Imposter syndrome sneaks in when success strikes

grimace-388987_1280In the middle of a lively kick off session with a new business coaching client this week I heard a phrase that I hear all too often when listening to clients talk about growing their business or career: “But who am I, little old me, to be thinking this way. To think that I can take on this responsibility and make it a success.”

Ooof, what a way to put – and keep – yourself down!

However, once we delve into what’s making them feel this way and what they are actually achieving in their business or career, I often find that clients start to think this way just when they become a success.

When your business starts picking up pace, you find yourself taking on more responsibility at work, or making yourself more visible to potential clients or employers, it’s easy to doubt yourself and stop yourself from moving forward with confidence.

What’s really going on here is a classic case of imposter syndrome: the fear of being exposed, that you don’t deserve your success, aren’t as good as others – and could be “found out” at any moment.

How do you know if you have imposter syndrome?

Common signs that you have impostor syndrome are a tendency to dwell on failure, mistakes and negative feedback as well as chronic self doubt, low self confidence and stress.

If it isn’t tackled head on, impostor syndrome can stop you reaching your full potential and having new experiences, in fear of being exposed.

Research suggests that it’s predominantly a female phenomenon, particularly for high achieving women, although I have spoken with a few men who sometimes feel this way, they are less likely to express it.

High profile women who feel like a fraud

Just last week, author Frances Hardinge won the Costa Book of the Year Prize. Yet, even with ten year’s experience, winning numerous awards and appearing on judging panels herself, she still doubts herself and her success.

Hardinge was quoted in The Guardian, saying: “Like a lot of authors I have galloping imposter syndrome: as far as I’m concerned I have cunningly infiltrated the writing community. With each book that gets published I have this dread fear that I’m going to be found out. Certainly when The Lie Tree was published, I thought: ‘This time they’ll see through me for the fraud I am.’ Things have not panned out as I expected!”

Other successful women have also spoken out about their success in this way including Kate Winslet and Emma Watson. Maya Angelou famously said: “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find [me] out now.'”.

How to banish imposter syndrome

So, with this phenomenon likely to get worse as more of us rely on our online profiles such as Facebook, LinkedIn and our websites to represent who we are and what we do, what can we do to combat imposter syndrome and be more confident with our success?

Here are 10 steps to owning your success and banish that ‘fraud’ feeling for good:

  1. Focus on providing value and quality in your work and a great customer service attitude and people will see for themselves how great you are.
  2. Write out all your successes and achievements, big and small. If you can’t bring yourself to do this on your own, sit down with some friends, trusted colleagues or your partner and spell our each other’s successes and revel in them.
  3. Do the same with your skills, knowledge and experience. Especially the perceived mistakes or failures – if you bounced back from those, that’s a skill and a success in itself!
  4. Being an ‘expert’ – well that’s subjective. Some people need to see awards or magazine citations to see someone as an expert, but most people just need to see real stories, examples and experiences. So say what you can, say what you know, don’t pretend to know about something that you don’t. And if you want to know about that topic, then find a way to learn and use it, then add it to your expertise.
  5. Forget about perfectionism. Remember that everyone makes mistakes – being wrong doesn’t make you a fake. Put your focus on successful people who own their imperfections AND their successes, rather than those who craft a very careful perfect profile.
  6. Keep all the positive comments and praise that you get, whether in person or on the phone (jot it down) or in an email, comment box or feedback form.
  7. Stop comparing your experience or achievements to the perceived success of others’ and define success on your own terms.
  8. Let your guard down and dare to be vulnerable. It’s actually a strength. A great read on this topic is Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly. Check out her TED Talk too, it’s awesome!
  9. Accept where you’re at. Everyone has to start somewhere. Track your progress and celebrate your achievements as you go along.
  10. Most importantly – take action – imposter syndrome lives in your head. By taking action, even the tiniest of steps, this changes the narrative and over time will change how you feel about your success.

Do you limit yourself in this way or doubt your success? Have you ever felt like an imposter in your work or business? What did you do to overcome this? How did it feel? Feel free to share below in the comment box.

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1 Comment

  • Mui says:

    Great tips Lucy! Isn’t it interesting that the Imposter Syndrome is predominantly a female trait? I hear it all the time too from women. Social media makes it easy for us to compare ourselves with other people’s online reality. Everyone else looks like an expert in their field and has everything together. I have to constantly remind myself that everyone else is probably feeling the same. And when the “Who am I to…?” question surfaces I like to turn it around to “Who am I not to?” which instantly changes the vibes.

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