Are you suffering from Imposter Syndrome OR are you just having an “Imposter Experience”?

Do you…

Secretly feel insecure at work, despite consistent over achievement and functioning at a high level?

Or…

When complimented or commended for an achievement at work, are you inclined to discount it and write it off as a result of some external force, other than your own hard work, resilience or talents? Perhaps you find yourself saying, “…it was nothing, had a lot of help, it’s down to luck and timing really…” rather than congratulate yourself, say, “thank you” and accept the compliment?

Or…

Do you feel that there is a disconnect between the “role” you play at work and your true self, leaving you with a feeling that you lack “authenticity”?

If any of these questions ring a bell, you could be experiencing what is the known as the workplace anxiety “du jour” – Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome – What is it and how could it impact your career?

According to clinical psychologists, Pauline R Clance and Suzanne A Imes, who coined the term “Imposter Syndrome” in 1978 in their paper, “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women”, they found that many people, despite external evidence of their competence, remained convinced that they were frauds and did not deserve the success that they had achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking that they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. This can manifest itself in the following ways

  • Perfectionism

  • Overworking

  • Undermining your achievements

  • Fear of failure

  • Discounting praise

and can result in having unrealistic expectations of oneself and others, being overly concerned about being criticised, avoiding challenge or confrontation, appearing to lack passion, not demonstrating confidence in one’s own position and views and taking a low profile to the point of diminishing impact.

Are you suffering from Imposter Syndrome OR are you just having an “Imposter Experience”?

On the other hand, “Feeling like an imposter is not a syndrome, it is a totally normal part of experiencing success,” says LV Anderson says in her article on Imposter Syndrome for slate.com. In that article, she speaks to Clance, who reframes her phrase “Imposter Syndrome”, re-naming it “impostor experience”. Clance says, “If I could do it all over again, I would call it the impostor experience, because it’s not a syndrome or a complex or a mental illness, it’s something almost everyone experiences. Reframing the vocabulary shifts one’s perspective to help them understand they are not isolated in this experience.

Being somewhat inclined towards “imposter experiences” can be of benefit you…

Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, vice president of research and innovation at Hogan Assessments, in The Harvard Business Review writes that, people with lower self-confidence hold several advantages over their more “confident” counterparts. While there is a danger that a lack of confidence in one’s professional abilities can lead to being over looked in favour of colleagues who are more adept self-publicists and better at “managing up”, people with lower self-confidence tend to be their own worst critic and when his quality is paired with ambition, it forces these individuals to evaluate their weaknesses and work tirelessly to improve.”

Better than the Dunning-Kruger Effect…

Do you have colleagues, bosses or employees who come across as expert networkers, believe themselves to be exceptional, display traits of charm, confidence, extraversion and appear to be naturally suited to climbing the corporate ladder? You know the ones… These people could be experiencing what could be considered to be the opposite end of the spectrum; something called “The Dunning Kruger Effect.” This psychological phenomenon of illusory superiority was identified as a form of cognitive bias in Kruger and Dunning’s 1999 study “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”.

These “movers and shakers” who exaggerate their talents and abilities, can also lack empathy and get trapped in “their optimistic biases,” or to put it another way, end up believing in their own “bulls***”. They tend to only hear what they want to hear and ignore honest or negative feedback, to their own and their employees’ detriment, which creates widespread disengagement, resentment and ultimately exodus. At their worst, these people deny any wrongdoing, blame others, spin failure as success and are only receptive to flattery. Not a good look in a leader. In fact, about 50% of the 7,200 adults surveyed in a Gallup poll left a job “to get away from their manager.”

How I helped a client having an imposter experience…

Jane, an author came to see me because she was having difficulty writing her third book. She had some success with her first two books, but was having difficulty starting the third book and was suffering from “writer’s block”. Jane was experiencing feelings of being a fraud and that her previous books had been flukes.

Using a combination of strengths based self-assessment, highlighting where Jane excelled and where she had used these strengths to good effect in completing her previous novels. Through further discussion, Jane was able to pinpoint when she first began to compare herself unfavourably with others. She also realised that feelings of inadequacy can often be a result of decisions made long ago as a child which have happened quite outside our current awareness. As a result, it does not occur to us to update those survival strategies from childhood, that we made when we were small and vulnerable with a limited frame of reference in terms of emotion and experience.

How I can help you…

If you think you are inclined to feel like “an imposter at work”, it is helpful to understand when and where this could be impacting your success and your career as a whole. I can help you become more aware of and assess whether your reactions to success are those of most normal, humble, competent people or if recognition and reward are inspiring feelings of fraudulence and chronic self-doubt. Of course, we all can benefit from a bit of good luck and timing, however by addressing any “imposter-related” feelings, we can develop strategies for helping you to manage those feelings and acknowledge your achievements are largely as a result of your own hard work and talent. In turn, this can improve self-acceptance and increase enthusiasm and motivation to reduce feelings of being undervalued and overlooked while improving your motivation to seize opportunities for self-promotion and advancement.