Do you ever feel like a phony?
You might be an accomplished professional with a distinguished education, polished resume, remarkable achievements and the respect of colleagues and co-workers. Yet, day-in and day-out, you feel like you’re going to be discovered as a fraud any minute now.
Negative comments or actions are amplified and self-doubt convinces you that you’re not qualified to be where you are. Somebody’s going to find out. Oh, you’ve picked up enough along the way to fake it, but how much longer can that last?
You’re not alone.
Mentalfloss.com said ‘Impostor syndrome’ is “a distortion of thinking that makes (people) believe they’re actually incompetent, unintelligent and lazy. They’re convinced they’re faking their way through their accomplishments, and one day, they’ll be found out – exposed for the frauds they believe themselves to be.”
In her now-famous 2012 TED Talk, Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy, Ph.D., described her own experience with Impostor syndrome after her brain injury that threatened her academic future.
“I fought my way back—very slowly—and eventually finished college and persuaded someone to take me on as a grad student at Princeton,” Dr. Cuddy explained in an article on leanin.org. “But for years afterward I was haunted by Impostor fears. Every achievement led me to feel more afraid, while even the smallest failure confirmed my belief that I didn’t belong. ‘I’m not supposed to be here’ ran through my head over and over.”
Dr. Cuddy describes an antidote to this kind of anxiety as presence, that is the ability to inhabit and trust the integrity of one’s own values, feelings and capabilities. “This capacity for presence is the seedbed of confidence, courage and resilience required to rise to even the most daunting of life’s challenges.”
Ironically, the majority of folks that can identify with Impostor syndrome are actually very high performing individuals with ‘mad skills.’ They are not usually, however, afflicted with ego or, consequently, self-confidence.
Two of the biggest problems with Impostor syndrome are that it can hold you back and can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe you don’t deserve the credit or success you’re experiencing, the chances are you won’t be apt to branch out, push the envelope and try to accomplish more. Even worse, if you believe fervently enough that you are not deserving of your own accomplishments, you can dwell on negative comments and mounting self-doubt and will wind up imploding your career. That is no good for you or for your agency.
How To Combat Impostor Syndrome:
- Say ‘Impostor syndrome’ aloud. Just verbalizing it helps reduce its impact. Aloud it actually sounds pretty ridiculous.
- Keep a list of your accomplishments. Refer back to it as often as needed to realize it is real.
- Celebrate ‘Impostors’ in your agency. Recognize and celebrate the good work of your people, especially those that may fall into this category. It’ll help them and, in doing so, you.
- Fake it til you make it. Even if you don’t believe yourself to be a legitimate success, act like one until you achieve the ‘presence’ Cuddy speaks of.
- Invest your accomplishments in your agency. It’s a subtle distinction but consider your accomplishments to be that of your agency. Not that you should wash your hands of your good work, but consider that you work on behalf of your agency and that your good works are their good works. In other words, it helps legitimize your accomplishments if you ‘share the wealth.’
- Seek a mentor. Chances are you will find someone that has experienced the same degree of self-doubt. Knowing that you are not alone can help overcome the effect.
- Mentor someone else. You will be less likely to discount your own expertise or accomplishments if part of your responsibility is to pass along professional life wisdom to others.
- Acknowledge the people around you that got you where you are didn’t make a mistake. Muse.com says “Don’t doubt the intelligence of those who have promoted you, hired you, or offered you opportunities. They have made deliberate choices based on your experience and potential. You really do deserve to be there.”
- Realize that ‘Impostor syndrome’ is a symptom of success. Again, comsays that if you’re feeling like a fraud, believe it or not, you’re probably doing something right.
- Write a blog. It leads others to the notion that you know what you’re talking about.
By Tom Bryson, Vice President & Public Sector Practice Leader