The Imposter Syndrome: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Overcome It

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I remember the first time I came to understand what imposter syndrome is and I’ll never forget it, even though it was over 15 years ago. I was early in my career as a public relations professional, and I had landed my dream job as an agency consultant with a well-respected international firm. I was so very green and desperate to succeed. I was worried about impressing my bosses, clients, and colleagues. And I was terrified that at any moment, the penny would drop and my bosses who hired me would ‘figure out’ that they made a mistake in hiring me.

My three former bosses are outstanding human beings and phenomenal coaches. They were being mentored by two prominent business leaders in corporate Calgary – one oil and gas executive and the other, a president of a public relations firm. The PR executive was a trailblazing woman in the field, and it was rumoured that she was behind the strategy of some of the most profitable companies. I was in very good hands.

One day, when I must have been expressing my lack of confidence in my abilities to perform, one of my bosses told me something I will never forget. She told me that her mentor (the ball-busting, PR maven genius who had been rocking the industry for at least 20 years) had confided this to her and I will quote second hand: “You know, after all of this time, I still have a fear that one day the phone is going to ring and the person on the other end is going to tell me that they know that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”

What?! I couldn’t believe my ears that a widely respected, industry leader with decades of proof under her belt could possibly feel that way! How could that be, I wondered?

Enter The Imposter Syndrome…

That poised, intelligent, accomplished, and capable PR executive was like nearly 70 to 80 % of high achievers. They too, suffer from this feeling of being found out to be a fraud, an imposter, and don’t think they deserve the accolades, prestige, salary, or opportunities that they, in reality, worked so hard for.

These people who suffer from the imposter syndrome will attribute their success to others potentially, or just dumb luck. Or they’ll think that others around them who admire and respect them have simply been fooled by their confident exterior and made an error in judgement. And it couldn’t be further from the truth.

So, Why Does Imposter Syndrome Matter?

It matters a lot because it is downright debilitating. It causes stress, anxiety, low self-confidence, shame, and in some cases, even depression. Those are the mental, emotional, and psychological impacts. We also now know that our mental and emotional state is directly corelated to our physical health; this Imposter syndrome can now impact your health.

And, what about other areas of your life such as career and relationships? If you don’t feel that you have much to offer; how likely are you to put yourself forward for career-growing projects, assignments, and promotions?

If you feel that there is something inherently wrong with you and it’s just a matter of time before the phone rings and the sinister voice on the other end says, “I’ve got your number, I know you’re a fraud,” how willing are you going to be to be brave and vulnerable in your relationships? Imposter syndrome matters. And it matters a lot!

So Why Do So Many of Us Experience Imposter Syndrome?

Essentially, all of the issues we experience, from imposter syndrome to addictions to anxiety and phobias, have a root cause belief underlying them. Here are the three most common:

  1. I am different and what I want isn’t available to me.
  2. I am different and can’t connect/don’t believe.
  3. I am not enough.

I am quoting the wisdom of my teacher, Marisa Peer. In her experience, every issue boiled down to those three core beliefs, and always, always, #3 – I’m not enough. In my experience, I’ve seen the same. So, can you see how if one or more of your core underlying beliefs about yourself is #1, #2, #3, or all of them, how you just might, maybe, experience the imposter syndrome? I thought so.

Beliefs Guide Actions, Actions Reinforce Beliefs

Here are a few more reasons why and how this occurs. Our beliefs, always, always guide our actions and who we think we are in the world. Some of us are better at hiding feelings of inadequacy (e.g., high achievers who experience imposter syndrome), but rest assured, that imposter syndrome is being expressed in other ways (e.g., stress, anxiety, retreating).

The Antidote

It’s simpler than you think, and this is most often the case. The most effective solutions are the most elegant and simple. You have to do a few things and only a few.

  1. Get real and honest with yourself. Honestly admit to yourself: “I feel like an imposter at times.” It’s helpful to jot down a few recent examples of when you felt that way.
  2. Understanding is power. You cannot overcome what you don’t understand. There, I just told you what you need to know in the paragraph before this.
  3. Take action to change your beliefs and your perception of yourself. There are many ways to do this. Meditation, writing, affirmations, exercise, coaching, therapy, Rapid Transformational Therapy, and hypnotherapy.

Summary

  • It’s normal to experience imposter syndrome – you are not alone.
  • It’s messing with you, even if you don’t think so. Emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, or physically.
  • Understanding is power,
  • Changing your beliefs and perceptions is the antidote.

To your health, joy, and success!