There is an ancient proverb that suggests the fish is the last one to notice the water they are swimming in. You can interpret this in many ways, however there is one that particularly resonates with me. This is that the individual themselves is the last to notice what is staring them in the face; their own expertise, knowledge, skills and potential. That they are in fact good enough.
This is known as Imposter Syndrome, and is something that has been talked about more and more over recent years, with it being estimated that eight out of ten people in a room experience it.
One of the definitions that best describes Imposter Syndrome, for me is the feeling that you do not deserve your success, and that you are one day going to be caught out; the inner voice telling you that you have only got where you have through luck, and not as a result of hard work, qualifications or through deserving it.
For anyone reading this, I just want to let you know that these feelings are completely normal. Valerie Young, a world-renowned expert on Imposter Syndrome has identified there are five traits of individuals who are more likely to experience feelings associated with being an imposter.
• “Perfectionists” try to achieve perfection in all that they do. The issue here is that even if they achieve 99% of their goals they are going to feel like a failure and will focus on the 1% they didn’t achieve. Even a small mistake and they will question their own competence. We’ve all been there when the day has been great, but there is that one thing, or comment, that is what our mind focuses on.
• “Experts” feel the need to know all the information before they start a project, always looking for new qualifications or training to improve. For example, they won’t apply for a job if they don’t meet all the points on the advert, or won’t want to speak up in a meeting through fear of looking silly.
• When a “natural genius” has to work hard to accomplish something, they think it means they aren’t good enough or are some kind of failure. With things normally being easy for them, if it isn’t, their brain uses this as proof of them being an imposter.
• “Soloists” feel the need to achieve most things on their own, leaving them feeling like a failure, or a fraud, if they have to ask someone for help.
• “Supermen” or “superwomen” push themselves to work harder than others around them to prove to themselves that they’re not an imposter. They feel the need to succeed in all aspects of life; at work, at home, in relationships, and with family, and therefore may feel stressed when they are not accomplishing something. I am a colleague, a brother, a partner, a son, and a friend.
I have certainly experienced most of the above, with strong feelings of self-doubt and of being an ‘imposter’, however the more I read and discuss with others on the subject I am starting to see that this is pretty much normal. I believe the important thing is being able to discuss your feelings openly with those around you that you trust.
It’s fair to say that I am still working on beating my inner imposter, but I would love to hear about your experiences and the things that help you to overcome yours. Please get in touch, or comment on this article, and maybe together we can help others to notice the water.
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