It is that voice in the back of my head. At any moment I will get the call. My teacher, a boss, or even a family member is going to call me and tell me that I am a fraud. That I am not good enough for where I am in life. That I don’t deserve this level of happiness or success.
One of my team members was on maternity leave a few months back. I asked her to come in for a quick check-in meeting before she came back, and so I could meet her beautiful baby girl. When she came to my office the day of our meeting she was nervous. She wanted to know if I was going to fire her and replace her with someone better. WHAT?!?! This is a good performer who had stepped away for a couple of months to have her child. Why in the world would that have even entered her mind? It’s that voice.
Imposter syndrome (also spelled impostor syndrome, also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as “fraud”.
Most of us have heard of the imposter syndrome. All of us have experienced it at some point in our career or during some high point in our lives. It is especially common in women. That voice in the back of your head telling you you’re not good enough. The feeling that someone will know you are a fraud or an imposter. It holds you back from applying for the job, or sharing amazing work you have done, or makes you think your success is based on luck.
But once you know what that voice in your head is doing, what do you do about it? It has taken me years to get better about feeling like a fraud but I am pretty sure I will never 100% overcome it. Here are some things I think about when I feel like an imposter.
-Realize that everyone feels the same way at some point. Even Einstein felt like an imposter during his later years, saying “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.” EINSTEIN! Same with Maya Angelou, who said, “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, “Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”
-You aren’t ever going to know everything, but there is always something you can do to help someone. You are not a supreme being who everyone must bow down to (unless you are, in which case, let’s be friends). Find a way to provide value to others.
-Understand that when people give you kudos on the work you did or the achievement you have earned, you did it! Don’t credit it to some karmic force or luck. It is your hard work that is paying off.
-Don’t stop. Even if the voice gets loud, don’t give it power. Think about all the work you have done to get to this place. The late nights, the working lunches & dinners, the blood, sweat and tears.
-If you see others struggling with the imposter syndrome, talk about it. Sharing your own story will diminish the power of feeling like an imposter. Especially other women. Let’s help each other shake these feelings and grow.
-Internalize your accomplishments. Take it in. Breathe and look up. Whether that is standing in front of a large crowd giving the speech of your career, the day you publish your first novel, or the day you become the CEO.
Always remember that if you put in the work, good things will come. Don’t let the doubt in your head keep you from success. You’ve got this!