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This blog post is about a widespread phenomenon affecting especially women : Imposter Syndrome. The goal of this article is to help you know what to do when an imposture crisis strikes. You will find tips on how to gradually reduce its consequences in your professional life.

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is defined in the Cambridge dictionary as the feeling that your achievements are not real or that you do not deserve praise or success. It is linked with a feeling of inadequacy. People experiencing this phenomenon believe they are untalented, they are good to nothing and they think they are underperformers. Usually these people do show signs of intelligence and talent but they are really convinced that they are manipulating people in thinking they possess this traits despite the evidence for others.
Most of them live under the fear and anxiety that one day, people will find out that they are not the ones they pretend to be.

Let me give you an example of a client I coached :

M is 32 years old and she is a Journalist and Communications Officer. Despite having a popular blog and being regularly given new projects to work on, she is convinced that she has no talent in writing and that people do not dare to tell her the truth. She believes the quality of her work is poor because she spends too few time writing them and she has no originality in choosing her topics. She really feels anxious at the idea of ending up jobless and doesn’t dare expanding her horizons.

Can you relate with this story? I certainly do!

Have you ever felt you were untalented and unqualified to perform your job ?
Do you have the impression your boss overestimates the quality of your work?
Have you ever refused to take on new challenges because you were afraid to be exposed as non-experienced ?
Have you ever found yourself staying up late at work feeling that you had to work more to prove your worth?

If yes, this is the imposter syndrome in action !

Why is this phenomenon problematic?

Experiencing imposture impacts your professional growth. If you constantly have in the back of your mind that you are not a good professional, you don’t dare taking up on projects outside your comfort zone. And you know that this is precisely where growth happens!

Also, you don’t dare doing things you enjoy and for which you are curious to learn because you feel illegitimate (lack of experience, qualification, 0 degree in the field…).

And because you don’t do nothing to “endanger” your comfort, you end up being frustrated at seeing your potential tamed. Even if at the same time, you think this potential is a lie. See the complexity of this process?

All these feelings related with the imposter syndrome: sense of inadequacy, anxiety, fear to be caught up and publicly exposed, affects your self-esteem and confidence and makes it even harder to thrive professionally. You know what is the irony? A lack of self-confidence is probably the reason why you started feeling inadequate. Indeed, the lack of confidence feeds the feeling of imposture that feeds in return the lack of confidence.
So you see how getting caught into this vicious circle might lead you reject cool professional opportunities leaving you frustrated and unhappy.

If we bring this into the context of your career transition, you may feel stuck between " it would be nice to do X" and “it’s impossible for me because I am not good enough". What do you do to get out of this ?

What can you do to address imposter syndrome?

We all have gone through this in our lives. Michelle Obama – yes, you read correctly – Meryl Streep and many others. So first of all, acknowledge that this is a common feeling and it shows many positive traits among which humility.
Having said that, if you see that it prevents you from being satisfied with your life and you want to do something about it, let’s see how to address this when it appears.

1. Recognise the voice of your inner critic

Your Inner Critic is the inner voice that keeps on criticising you and calling out every shortcoming you have. “Look at how stupid you are, “Congrats for showing so much incompetence!", You can’t do this project, you’re not experienced enough"
Do you see what I mean?

Identify this Inner Critic : does it have a familiar voice? Is it your partner? A parent, A former boss? A teacher?

Often the Inner Critic embodies an important educational figure, whose opinion you strongly valued. Identifying who the Critic is will help you take distance from the voice and listen to it merely as a voice among many others.

2. Write every comments of the Inner Critic

Write everything the Critic says. “I have no talent" " I am incompetent" or “you are so stupid!" “nobody cares about you!"
Writing down is going to help you observe your thoughts and dissociate yourself from them. Despite of what Descartes said : you are not your thoughts! This is the reason why I chose the word comment purposely : a comment is an opinion about something. It is not a truth, nor a fact but a mere opinion.
Do you realise that by believing the Critic’s comments you are living under the dictatorship of a commentator that sees life through distorted glasses?

Identify this Inner Critic : does it have a familiar voice? Is it your partner? A parent, A former boss? A teacher?

Often the Inner Critic embodies an important educational figure, whose opinion you strongly valued. Identifying who the Critic is will help you take distance from the voice and listen to it merely as a voice among many others.

3. Analyse the comments one by one

In French we use the expression scruter au peigne fin which literally is : scrutinise with a thin-spaced-teeth comb.
You get the idea : analyse everything in the comments in order to bring out the facts. Because facts don’t lie.

Have you seen how many politicians use vague terms? The less precise they are, the more people agree with them. How can we disagree with someone who says he wants to increase people’s buying power? What buying power? Who exactly are people? What does he mean by increase ? How much %, euros or dollars?

Your inner commentator does just the same ! Have a look at the sentence “I have no talent"
Talent in what?
What does “talent" mean exactly?
Compared to what or who?
How would you know that you are talented enough?
How often have you experienced this?
When and where?

Analyse the wording of the sentence : is there any really, never, always, everybody, no one ? If yes, find out who or what exactly is hiding behind those words. And then amend the comments so that they look more like facts.
“I have no talent" could become “I have no talent in convincing people in adopting the writing topics I suggested at the last editing meeting". See how precise it becomes?

The purpose of this analysis operation is to get specific on the “accusations" and decrease the pressure you put on yourself.

Your Inner Critic is the inner voice that keeps on criticising you and calling out every shortcoming you have. “Look at how stupid you are, “Congrats for showing so much incompetence!", You can’t do this project, you’re not experienced enough". Do you see what I mean?

4. Identify who you are comparing yourself to

Imposter syndrome is really about comparison. So find out who you are comparing yourself to. Is it a colleague? A 20 years+ experienced boss? An ideal perfectly professional you that only exists remotely in your head? Often you will realise that you compare yourself to this woman 😀
So you are making your life miserable because of an idea you have about who you should be to be professionally perfect.

Once you realise that, writing down the standards you think you need to meet will help you get actual feedback on what is expected from you. Don’t hesitate to ask for feedback about your tasks and write them down.
It may not be easy because many things at work are unspecified, so people make guesswork about what is expected for them and strive to reach these imagined expectations that no one ever clearly stated.

So identify who you are comparing yourself to and what expectations you want to meet. And assess : are they realistic?

5. Gather evidence that the comment is not true

After having been more specific, identifying what impossible standards you were trying to meet, you may feel less “inadequate" because you are putting clarity and factualising (yes, I made that up) the comments. You can now see that the comments only apply to specific situations.

Now the idea is to gather evidence that the comment is not true. Remember that facts matter, so you identify situations that show that the comment is irrelevant.
Exemple : " I have no talent " becomes “I have talent in cheering friends up, in yoga, in cooking, in making up fairy tales for my son, in designing powerpoint presentations…"

If you struggle with this, ask for feedback. It is your manager’s role to do so, and if he/she doesn’t do it spontaneously, ask for it. Receiving detailed feedback will help you get evidence of the professional traits you are questioning and most importantly, you will be able to build your own professional growth plan.
Isn’t that beautiful?

A very long article – it will not always be the case – but I believe that imposter syndrome is too important to be neglected in a 300 words article. I wanted to provide you with concrete actions steps to reduce its impact in your life. At the beginning, using this strategy will feel unusual and that’s ok. Writing down helps tremendously.
I would like to leave you with a quote from Michelle Obama regarding imposter syndrome :

“It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is."

Please tell me if this post has helped you! What are your Critic’s favorite comments? How have you managed to address it with the action steps?


Yayi

I am Yayi, Founder of Umanda Coaching! Certified Coach and specialist in career transitions, I help you use your superpowers to design the meaningful career you deserve and love!

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