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Personal Development

The day I discovered I was an Imposter

Image courtesy of Kristina Flour at Unsplash

Image courtesy of Kristina Flour at Unsplash

I remember as clear as anything the day I discovered that I was an Imposter.  Sitting in my office in 2016 I was on a call to my coach and we were talking about this "feeling" that I had for the majority of my career. 

I was describing this underlying feeling that I had that despite all my success, that I never really believed I was good enough.  That I never felt up to the job I was fulfilling.  That each time I achieved something I would think thank goodness I pulled that off.  I would feel nervous before and in certain meetings in case I didn't have all the answers.  That I would dread my yearly review waiting for them to spring on me that I wasn't performing.  I also thought that everyone who I worked with must be crazy as they hadn't yet figured out that I wasn't up for the job and pretty soon someone was going to have the chat with me.  Or I imagined that they would be talking about me behind my back talking about my incompetence.  However there was no evidence to back this up.  People would tell me how great they thought I was and what a good job I was doing and I would get glowing yearly reviews but I never believed them.  I would hide away where possible of being visible and found it difficult to be in the limelight.  I would look at other people and think they were smarter, more educated and sounded clever than me.  Most of the time I thought I was winging it and sooner or later someone was going to expose me for being for the fraud that I was.  I would wear a mask of false confidence that allowed me to hide away how I really felt as how could I ever tell anyone how I truly felt and let me tell you, that was exhausting and used to show up with bouts of exhaustion and burnout.  I thought if I exposed myself then that would be the end of my career.

You see throughout my career I had very rarely put myself forward for a change in role.  In fact the majority of my job changes were due to someone else believing that I was capable of more and pretty much cajoling me into accepting the promotions.  But I never felt like I deserved or indeed could fulfil that role.  That nagging self doubt robbed me of enjoying my career.  I wonder now where I would be if I didn't have people who believed in me and pushed me to step up to the opportunities that presented themselves to me. 

So back to the day I found out.  When she said that it sounds like Imposter Syndrome I wrote it down as an action to go away and look at it and immediately after the call I googled it.  When I started to read about the symptoms, my first reaction was huge relief.  But do you want to know what the best part was?  That I knew I wasn't alone.  That lots of other people felt the same way - in fact 7 out of 10 people are thought to feel like an Imposter at some time in their life.  Because here is the thing with Imposter Syndrome, it thrives on isolation.  I wanted to celebrate, to shout it from the rooftops that I finally knew what had been "wrong" with me all that time.  I finally had a name that I could explain all those feelings I had for so many years.  

But here's the thing.  When I found out I was an Imposter, it wasn't at the time I felt an Imposter.  It was in fact at a time when I had more self belief than I had for a long time because I had done the work on my mindset.  I had learnt how to recognise my achievements, articulate my skills and expertise and trust in my abilities.  I had also learnt how to show myself love and compassion.  

When I first embarked on finding a coach in 2011, I didn't actually know that I felt like an Imposter.   What I could put into words at that time was that I was unhappy in my job, uncertain of my future career prospects, knowing I wanted to leave the HR profession but for some reason I just couldn't take the action to make it happen.  I could explain that I was feeling unfulfilled, lost, scared and lacking in confidence what my next career move could be.   But looking back I am so grateful for the me that was able to articulate how I used to feel. I am grateful that I was open to being vulnerable, that I wasn't scared of sharing my experiences or of being judged.  

Because in all honesty it does crop back up.  Every time I take on a new challenge that I haven't done before or decide that I want to up level it rears its head and tries to keep me small.  But I now I know what it is, instead of believing it and letting it hold me back, I greet it like a old friend and decide to move forward regardless.  

But if I could give you one piece of advice.  Speak about it to at least one person.  Say it out loud.  Don't let it thrive on the silence.  Take away its power as that is the first step to dissolving it in your life.

Or if you are ready to face those feelings head on and start your journey to dissolve self doubt, stop holding yourself back and recognise the magic within you, then contact me and let's arrange a chat to see how I can support you on this journey to self belief, self compassion and self love.


The truth behind feeling like an Imposter

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What does it even mean to feel like an Imposter?  Imposter Syndrome was a phrase coined to describe symptoms of experiencing chronic levels of self doubt and not feeling as intellectually intelligent as other people and if this isn't dealt with, it can either hold you back keeping you stuck or you will succeed but you won't know how to internalise those achievements and therefore missing out on celebrating and enjoying your success.  You can't understand why other people can't see it and you are forever looking over your back, waiting for someone to finally realise you aren't as good as they think you are.

But here as some truths that I have discovered over the years from experiencing this firsthand in my own life, witnessing it in others within the workplace and working with my coaching clients over the last few years:

1.  You are not alone.  Yes it's true.  With 70% of people likely to experience feeling like an imposter at some time in their life, you are in the majority.  Phew - what a relief that is.  I know I certainly thought that when I could finally put a label on why I felt the way I did.  

2.  It doesn't just affect women.  Although research has leaned towards this being a female issue, without a doubt men can feel this way too.  Personally speaking the reason I think we think it is more about women, is women normally find it easier to speak about their emotions and verbalise how they feel.  So it is not that men don't experience it but it may be they just don't talk about it. Thankfully I have been able to support some men who were willing to talk about it and wanted to dissolve it in their lives.

3.  It is all an illusion.  This is something that is constructed internally and can have no reflection of what is happening in your external world.  In fact if you spoke to your close friends and family about it, I bet they would tell you that it is all in your head and you are wonderful.  That's great and sweet of them but you need to work on changing the way that you think about yourself to break the illusion.

4.  You can feel like you just don't fit in.  Without a doubt (no pun intended) feeling like an Imposter can feel like a heavy burden, carrying the weight of this secret that you don' want people to discover.  So therefore it can make you feel isolated, distant and like you feel you just can't connect with others.  I used to describe it like living in a glass box that I can see out of, yet feeling disconnected from everything around me.

5.  It can affect anyone.  It is spoken widely about affecting high achievers but I don't think it is that choosy to be honest.  It can affect anyone from any walk of life.  In fact one client said to me that she felt like an Imposter of being an Imposter as she wasn't a high achiever.  As I said before it doesn't just affect women but in fact it doesn't just affect a certain type of person either.  I have known people from all walks of life, careers and backgrounds to all feel the same about themselves.  

6.  You can dissolve it.  There are some people who say that it is something that you cannot overcome but I would argue that.  I have found that you can dissolve it through working on your self belief, self compassion and self love.  Now it's not to say that it won't crop up when you are stepping up to a new challenge say a promotion or up levelling in your business but when it does rear it's head, you can greet it like an old friend and the time to dissolve it is much quicker (if you face it that is).

What I love is what happens when people recognise the symptoms and decide that they want to change the way they view themselves.  They start to believe in themselves, recognise their own strengths, their confidence rises and they start to take action from that place.  Go for that promotion believing they can, recognise their own worth and ask for that pay rise, speak up and share their opinions in meetings, start to follow their dreams of starting their own business or up level in their business.  So it all boils down to a choice.  Choosing to live with it or choosing to put it under the microscope and work on the solution to dissolve it once and for all.

So each month I offer a handful of free no-obligation coaching calls that can help you get some clarity around how Imposter Syndrome is showing up in your life, identify what life would look like Imposter free and the next steps for you to take to make that your reality.  If you would like to apply for one of these sessions, head over to fill in your details and I will be in touch.

Hope you enjoyed this blog and be great to carry on this conversation in the comments below