Joannie had an amazing week at work. She was promoted to a new role within her company that she didn’t believe was even within her reach. Her manager encouraged her to interview for the new job and she got it! Along with new responsibilities, Joannie received a rather significant raise and a managerial title.
Instead of celebrating and feeling accomplished, Joannie was in my office debating and wondering whether or not her company just “gave her” this role because they felt “sorry for her.” Feeling a bit ridiculous, she did laugh the minute the words came out of her mouth. At the same time, however, she still couldn’t help the nagging feeling that she had “fooled” her bosses into giving her this position.
Joannie struggles from imposter syndrome; a serious syndrome that very few people are immune to. Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” Instead of believing that she earned her new position promotion, imposter syndrome had Joannie convinced that the giant tech company she worked for “gave away” the promotion and she was the “lucky winner.”
Does any of this sound familiar? It is said that at least 70% of all women, at some point in their lives, have suffered from this syndrome. In all honesty, from my experience, that number seems low. Joannie’s story is not unique. Unfortunately, it is a story I’ve heard thousands of times.
The idea that an individual could struggle from “imposter syndrome” was taken from an article published in 1978 called, “The Imposter Phenomenon in High-Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention” written by Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes.
In essence, the article stated that high-achieving women, who received external praise and acknowledgement for their achievements, lacked the ability to internally acknowledge their accomplishments. Meaning, despite being praised and rewarded for their many achievements, many women still felt like they had “lucked” or “fallen into” their success. 40 years later, we are in a world that looks completely different, yet we’re still questioning whether or not we deserve a seat at the table.
If you struggle with imposter syndrome, you are ambitious and care about the quality of your work. If you didn’t care about your work and if you didn’t push yourself to achieve your goals, you wouldn’t care or worry about whether or not you “deserved” a promotion or big raise––you would just take it and not think twice about it.
Joannie is just one of my many clients who have expressed their personal fear of being “found out” or that their promotion was an act of charity. I do have male clients who struggle with low confidence at work, but it’s nothing compared to my female clients.
I’ve never had a man say to me, “I just don’t think I could ask for that much money.” Or “I know I work hard and people like me, but do I really deserve this big promotion?” My male clients have expressed frustration about what they earn but they never wonder if they should ask their boss for more money and they certainly never question if they deserve it.
So, do we just accept this is our fate? Do we strive for the best, but allow this syndrome get the best of us? Hell no! Absolutely not. In my opinion, it is imperative that you treat imposter syndrome like it’s a significant disease and fight it every chance you get.
The best cure for imposter syndrome is practicing acceptance and validation:
You’re going to accept and own your successes. You’ve worked hard. You put in the hours. You sacrificed and challenged yourself along the way and these are the fruits of your accomplishments. No one can take those away from you, so don’t let them.
There is this fear that if you accept a compliment or say, “thank you” when someone tells you what a great job you’ve done, that you’ll get a big head and become an egomaniac. The moment you question your success, and whether or not you deserve something, is the moment you know you’re not a narcissist.
Don’t worry, it won’t happen. Even if it did, is that a crime? Eventually the excitement of the promotion, raise or spotlight will fade and you’ll be back to your old self. Don’t fear owning your success.
You’re going to feel uncomfortable as you sit with your feelings. Don’t mistake this discomfort as a clue to go back to feeling like a fraud. You’ve never sat with your success before. It may feel uncomfortable, but that’s OK. Don’t question, just say “thank you.”
Self-Validation (aka change your personal story)
Validation is praise for a job well done. When you’re rewarded with a promotion, raise, or even a compliment from your boss, you’re receiving external validation. When you struggle with imposter syndrome, your internal monologue does not match up with what’s happening in the external world.
This means that while your boss is telling you how great of a job you’re doing and how much she appreciates your contributions to the company, inside you’re telling yourself, “She’s lying to me. She’s just trying to make me feel better about myself.”
In order to combat imposter syndrome, you must change that internal monologue in your head. You are the only person in the world that has complete control over your thoughts.
How we speak to ourselves is based on our core beliefs or “stories.” We all have “stories” about ourselves and these stories become the basis of the choices and decisions we make in life. For example, “I had a hard time with math in school, therefore I can never pursue a job in accounting or finance.” Or “I’m an introvert and can be shy around new people so I’ll bomb if I say “yes” to giving this speech.”
In order to change the dialogue around in your mind, you need to start changing your personal narrative. You can stop yourself and think, “I wasn’t great at math, but I know I’m smart and hard working. If I got a job in finance, I would figure it out to my best ability.” You’re not bragging about being a math genius and you’re not telling yourself any lies. You’re simply changing the story and challenging some of the core beliefs you’ve been holding onto your entire life.
Imposter syndrome affects so many people. In a world of social media overload and “likes” defining our self worth, it’s very easy to fall into the idea that we aren’t good enough. We are our biggest critics. We compare. We judge. We scrutinize and agonize. It is time to move beyond the self-doubt and accept that we are enough. We are better than enough. We work hark hard and deserve to reap the benefits.