How to Avoid Imposter Syndrome

I was reminded of something Deborah Meaden said recently. If you don’t know the name, she is a hugely successful businesswoman; she ran a multi million pound holiday business, and is a member of the Dragon’s Den TV programme panel which advises and invests (sometimes) in new businesses.

Deborah was asked why there are so few women in business at her level. She replied that lack of confidence in their own abilities was a huge factor. She used one image which rang so true from my coaching experiences. Deborah described a group of women at a networking or business event, all very successful high achievers.  She said:

 Every single one of them will be wondering why they have been invited and are there in the company of such amazing women!

It was probably true. I have spoken with countless women who have an ‘I will get found out one day’ feeling. Imposter syndrome. They think that they are not as good as other people perceive them to be. We know this from research; women consistently undersell themselves on C.V.s, ask for less money for jobs, bank loans etc. I remember feeling it myself when I got my first management role. I closed the door of my office, leant back on it, laughed wryly to myself, and thought, I wonder how long before they realise?

I suspect men have it, too, but you will more often read about it in relation to women. Are we just more open about it? Or is it a woman thing? I don’t know, but I do know that women often undersell themselves at job interview. (Compared to men and we’re always compared to men and not usually in a good way. I wonder why we have Imposter Syndrome?)

Here are a few of my coaching tips for combatting the pernicious feeling of Imposter Syndrome:

1. Everyone has it, even the highly successful Deborah Meaden. And Sheryl Sandberg and Penelope Cruz. Acknowledge that and know you are in the company of greatness.

2. Recognise it when it hits you and notice how it make you feel. Is that a feeling you want? You can use some positive psychology techniques, or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or positive thinking to change those automatic thoughts. The trick is to notice when it strikes. ‘I’m not good enough’ is probably your uppermost thought. Challenge that thought and try thinking, ‘I am good enough’!

3. Even among friends, don’t talk about your success as being merely luck. It is OK to say (and positively good role model stuff) ‘I worked hard for that.’ When people give you a compliment, or acknowledge what you have done, don’t shrug it off. For two reasons: One, it’s rude to bat a compliment back at someone. They have said something positive and you are telling them, indirectly, that they are wrong. Practise saying, Thank you, I appreciate that. Let the compliment through the chinks of your Imposter Syndrome armour. The second reason, this is proof positive that you are not an imposter so if it helps, write it down somewhere. Not in front of them, that might look a bit weird, but later, when you are alone. Look at it, and any others you collect, when you feel Imposter Syndrome creeping up on you.

As I was writing this I realised that my course, RenewYou, which is all about increasing women’s confidence, is by its very nature, also all about combatting Imposter Syndrome. I recently had a most wonderful email from someone who took the course over 10 years ago, when I was still developing it, before I wrote the accompanying journal, or it was licensed out to remarkable trainers. She told me all about the intervening ten years and what the course had inspired her to do and ended with:

I wouldn’t say that life was idyllic now, challenges are still sent to try me but the challenges of the last 10 years means I have survived and come through a stronger and much happier person. Had those people on that course not seen the potential in me, I wouldn’t be writing this email now. Had I not met you on a cold, most probably damp, river bank that day, who knows where I would be.

Thank you Jane, I owe you so much! Better late than never, eh!

Of course, it was her own determination and skills that wrought the change, but it’s so nice to hear that RenewYou played a little part. I had a smile on my face all day. I’m also going to send her a journal.

The cartoon above came from The Washington Post. It’s great, isn’t it?

If you’d like to use RenewYou in your organisation, or to become a licensed trainer, there are more details here.


Posted on July 4th, 2017 by

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