Constant anxiety and stress in the workplace. Feeling worn out, guilty, and like you’re just always failing no matter how hard you try. Feeling like you just don’t belong, and it’s a matter of time that people will find out. It all feels wrong. You should love your job, your career, but the amount of misery it’s giving you just doesn’t feel worth it. And to top it all off, you don’t even feel deserving of the title or position you hold. The one you’ve been working so hard for. You’re still trying to prove that you deserve it when you already have it. Which means that you can’t relax, you can’t take a break, and you can’t miss a beat. Sound familiar? Yeah, Does to me. Oh have I been there! It’s a painful existence.
Imposter syndrome is one ugly mother, shut yo mouth!
Last week, I talked to you about learning to trust yourself. I said to tune into YOU and your values, to take steps to demonstrate that your trustworthiness to yourself by setting realistic targets for yourself and acheiving them, and to set boundaries. That’s all fine and good, but I know that if you’re dealing with imposter syndrome, it’s not enough. You need more in order to feel that you can truly trust yourself. You need a mindset shift that will free you from the idea that you’re the underqualified, incompetent employee that people somehow haven’t yet noticed was this bad. The best way to stop feeling like an imposter, is to stop thinking like an imposter!
And, how do I do that, JJ?
Well, let’s get into it. Let’s talk about imposter syndrome, shall we?
What is imposter syndrome?
Simply put, imposter syndrome is the feeling that you’ve been able to dupe someone into believing you’re something that you’re not. Like you’ve managed to pull the wool over someone’s eyes and now they think you’ve got skills and expertise, when in reality you don’t. Because of it, you tend to live in fear that you’ll be “discovered” as the imposter, and… well, that you’ll lose it all.
Imposter syndrome leads us to behave in ways that we wouldn’t otherwise. Depending on your imposter type (I go through these briefly a bit further down), we overcompensate for the feelings of inadequacy by working ourselves into a stupor and we refuse to ask for help. We become the dreaded micro-manager, or the shadow in the back of the room that is afraid of being noticed. And we do things that we struggle to understand even ourselves. We have fits of rage and anger over being doubted, despite the fact we deeply doubt ourselves. We refuse to let go of work even during holidays, we avoid challenges, we blame others when things go wrong.
While imposter syndrome is mentally and physically exhausting, it can be a massive driver to achieve short term success. It causes some to over-achieve, becoming the “star” despite how unpleasant it is to interact with them or how excruciating it is for them to maintain that title. But, oftentimes, most times, imposter syndrome doesn’t work out in our favour, especially not long term. It destroys our mental health, our social lives, and our ability to enjoy life. And… believe me when I say this, our colleagues might not understand it for what it is, but they know there’s a big problem. To be frank, the harsh truth is that they may like you as a person, but they probably don’t like working with you. Ouch.
The Imposter Types
Imposter syndrome isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. It’s not “I believe I’m an imposter because I just feel incompetent”. Not at all. Our brains don’t work on such simple logic. If they did, undoing imposter syndrome would be a straightforward process. It’s not.
Imposter syndrome is much more complex, and much more rooted in beliefs that seem reasonable to us. Beliefs like successful people never make mistakes, or people who do this job are naturally gifted.
There are actually five major types of imposter characters.
This Queen that feels she needs to get everything perfect, because that is what competent people do. Anything less than absolute perfection is failure. Obviously, perfection isn’t achievable, so when she falls short of that unobtainable bar that she set for herself, she feels this is proof to her not measuring up. Over time, that feeling of never measuring up, despite constantly aiming for perfection, becomes the feeling that she is less than the people around her.
From the outside, this Queen presents as a control freak, the one that can’t trust other people to do the work, so she does it all herself. On the inside, this Queen is afraid that if everything is not just right, she will be revealed as the imposter, and so she needs to do everything she can to maintain the standard of perfection that she has set for herself.
This Queen believes that she must work harder to measure up to her colleagues. She always aims to exceed expectations, knock things out in record time, excel at whatever endeavour she is undertaking, because if it’s not her all, it’s not enough. She works overtime, takes on much more than she can actually handle, and her main purpose for achieving is to receive validation. Think staff or employee awards, hierarchical titles, salary increases, etc. She’s not doing it for love of the work, but rather for validation. She is going at this pace because she needs to work more to compensate for the fact that she is… well, less.
Because this woman is constantly over-achieving, she is also constantly tired, frazzled, and feeling like she can’t keep up. And she lives in constant fear that once she can’t maintain the rhythm that she is working at, she will be exposed for the imposter that she is.
The Natural Genius
This Queen believes that in order to genuinely and truly be competent at something, it must come from some innate, natural talent or ability. In her eyes, speed and ease in completing something equals competence, whereas having to invest time and effort (the famous blood sweat and tears) equals someone that is, in fact, incompetent. She was always known as ‘the genius’ or ‘the clever one’ when she was growing up. She then believed that was And of course, she will encounter numerous situations in which she finds that she does not have this “natural” talent or ability, and cannot effortlessly breeze through a given task. Which… leaves her feeling like an imposter.
This Queen is the one that believes that success means that you must go it alone. Because asking for help, that’s being weak, it’s being less than, it shows incompetence. But when she steps up and achieves all by herself, she has proven herself worthy. So, in her eyes, she must go it alone for true recognition. And obviously, because she does need help, because she does stumble, because there are things that she can’t do on her own, she feels inferior. She feels like a fraud. Why? Well, because she knows her failings and shortcomings. She’s afraid to be caught out for her shortcomings so she keeps them to herself. She can’t ask for help, because if she does, those failings and shortcomings will be revealed.
This Queen measures competence by what and how much she knows or can do. No human holds complete knowledge over any subject matter (the best and brightest minds will tell you that they are still learning things in their field of expertise), but this is not an idea that has gelled with the Expert. And so… she believes that she is an imposter, because she simply does not know it all. The thing that makes it challenging for this Queen, is, no matter how much she studies, or how much experience she has, she will never actually feel like an expert. But she will burn herself out trying!
How do I get out of the Imposter Syndrome Mindset?
Ok, now we’ve come to the good stuff. We know that imposter syndrome is exhausting, and can even be career-destroying, relationship-destroying…and pretty soul destroying! So, what can we do about it?
We simply need to shift how we think about ourselves, and re-align our goals with our values. Yes, I know, that wasn’t helpful. Bear with me, it’ll all make sense in a moment.
What imposter syndrome is, when reduced to its most basic elements, is a belief that somehow you exceptionally fall short as measured against everyone else. Now who this everyone else is, and the magical abilities they seem to have, is… undetermined. There is no actual evidence that anyone is better than you, you just think it’s true.
So, how do you create a safe internal environment that removes the pressure and stressors and allows you to learn and grow? Let’s look at that now.
1. Identify and Isolate the negative thoughts.
There’s a narrative that you’re telling yourself about why you believe you’re an imposter. It’s important to start by identifying those thoughts, listening to them closely, and working out what you believe about yourself. Note down what you’re telling yourself about you and ask yourself where that belief came from? Is it realistic and will thinking that thought lead you to wellbeing, or burnout? The a big question to ask yourself, the narrative you are circulating in your head, would you say these things to your closest friend? Hmmmm…..
2. Decide that progress is your goal. Yeah, it’s that simple. Once you’ve listened to your narratives, set them aside, and think about what your life would look like and what your attitude towards yourself would look like, if instead of seeking perfection and masking your flaws, you instead decided that life is a journey of learning and decided to be a lifelong student, open to learning and having new experiences. And instead of competing against the world, you just competed against the person you were yesterday. Now, between you and yourself, make the decision each day to wake up and aim for progress and not perfection. When you do that, you will find you achieve so much more, so much faster with much less stress.
3. Get comfortable with asking for help.
I know this sounds very disconnected with the imposter syndrome as a whole, but it’s not. Obviously it’s relevant to the soloist, but asking for help is relevant to all of the imposter characters. When you have imposter syndrome, you naturally reject the idea of asking for help because you feel it exposes your vulnerabilities and shortcomings. However, I am going to challenge you to catch this mindset as I share some of the key truths about asking for help.
What you may not realise is, asking for help is also a way to exercise gratitude, that you have people around you who can and want to help. It’s a way to show others that it’s OK to ask for help. It’s important to be willing to change your mindset by recognising that asking for help is NOT just about you, other people can benefit when you ask for help which also is a key indication that asking for help is not a weakness but is an opportunity to empower others. It takes courage and strength, and it makes everyone stronger.
So, knowing that, doesn’t it make you want to ask for help? Good. Go practise!
4. Mind your business.
Let me put this another way. What other people think, and specifically what they think about you, is none of your business. So… So, like I said.. MIND YOUR BUSINESS, and get on with taking care of yourself. Listen, there’s nobody out there going to save you. You are responsible for saving yourself. So, instead of minding other people’s business and comparing yourself to others, tune out of what other people think and what other people are doing, and instead spend the energy on choosing yourself. Got it? Good. Now go read my blog on self-love if you haven’t already, and get practising self-love on yourself.
All right Queen, I honestly tried to keep this as short as possible, but there is so much to say about Imposter Syndrome, and I cannot possibly fit it into a blog. Which is why I have an entire course on navigating imposter syndome, with a really useful workbook. The course will show you how to self-coach your way out of imposter syndrome. Unlike what you think, there isn’t a magic potion you can drink that will just evaporate the imposter feeling. You can, however, pay people, and even me to join an imposter syndrome coaching programme, but I always offer the first option which is self-coaching. It’s an effective way to get the same result, and learn new tools at the same time.
That’s it from me today, it’s time to get to work, Queen. I can give you the information, but the rest is up to you. Remember, knowledge is just knowledge. Power comes from the application of said knowledge.
And Queen. As always, please do yourself a favour and…
Fix your crown.