Imposter Syndrome

Dealing with ‘Imposter Syndrome’

Impostor syndrome—the idea that you’ve only succeeded due to luck, and not because of your talent or qualifications has been around for quite a while, it was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes.

Its is a common scenario that many very successful leaders face, feeling like a fraud in their role. Mike Cannon Brookes (Jnr) co-founder of Atlassian talks extensively about how he felt an imposter in his Ted presentation in 2018 and he is now worth billions. He also wrote about it on the company blog how he felt like a fraud including how he used the “Fake it till you make it playbook” including a personal story about how he used it to meet his wife.

Melissa Ben-Ishay was 24 when she lost her advertising job at the beginning of the 2008 recession. She turned her passion (baking cupcakes) into her purpose and launched a business Baked by Melissa.

What started as a solo venture run out of her New York apartment now has 14 locations and a solid online business and generates millions in revenue.

But through it all she faced ‘Imposter Syndrome’ and in the linked story you can hear how she felt she had to earn confidence in her self.

Baked by Melissa

People experience impostor syndrome in varying ways, but some common signs are:

  • Perfectionism — not recognising your success because you can only focus on the flaws
  • Overworking — as a way of avoiding finishing a project or product that will be judged (potentially connected with perfectionism)
  • Undermining your achievements — pointing out your mistakes before taking ownership of a success, procrastinating and leaving things to the last minute, and then having to rush to finish
  • Fear of failure — putting off starting something, avoiding taking on new challenges and reluctance to ask for feedback as you can’t face potentially failing
  • Discounting praise — pointing out other people’s contributions before your own, assuming praise given is faked or exaggerated

Impostor syndrome expert Valerie Young, who is the author of a book on the subject, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, has also found specific patterns in people who experience impostor feelings:

  • Perfectionists” set extremely high expectations for themselves, and even if they meet 99% of their goals, they’re going to feel like failures. Any small mistake will make them question their own competence.
  • Experts” feel the need to know every piece of information before they start a project and constantly look for new certifications or trainings to improve their skills. They won’t apply for a job if they don’t meet all the criteria in the posting, and they might be hesitant to ask a question in class or speak up in a meeting at work because they’re afraid of looking stupid if they don’t already know the answer.
  • When the “natural genius” has to struggle or work hard to accomplish something, he or she thinks this means they aren’t good enough. They are used to skills coming easily, and when they have to put in effort, their brain tells them that’s proof they’re an impostor.
  • Soloists” feel they have to accomplish tasks on their own, and if they need to ask for help, they think that means they are a failure or a fraud.
  • Supermen” or “superwomen” push themselves to work harder than those around them to prove that they’re not impostors. They feel the need to succeed in all aspects of life—at work, as parents, as partners—and may feel stressed when they are not accomplishing something.

Tips to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

  • Talk to your mentors – recognise your own growth by talking to and seeking feedback from others who are close to seeing your progress
  • Recognise your expertise – tutoring or mentoring others will help you see what strengths you have
  • Remember what you do well – Write down what you do well and recognise that before you consider what areas might be open to improvement
  • Realise that no one is perfect – try to stop focusing on perfection and do the task well enough.
  • Challenge the way you work – seek feedback on draft work, collaborate on projects and try to break any superstitions about work processes.

Key Takeaways

  • Anyone can have imposter syndrome but it is more common with high achievers
  • There are series of things to look for if you questioning your place or feeling like a fraud
  • There ways to rebuild self confidence
Synopsis of an article from Inc.
How Baked by Melissa's Founder Got Over 'Faking It'
After years of suffering from imposter syndrome, Melissa Ben-Ishay learned to harness her confidence.
by Christine Lagorio-Chafkin
Published 28th September 2020

and from Time
Yes, Impostor Syndrome Is Real. Here's How to Deal With It
by Abigail Abrams
Published 20th June 2018

and from The Muse
5 Different Types of Imposter Syndrome (and 5 Ways to Battle Each One)
by Melody J. Wilding

and the American Psychological Association
Feel like a fraud?
by Kirsten Weir
Published: November 2013

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