pragmatic set of tools that you can constantly re-visit.
- When you lack confidence, you can look at your training and tell yourself, “I’ve prepared for this. I know what I’m doing.”
- When you feel pessimistic about the outcome, you can take control of it. “I know that I have put forth my best effort in preparation. I’m in control of my actions, and I’m going to choose to use my training and do my best.”
- When your obsessive perfectionism overtakes you, you can breathe a sigh of relief and say, “I aim for perfection because I want to do a great job. I accept that I can’t obtain perfection. All I can do is my very best. I can accept the outcome of that because I know it will always be imperfect, but it will still be great.”
- When your “failures” seem easier to remember than your accomplishments, you can tell yourself, “I put in a lot of effort to develop my skills. I set a goal, and I reached it. I know that’s an accomplishment, and I know it is merely one among many.”
Become an Expert
Now you know exactly what to do when the Imposter Syndrome starts feeding you negative, disruptive thoughts.
You have the tools at your disposal to make a change, to grow, to learn and to overcome your doubts and fears.
It’s up to you to take action and move forward. Sitting back and letting things happen to you won’t lead you to success.
Knowing what you want, setting your aim, and developing a structured plan to get there are the keys to achieving any amount of success.
If you’re an entrepreneur that wants consistent income, but you fight yourself with feelings of doubt and insecurity, take a look at the choices you make and then do something different.
Don’t keep putting off your success because Imposter Syndrome is fighting you every step of the way.
To start taking action today, I invite you to join the Business Mastery Certification program. You’ll learn the critical skills and strategies necessary to find success as a business owner.
Nothing defeats Imposter Syndrome better than taking charge of your success, developing your skills and gaining confidence.