Unveiling Imposter Syndrome

I remember my first experience with Imposter Syndrome. I was a sophomore in college and I had just taken a summer certification course in teaching yoga and I was hired by the University gym to teach yoga. It was my first actual job. I was so nervous about my first class, I wanted to be liked, I wanted to be respected, and I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. I wrote everything down I would teach on an index card and even brought a backup iPod, I was prepared for anything. I came early and found out the class was fully booked and students were already lining the hallways. I opened the doors to the classroom to let my peers and even professors come and prepare for class. I stood in the front and said my welcome speech that I practiced at least a thousand times. Then I started, “okay everyone, find a seated cross legged position, sit up tall, close your eyes and take slow deep breaths.” I froze and opened my eyes, in my head I thought “my god, they are actually doing it, they are actually listening to me, who am I to tell them what to do, I don’t know yoga, I am younger than almost everyone here, I only took my first yoga class last year, what am I doing here, how did I fool the gym to hire me, they are going to find out, these students are all going to find me out, I can’t even afford Lululemon, what did I get myself into” and then I did the only thing I could… faked it till I made it. That first class was tunnel vision, I barely remember it past that moment, but everyone was kind enough to compliment me on the way out. That feeling though, feeling like a fraud, it took me over for at least two more years for every single class I walked in to teach.

Now, I work in the business world and this Imposter Syndrome thing keeps chasing me around in different areas of my life, in leading team projects to presenting at board meetings. I don’t think I heard the term Imposter Syndrome but a few years ago, and have only recently discovered how many people actually struggle with this feeling. I remember reading Melinda Gates’ book (check out my book review in the blog post “Book Review: Learn about Women’s Issues in a New Light by Reading ‘The Moment of Lift’ by Melinda Gates”) and her saying she faces Imposter Syndrome all the time when leading her multi-million dollar philanthropy, I thought, her too? Who else? Michelle Obama has confessed it too?! Well, apparently, I am not alone in this nagging feeling of being found out, so I wanted to learn more about it and how to combat it.

She confronted Imposter Syndrome, &thenShe stopped doubting herself, &thenShe became all that she was meant to be, &thenShe

Unveiling Imposter Syndrome

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome (or Imposter Phenomenon) was first coined in 1978 in a paper by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. I must say I am shocked to find out that this was originally studied in 1978, yet no one was talking about this very relatable problem until more recently! Anyways, the early research found that women are particularly more likely than men to suffer from feelings of being an imposter. Since this research, however, other studies have shown that both men and women have been found to struggle with this phenomenon. Imposter Syndrome is the idea that you’ve only been successful due to luck, and not because of your talent or qualifications, doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud.

Who does Imposter Syndrome affect most?

  • Anyone struggling to accept their success as their own
  • Perfectionists – aka people who are hard on themselves and have high expectations of themselves
  • High Achievers – people who find it difficult to accept their accomplishments
  • Experts – those who feel they cant speak up until they know EVERYTHING (or apply to the job only if meeting 100% of the qualifications)
  • Soloist – you have to accomplish it on your own or else it doesn’t count

Okay, is anyone else feeling like this is your resume up here? Feeling a little personally attacked? Yeah, me too. So what do we do about it?

“The more people who look or sound like you, the more confident you feel. And conversely, the fewer people who look or sound like you, it can and does for many people impact their confidence.”

Dr. Valerie Young in How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome Time article

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Below is some advice I have researched mixed with some things that have helped me overcome my own imposter syndrome. I think number six might be my favorite advice.

1. Acknowledge its OKAY to be unsure
I say fake it till you make it…. but I just mean the confidence part. Fake your confidence if you have to, but don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know the answer to that”. Don’t fake your expertise and spit out fake facts, but know that it’s okay that you don’t know everything, no one expects you to! Everyone feels unsure sometimes, you aren’t an imposter for thinking that way.

2. Start to think like a non-imposter
When you believe you are not an imposter you ask useful questions, you contribute invaluable ideas, and you take bold risks that could lead to incredible discoveries. Your contributions are needed in the world. I think this should start with Daily Affirmations. Working to change the negative thought pattern will be hard, but work everyday to assure yourself that you know what you are talking about, you are worthy of your success, you are smart, you are capable, and you deserve to be in the room.

3. Separate feelings from facts
Stay curious about your feelings. When you stay curious you allow yourself to step away from the feeling and emotion and realize it for what it truly is. Are you truly a fraudulent yoga instructor or are you a certified instructor who is just nervous because it’s your first day?

4. Separate humility from fear
Feeling like an imposter is fear based, not humility based. Be real about your situation and your expertise, but don’t ever let fear control you.

5. Seek feedback and advice
Ask people you respect both professionally and personally for feedback. You can learn a lot about yourself through the process and I doubt a single one of them will say “well, you are kind of an imposter” (see how silly that sounds). Always be willing and open to learning new things about yourself and spend some time gaining new skill sets to develop your weaknesses (yupp, we all have them!).

6. Own it
Okay, so after all this, it’s true, you’re an imposter. Well, fine, you got the job, you’re the one at the table, you’re the one in the position to make decisions, you fooled them … so go use it! Go make decisions that will change the world, go fight for what’s right, go speak your mind, recommend bold solutions, and stand up to the challenge. Own your imposter situation because there are a lot of people who wish to be in your position, who wish to sit where you are sitting and to be in a position of authority and expertise you are in. We are counting on you to own it!

7. Find a mentor
Find someone who you look up to and you will probably find that they too suffer from Imposter Syndrome. They can remind you that you aren’t crazy, and it’s okay to think that way, but to always be true to yourself and speak your truth.

8. Talk to a therapist or loved one
Similar to finding a mentor, just talking out your feelings can help remove the power Imposter Syndrome is holding over you. You are not alone in your quest for confidence and reassurance, but sometimes the help of a professional can help you work through some deeper rooted issues.

Follow up Reading

I have not read any of these books below yet, but based on my research, these could be some great reads to learn more about Imposter Syndrome. I hope to read these soon! If you have read any of these or have further recommendations, make sure to comment below.

The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women by Valerie Young

The Imposter Cure: Escape the mind-trap of imposter syndrome by Jeremy Hibberd

Own Your Greatness: Overcome Impostor Syndrome, Beat Self-Doubt, and Succeed in Life by Lisa and Richard Orbe- Austin

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