Success presents itself in many ways and will be interpreted differently by all those that experience it. One thing we like to think is consistent however would be those warm feelings of pride we get as we reflect on the efforts put in to achieve it. Sadly life isn’t always that simple! Do you ever feel like you don't belong or deserve to be where you are? Constantly asking yourself why would people even listen to me, I'm a nobody... or worse a fraud? If any of this sounds familiar you may be experiencing what’s known as the ‘Imposter Syndrome’. A term coined by Pauline Rose Clance, this describes how “high achievers are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.” To put it simply, some of us really struggle to take our successes on board. We can feel out-of-depth and incompetent, comparing ourselves to others in a way that leaves us feeling like an imposter in our lives!
You may guess that traits such as perfectionism increase the likelihood of these fears. You may also deduce that families putting pressure on achievement or offering inconsistent praise, might set someone on this path of insecurity. What you are unlikely to realise however is that we are ALL susceptible to its experience. Think about a time you worked hard on a task you found difficult or slogged away at something for weeks to achieve a goal. Now at any point did you compare yourself to how others were doing? When you looked over and saw them seemingly enjoying themselves, did you ever think “I’m obviously not as good as them”? Well this is where these ‘imposter’ thoughts emerge. We spend our lives comparing ourselves to others, assuming how someone else is doing on the outside is a true reflection of what’s going on inside. In reality, they may also have been struggling but we don’t have access to their minds – thank goodness! In fact, up to 70% of people struggle with this exact issue, drawing comparisons that leave us feeling incapable of achieving things others can, even if our successes say otherwise.
To call it a syndrome is unfair as in actual fact this a global experience, effecting all backgrounds, ages and occupations. It is by no means an illness or abnormality. Importantly however, no level of success will break the cycle as each time an achievement is gained this imposter mindset only gets more cemented. As a result, we may hold back from sharing ideas, shy away from applying for jobs or sabotage our success through worrying. The challenge is to recognise that these thoughts exist, look for opportunities to share their experience with others that relate to you and start questioning whether your self-doubts are a true reflection of what reality is actually showing.
Imposter thoughts are nothing unusual; we all experience them from time to time! But if we are to celebrate the successes we deserve, we must look to challenge them and find comfort in the knowledge that we are all uniquely talented individuals!
IMPOSTER SYNDROME SERIES
To help recognise the presence of these imposter thoughts and find ways of combating their influence, we will be introducing some useful exercises this month. As well as developing confidence in sharing these thoughts, we will highlight how common they really are and what can be done to overcome them.
Compassion Post-its - The first step to beating intrusive thoughts is to acknowledge they are present and look for ways to calm your mind. When you complete an important task, write on post-it notes each individual step you took to get to the end goal. Then, sticking them on top of each other, create a small pile that acts as a visual clue to how much work you put in. Next time you start questioning if you deserve praise, look to your post-it pile as a symbol of your hard work!
Celebrity Search – A powerful way of combating these thoughts is to delve into the minds of people we consider to be at the top of their game. Try going online and learning about some of the experiences celebrities and other role models have had with ‘Imposter Syndrome’. When we listen to the stories of those that inspire us and realise they share similar battles, it puts things in perspective and shows us that even the best can be vulnerable!
Sharing the load - When we share our imposter thoughts with someone that cares for us, they will typically be met with compassion. It usually takes a weight off our shoulders, prevents us being lost in a negative spiral and may even show that others are facing similar battles. Try taking half-an-hour to allow another person to provide a compassionate ear and challenge yourself to voice your struggles rather than conceal them.
Success Timeline – It’s often helpful to map out the highs and lows you’ve experienced across life along a timeline. The challenge is to record points along a line that signify stages of success and difficulty you’ve experienced up until this point. Putting successes above the line and difficulties below join the points together to make a fluctuating line. With the trials, tribulations, rewards and celebrations all displayed across the timeline, it is harder to disregard the efforts you put in to get to where you are today.
Empowering Others - With the insight you have gained how could you support others that face such fears? One way is to provide clear evidence that contradicts their doubts. Look out for opportunities to give a boost to others whenever you see them succeed. Either through a morning email or a positive post-it note make sure the praise you give is specific so they can’t just disregard it as luck. Think how you’d need to hear praise yourself in order to feel like a genuine success!
Try to remember that fears you will be seen as a fraud and a sense of being undeserving are both human things to feel. The challenge is to recognise where these thoughts originate from and put measures in place to actively prove to yourself that the success you experience is genuine.
Blog Author: Ben Oliver - April 1st 2021