I’m an imposter. I feel it almost every day. Every time I call a coaching client I get that feeling that they shouldn’t be paying me to help them. It doesn’t last long because I’ve become nimble at circumventing these thoughts and getting on with my job.
Have you ever felt like an imposter? You’ve worked hard to get where you are but for some reason, you still don’t feel like you deserve to be there.
You are not alone. It might help to know that many other people feel the same way. In fact, an estimated 70% of people have felt it at some point .
So if all those people have felt like this, does that mean they have all bluffed their way to where they are? Of course not!
There is no need to succumb to imposter syndrome. It should not prevent you from making a success of yourself and you might be surprised that many highly successful people are, or have been, a part of that 70%.
I’m going to walk you through why it is happening and give you 6 action steps to help you deal with your imposter syndrome.
Why Do We Feel Like Imposters?
I’m changing lives everyday with my work as an online business coach. Yet, I have to forcibly tell myself that. It doesn’t come naturally, despite all the evidence to suggest it.
We are generally quite good at ignoring positive feedback and accumulating negative feedback. It’s easy to think there is no real harm in that, but it builds a negative feedback loop that gets worse the longer it goes on.
We build up those inner critics that hold us back in small or big ways in many areas of our lives. Imposter syndrome is one of those inner critics.
“When I won the Oscar, I thought it was a fluke. I thought everybody would find out, and they’d take it back. They’d come to my house, knocking on the door, ‘Excuse me, we meant to give that to someone else. That was going to Meryl Streep.’”Jodie Foster
There can be many reasons why we feel like imposters in our own circumstances. Whether it is past trauma, parents with high expectations, negative influences in our lives (for example, a teacher that criticises rather than nurtures) or overachieving siblings. There is no single reason for it, but the feelings are the same.
Do you recognise any of these:
- After achieving something big you just think it is a fluke, that you got lucky.
- You don’t want to offer up your opinion because you feel other people will ridicule you.
- You can’t create something perfect, therefore you can’t create it at all.
- In a meeting, you look around and wonder why you are there with all these successful people.
As we get older and find ourselves taking on more responsibility, the pressure to improve and be the best, or at least as good as everyone else in the same position, grows.
Our thoughts and emotions just don’t keep up with the pace of change.
People react to these feelings in different ways and this is where it can become a problem if you don’t have the tools to react positively.
How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome
The very simple approach to getting over your imposter syndrome is to accept it and take action whenever it rears its head.
Do not start a war with it. Most inner critics, such as imposter syndrome, are desperate to monopolise your resources of time, energy and emotion. Don’t give them what they want!
It can be very easy to shrink away from challenges when you give yourself the excuse that you really shouldn’t be in this position.
Action Step 1 – Observe and Accept
The first step is to observe your thoughts. Are they helpful or a hindrance?
By helpful I mean, are they pointing out an actual gap in your experience and therefore giving you the chance to fill that knowledge gap or find a way to bluff through until you can fill it?
If they are a hindrance, and deep down you know it’s not true, then these thoughts need to be reframed with some of the action steps later..
The most important thing to do is to accept that you will get these feelings.
But there is no need to surrender. You can take action on them, just try not to cover up the fact that they are there.
This is not only the most important but, sadly, the hardest step. I struggled with this for many years until I realised that I was being controlled by that inner critic and decided to take action. But first, I had to accept that it will most likely never go away.
Action step 2 – Use Feedback to Your Advantage
Getting positive feedback about the skills you demonstrate daily to others will help reinforce your feeling of not being an imposter at all.
Keep communication open with people you manage, people that manage you, your peers, clients and even friends and family around the subject of you and your work. You don’t need to make all your conversations about your performance and skill levels, but make sure you don’t shy away from ever talking about it.
I’m terrible at accepting positive feedback, let alone seeking it! But when you can do both, it changes the game.
“Accepting compliments is a skill. Internalizing them could be a secret superpower.”Liz Funk
But don’t just seek positive feedback in your discussions. Also talk about your feelings of being an imposter. Telling someone is all part of accepting it. They may well tell you that they have the same thoughts about themselves.
You can set up positive feedback loops to help you through sticky moments. If you notice the imposter feelings surfacing, have a way of proving to yourself that they are wrong.
For example, why not start with a look back at where you were last year, 2 years ago, 5 years ago. How far have you come? Then add into that any positive feedback you get from any area in your work (this is where seeking things like LinkedIn recommendations could come in handy!).
Note all of this down in a journal, a word document, a note on your phone, wherever you feel would be most handy for you to bring it up whenever you need it. Start your positivity loop now and let it grow naturally as you encounter things that contradict your imposter syndrome. Dip into it whenever you need the boost.
Replace that nasty old negative feedback loop with a shiny new positive feedback loop. While you’re at it, you can note down recurring situations or thoughts related to imposter syndrome so that you start to quickly recognise when and where they happen.
Action Step 3 – Reframe Imposter Feelings in a Positive Way.
If you recognise the feelings that are hindering your success, progress or happiness then you can do something about them.
You can try and reframe them.
Reframing is about much more than I am about to summarise, but for the purposes of this article it is about having a reaction prepared for all those imposter syndrome situations you recognised in the last step.
For example, you are about to talk in front of 50 people on a subject and you feel like you’re not qualified to be the expert that gives this talk.
Look at it logically:
- You made the decision to do this talk because you have something valuable to talk about.
- You prepared for this talk with your knowledge and experience.
- You attracted 50 people to come to this talk.
You’ve earned the right to be in this position.
Action Step 4 – Prepare Yourself to Feel Genuine
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”Dr. Seus
If you want to head off the imposter feelings before they rise up, you can be continually checking for gaps in your experience and knowledge and filling them preemptively.
We’re usually doing this anyway in the form of professional development, but if you make it a routine then you are demonstrating to yourself that you’re aware of your imposter feelings and taking action.
Your learning and development are things that you can control and your inner critic needs to be told who’s in charge now!
Action Step 5 – Use Your Tribe
If you are really struggling with feeling like an imposter, you can join or set up accountability groups or masterminds in which you can:
- Talk about yours and other people’s successes.
- Help other people with your experience and knowledge, thereby reinforcing the fact that you are not an imposter.
- Gain further knowledge and experience from others.
- Hear other people’s experience of imposter syndrome.
Even just starting a group among your peers or friends to help raise everyone’s feeling of being in the right place will help.
Action Step 6 – Fake It
The imposter inner critic is not meaning you any harm, it is actually trying to help you, but it is doing it in a negative way.
You can turn that negative into a positive.
Sometimes you don’t have the time to delve into your imposter syndrome feelings and you just need a quick fix. In this case, you can just fake it.
“If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you are not sure you can do it, say yes. Then learn how to do it later.”Richard Branson
Embrace the imposter and let it spur you on to greater heights. If you’re going to tell yourself you’re an imposter then why not ride that wave.
It can help to have a power phrase in these situations. For me, it is “You’re here for a reason, Fool! Don’t give these people a reason to doubt you.”
Let that snap you out of it and then run on autopilot with the knowledge and experience you actually do have.
If you are getting those imposter feelings before events such as a meeting, a call or a speech try a power pose. Watch this TED talk from Amy Cuddy and design your own power pose. Combine it with some power music, like ‘Eye of the Tiger’ for added effect!
You do not have to have a PhD or be an industry influencer to add value. You only need to be one step ahead of the people you are trying to help, or lead. If anything, the fact that you are going through your journey right now means you have a fresher, more genuine voice than many people who are further down the road.
Your voice might be the right one that your position requires.
Everyone has the potential to feel like an imposter sometimes. It’s not something you can cure or get rid of as some people might promise. It’s just about having the tools to deal with it.
Imposter syndrome is quite the fun killer. It has stopped many people creating the career, business or life of their dreams. When you do achieve your dreams it can stop you from enjoying them.
It can tell you that you are not good enough to go on the journey, during your journey it will tell you do not deserve to be on it, when you make it to the end it tells you that it was all luck.
The truth is, you rarely find yourself in a situation where you actually are an imposter unless you bring it about on purpose.
Remember, when you think you’re an imposter, it’s very probable that whoever you’re talking to, whoever is following you, whoever you think is judging you is thinking the same thing about themselves!