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Are you an impostor?

Are you an impostor?

This sounds like a nasty accusation, yet the impostor syndrome is real!

Do you sometimes feel that others’ applause for you is not earned or deserved? This happens when people doubt their accomplishments or a person has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a “fraud”, despite external evidence that they are competent. These self-perceived “fraudsters” tend to be highly competent individuals. While both men and women are affected, this syndrome seems to be more prevalent amongst high-achieving women. As it is Women’s Month, this is worth exploring.

Feeling like a fraud manifests as overworking, holding back, hiding out, giving up, procrastinating or stress-induced self-sabotage, like substance abuse and sleep deprivation.

Meryl Streep, record-holder for the most Academy Awards nominations for any actor ever is quoted as saying “Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I do not know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?”

Albert Einstein, Nobel Prize Genius said: “The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.”

Agatha Christie, best-selling author, wrote: “I don’t know whether other authors feel it, but I think quite a lot do- that I’m pretending to be something that I’m not, because even nowadays, I do not quite feel as though I am an author.”

I find these quotes astonishing considering the success these people have achieved.  Yet I have met several people in business and personal life who struggle with the same misconception about themselves.  Is this a result of a low self-esteem, or perhaps because we raise our children to be humble?

According to longtime lecturer on the phenomenon, Valerie Young (2019), boys are raised to bluff and exaggerate. Girls, on the other hand, learn early to distrust their opinions and stifle their voices. They discover they are judged by the highest physical, behavioural and intellectual standards. Perfection becomes the goal, and every flaw, mistake or criticism is internalised—slowly hollowing out self-confidence.

The impostor syndrome can affect anyone.  What are the crippling tell-tale signs?

  • Persistent self-doubt: regardless of how good they are at their jobs (or anything for that matter), they never trust themselves to be competent enough.
  • Overly concerned that they will not live up to other people’s expectations.
  • Often fear that they will disappoint those around them.
  • Suffer from approval addiction and need assurance and comforting too often.
  • Success is seldom owned – it is attributed to external factors, good luck, hard work, good looks… They doubt their competency and abilities.
  • Self-sabotage: they experience a constant internal conflict between being successful and avoiding being “discovered”, which might prevent them from reaching their full potential.
  • Experience job dissatisfaction: they may not feel challenged enough, but a fear of rejection prevents them from seeking better opportunities.
  • The cumulative effect of constant anxiety is usually failure.
  • Tend to go further than the extra mile: a need for approval pushes them to overachieve or please others way beyond what is required.
  • Relentless strive for perfection
  • Often feel that they are never good enough and feel like a fraud – this feeling fuels failures and is toxic.

The impostors:

  • The Perfectionist: they set too high goals for themselves. When they fail to reach these goals, they go through a bout of self-doubt.
  • The Superwoman/man: they believe they MUST work hard to measure up to other people’s expectations.
  • The Natural Genius: they believe they MUST get something right on the first try.
  • The Soloist: they believe asking for help will reveal their “secret” of being phonies.
  • The Expert: they believe they don’t know enough to be qualified to be seen as an expert in their field.

What is the remedy then?

Try some of the following ideas for yourself, a colleague, friend or family member.  This may bring much needed stress relief, build self-esteem or help a person fulfill his/her potential.

  • Have an honest conversation with a trusted person who knows you and your achievements well
  • Give/ receive reassurance, remind them of past and present successes.
  • Don’t give in to your insecurities – believe and own positive feedback and work on negative comments.
  • Help others to feel secure in personal and professional relationships – this will feed back into your own sense of self too.
  • Give deserved positive, sincere feedback and praise
  • If you can’t stop the negative inner voice yourself, then it’s good to bring someone else into the dialogue.
  • Make a list of all your achievements, both personal and professional: you will be amazed at how much you’ve already accomplished, and that will remind you that you’ve earned your spot- nobody but yourself got you where you are.
  • Be more assertive: don’t over apologise!
  • When you disagree with a colleague, speak with conviction, and always assume that your views are valid.
  • Accept that life, and humans, are not perfect – being good enough is enough.

The impostor syndrome is usually an indicator that you are doing something right: the most successful and talented people are paradoxically those most likely to suffer from it. So… if you’re feeling like a fraud, it is most likely because you are not one!

Walk tall and own your place under the sun!

Connect with me on marjon@marjonmeyer.co.za or +27 82 883 2425  to request more information on your training and coaching needs.

To see what other services are offered, have a look at www.marjonmeyer.co.za

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2 thoughts on “Are you an impostor?”

  1. Pingback: Marjon’s take on emotional intelligence – watch her video – Marjón Meyer

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