You’re an impostor! A hack. You don’t belong here.
Everyone you work with is smarter than you. They have more experience. Hell, even the kid they just hired straight out of school has skills you don’t have.
Just face it, you’re a fraud. It is only a matter of time before they find out.
When they find out, you’ll be humiliated.
Does this sound familiar? It did to me.
Anatomy of an impostor
Internal dialog like this was far too common in my head for way too long.
As I mentioned in my earlier post, I spent a good share of my professional career feeling like an impostor.
After all, I was surrounded by confident professionals. I was fortunate to work with some of the most skilled talented individuals in business today.
Everything looked easy for them. They knew exactly what they needed to do in order to be successful.
Surrounded by people that seemed to have it all figured out, my inner dialog continuously compared myself to that standard. In my head, I came up short.
I often found myself thinking, “How can I keep up with my coworkers? I’m not sure what my unique strengths are. How can I contribute to my team?”
Especially given the fact that I was carrying around a huge secret.
Something I was quite convinced that if any of my coworkers ever found out, I would never be looked at the same. I carried around the secret like a bag of mental rocks.
More on my big secret coming up.
First, let’s make sure we all understand where this feeling of being an impostor comes from.
The impostor experience explained
Clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes coined the term “impostor syndrome” back in 1979.
The term was developed to describe people “who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud.'”
Later, Clance clarified. Since these feelings are not perceived to be a mental disorder in any way and the feelings are extremely common, they now preferred to use the term “impostor experience.”
If you thought you were the only one wrestling with this negative inner dialog, you should be happy to hear that could not be further from the truth.
As it turns out, many of the most successful people in the world still catch themselves feeling like they could be getting in over their heads.
Common behaviors of the impostor experience include:
- Undermining your accomplishments
- Minimizing any accolades you receive
- Overworking to compensate for your perceived shortcomings
- Expecting perfection of yourself
- Believing you’ll fail at any time
When I first saw the list above, it was as if they were speaking directly to me. I’m talking… check, check, check, check, and check.
Of course, not every person is going to suffer from every symptom of the impostor experience. Though I suspect many will relate to several of them.
You know you’re an impostor if…
The list above is the more clinical definition. How might this experience actually show up in your life?
Based on my own experience, the way the impostor experience may appear in your life includes:
- When you achieve a certification, big win, or milestone at work, you think, “What’s the big deal? That is part of my job.”
- When you receive praise, you downplay or joke it off with “even a broken clock is right twice a day”
- You believe you need to work twice as hard as anyone else just to keep up with coworkers. You continuously feel you’re barely keeping your head above water as your peers appear to be gracefully swimming along
- Pushing yourself to get things right the first time every time, otherwise, your boss will find someone else that can get it right
- Being certain failure is imminent. This will let others to finally see you for who you really are
Does that list describe you as well?
If this list is sounding awfully familiar, take a deep breath. Take the time to acknowledge you are not alone.
As I’ve met with more and more clients and coworkers throughout in recent years, I was surprised at the number of people that admitted they struggled with these feelings also. Without a doubt, of the many people willing to share the internal doubts they have had in their careers or personal life, there are many others that struggle quietly.
Take some solace in knowing that you don’t need to keep wrestling with these feelings all by yourself. If you learn to believe in your own abilities, every one of us can climb to our fullest potential.
I mentioned earlier that I struggled with the impostor experience for years. As I mentally stacked myself up to my peers, I was most often fell short. It wasn’t until I learned that I was unnecessarily giving extra weight to my perceived limitations did I start to take back control of my self-talk.
Most of this self-defeating dialog was due to a secret I carried with me throughout my corporate career.
In Part II of this blog series, I’ll share the secret that held me back for many years. Something I have never shared before outside of a few friends and family members.
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