A few months ago, a relatively new friend who is also a professional coach offered to introduce me to her boss. We were out bowling with a bunch of friends and chatting about life. She knew that her company, which provides leadership coaching to professionals in the restaurant industry, was on the verge of adding several new coaches to their team, and she wanted to help me get a foot in the door. It was so kind of her to offer, and I was very grateful.
But immediately, a wave of imposter syndrome washed over me. I could feel my eyes involuntarily widen, as I stumbled through my response. I didn’t want to appear ungrateful, but I also didn’t want to blow our friendship by blowing this opportunity. Thankfully, I was able to overcome it and take the meeting.
I started working with her company this month.
My story turned out great, but many people find that imposter syndrome robs them of huge opportunities. I just took an ICF continuing ed course this week in which the teacher shared about a meeting with Bono that she skipped because of imposter syndrome! She totally blew the opportunity to work with him because she felt like such a fraud. (As a huge U2 fan, it pained me to no end hearing her talk about that experience!)
“Imposter syndrome” refers to a psychological phenomenon where individuals doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud or feeling inadequate, despite evidence of their competence. People experiencing imposter syndrome often believe that their success is due to luck or external factors rather than their own abilities, and they constantly worry about being discovered as a “fake” or “imposter.”
Imposter syndrome can affect people in various areas of life, including work, academics, and personal relationships. It is more common among high achievers, perfectionists (I’m looking at you, Enneagram 1s), and individuals who experience pressure to meet high expectations. While anyone can experience imposter syndrome, it is particularly prevalent among women and minority groups, who may face additional societal pressures and stereotypes.
Can you relate to any of the following?
- Persistent self-doubt. Do you ever feel like you’re not as competent or intelligent as others perceive you to be, despite evidence to the contrary?
- Fear of failure. Are you ever afraid of making mistakes or failing, because it might confirm your belief that you’re not as capable as others think?
- Downplaying your success. Do you minimize your achievements or attribute them to external factors, luck, or the work of others, rather than acknowledging your own skills and efforts?
- Overworking and perfectionism. Do you feel the need to work excessively hard and achieve perfection in order to prove your worth and avoid being exposed as a fraud?
- Difficulty accepting compliments. Are you prone to dismissing or minimizing praise, or feeling uncomfortable or unworthy when receiving recognition for your accomplishments?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you likely suffer from imposter syndrome.
Overcoming imposter syndrome can be a gradual process, and it’s important to be patient with yourself. But it is possible to do it! Here are some tips for where to start.
First, recognize and challenge negative thoughts. Be aware of the self-doubt that arises and scrutinize its validity. Look for evidence that supports your competence and achievements.
Next, reframe failure. Instead of viewing failure as a confirmation of your inadequacy, reframe it as a learning opportunity and a natural part of growth and development.
Seek support and share your feelings. That ICF course I mentioned earlier was such a blessing, because once the teacher shared so vulnerably about her own history of imposter syndrome, others shared about theirs as well, and pretty soon, we all realized we were not alone! Talk to trusted friends, family, or mentors about your struggles with imposter syndrome. Sharing your experiences can provide validation and support, and others may be able to offer perspective and reassurance.
Set realistic goals and expectations. This is a great way for a coach to help! Work with your coach to acknowledge that perfection is unattainable and set realistic goals for yourself, and be sure to celebrate your progress and small victories along the way.
Practice self-care. Take care of your physical and mental well-being by engaging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Be sure to prioritize practices such as exercise, adequate sleep, and mindfulness.
Remember that imposter syndrome is a common experience, and you are not alone in feeling this way. With time, self-reflection, and support, you can develop a more realistic and positive perception of your abilities and accomplishments, and next time Opportunity knocks, you’ll be ready to greet her, welcome her in, and confidently move forward in the direction she leads!
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Christy Tennant Krispin (ACC) is a professional coach helping people lead more effectively, work more efficiently, and live more joyfully. Schedule a free consultation with Christy here.