by Jim Bruce
In a recent coaching session, my client began by saying “I feel like I’m an impostor.” What that means is that the individual felt that any successes experienced – admission to a prestigious school, a special job, a promotion, recognition, good fortune of any kind, etc. – was a mistake. Any evidence of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or a result of others, somehow, thinking that these others are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.
Research suggests that some 70% of all people feel like impostors at one time or another. People who you’d never think would be in such a category include:
• Albert Einstein: “[T]he 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.”
• Sheryl Sandberg: “There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud.”
• John Steinbeck: “I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.”
• Jodie Foster: “I always feel like something of an impostor. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
• Maya Angelou: “I have written 11 books, about 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.’”
If you, like me, exhibit this syndrome from time to time, it’s easy to feel anxious, stressed, have low self-confidence and self-esteem, second-guess yourself, and doubt your capabilities. And, you reflect and dwell on your mistakes, failures, and corrective feedback, and this increases your fear of failure. All this leads to a reluctance to try new things, to take on new initiatives, to learn a new difficult skill, etc. The tie to two recent Tuesday Readings, Mindset and more about Mindset, is clear. Individuals who experience bouts with the imposter syndrome are more likely to have a fixed mindset and would benefit by working to develop more of a growth mindset.
Carl Richards, author and financial planner, suggests four simple steps to provide you with some relief from the imposter syndrome:
1. When the voice in your head begins to raise doubt, call it out by name.
2. Know that you are not alone. Most of us wrestle with the same issue.
3. Understand why you feel this way. Some of the feeling is a natural sense of humility about our work. Further, most of us, when we have a skill or talent we tend to discount it’s value, we sometimes have difficulty believing that it has value to others.
4. Learn to handle it. Invite it in, acknowledge it, and turn to the work before you with a growth mindset. I may not know everything I need to know yet, but I can and will learn what I need to know. Richards’ personal ritual when he begins to hear that voice in his head is to take a deep breadth, pause for a minute, smile and say “Welcome back old friend. I’m glad you’re here. Now, let’s get to work.”
I trust that you will make your week a great one. . . jim
James L. Heskett, How Do You Hire an ‘Impostor’?, Harvard Business School Newsletter Working Knowledge
Carl Richards, Learning to Deal With the Impostor Syndrome, New York Times, October 26, 2015
Olivia Goldhill, Is Imposter Syndrome a Sign of Greatness?, Quartz, February 1, 2016 http://qz.com/606727/is-