‘When I won the Oscar, I thought it was a fluke. I thought everybody would find out, and they’d take it 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.”

Jodie Foster

I am fortunate enough in my job to meet many interesting people (but not Jodie Foster I hasten to add!) They have really good insight into their issues and just need a bit of support whilst they make changes. Not only at work, but amongst my friends, I see really amazing people who are so good at what they do but who just don’t believe it: “One day, when they find out how bad I am, they’re going to sack me!”

If you lack confidence in your abilities and there is no evidence to back this up, perhaps you are experiencing Imposter Syndrome? A term coined in 1978, by Psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, for the psychological phenomenon where someone believes they’re not good what they do and have got where they are by luck or because they have been able to wing it? Every time they ‘survive’ a day they sigh with relief that none of their very capable colleagues have found out they’re a fraud.

What Type are you?

Dr Valerie Young, who has researched and written about Imposter Syndrome, suggests that there are different types of ‘Imposters’, ranging from perfectionists, to those who fear that delegating reflects their incompetence, to those who feel ashamed of their perceived lack of knowledge or by the ‘mistakes’ that they make throughout their career. 

Perfectionist? Moi?! 

Set yourself unattainably high standards?  Base your self-esteem on striving and achieving only? It’s easy to see how self-doubt can set in when self-imposed targets aren’t met and asking for help is difficult because this might reflect a lack of ability. It’s impossible to be 100% perfect, 100% of the time, so no wonder perfectionists are vulnerable to imposter thoughts. Rather than reflecting on the positives, you think about what you didn’t manage to do instead.

“The worst mistake is not to make any” (anon)

Young talks about the ‘Natural Genius’ type who might experience shame if they can’t do something easily. The expectation of a Natural Genius is that they will pick up something without being taught and get things right first time, straight away, without effort. Their core belief is that intelligence is pre-determined and if you’re not good at something, you never will be – missing the point that the more we practise something, the better we can become. Rather like the Perfectionist, if they can’t do something fast enough or well enough, they deride themselves in a way they would never speak to a friend or colleague.

Everyday I’m Wingin’ It!

Believe you are the phony in a room of experts? Working really hard not to let the pretence slide in case you get found out? Dismissing any evidence that suggests you’re performing well and as capable as anyone else?

This compare and despair attitude is exhausting. If you measure yourself against anyone else there are going to be similarities and differences, so it’s a massive waste of time either trying to make yourself feel better by searching for flaws in others or thinking about everything they have or can do, that you can’t.

We Are All A Work in Progress!

I know a wise man. Well, he’s often quite wise! Once when I was fretting over a job interview and worried that I couldn’t fulfil all the criteria, he suggested that if I just went to the interview, the panel could decide if I was capable or not. In other words, let the evidence (my CV and references) speak for itself. “They don’t want someone who can already do everything, they want someone willing to learn and train”.

Sometimes I get him confused with Confucius! 

Talking Helps

Apparently 70% of us may experience Imposter Syndrome at some point in our lives*. With this in mind, next time you’re sat with colleagues or in a meeting, remember that there are very probably going to be others feeling the same way. Sharing how we feel with people we trust can help normalise our anxiety. 

Try having a conversation with someone. 

Certainly, there’s always more for us to learn BUT if you tried to fill your brain with information or practised something every day of your life, would you reach perfect in a lifetime? Perhaps try to enjoy the journey a little more?

*International Journal of Behavioural Science

If you want to move forward in your career it’s far more helpful if you stop giving yourself a hard time and identify small and achievable goals to work towards. You wouldn’t put a toddler in your car and hand him the keys!

Try accepting you have limits and stroke your self-esteem rather than knocking it

  • If you want to develop professionally, make realistic changes rather than trying to be great at everything straight away (or at all!). 
  • Accept that ‘perfect’ does not exist and that we are all a work in progress.
  • Rather than comparing yourself to others, list all your own achievements. Yep, go on. Write them down!
  • Remember you are not alone. The stats speak for themselves – 70% of us experience Imposter Syndrome at some point.
  • Doubting yourself is a sign of conscientiousness and the desire to do a good job.
  • Healthy anxiety that keeps you alert and makes you challenge yourself is helpful, so try not to avoid every anxiety-provoking situation. You might be confusing anxiety with excitement after all!