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How can I overcome feelings of Imposter Syndrome at work?

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Executive Coach Susan Manning advises a reader who is constantly questioning whether she deserves the success she has had in her career.
Is feeling like a fraud an inherently female hang-up? How can we learn to recognise and accept our successes?

 

Dear Daily Slog,

‘No matter what successes I have at work, or positive feedback I receive, I can never seem to shake the feeling that I will soon be found out for what I really am, and that all will come crashing down around me. I know this is ludicrous but the feeling is always there.

For example, I was recently promoted but my underlying feeling is that I am not qualified enough for the job, and I am constantly fretting that this is apparent to my manager and my team. I know this is a sweeping generalisation but my male colleagues never seem to question their abilities in the same way as my female colleagues and friends. Is it an inherently female thing to think you don’t deserve your successes?’

 

Dear Reader,

You are in good company, most of us experience these feeling at some stage in our lives. These feeling’s that you have – that you are a fraud or only in your position because of luck or serendipity – is known as imposter syndrome.

It is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. Most importantly, I can confirm that is affects both genders in ‘all walks of life’. Perhaps females recognise and talk more openly about their feelings, but I assure you it does not matter what experience, skillset or achievements; imposter syndrome can become very much part of your life. Although, you may never get rid of these feelings completely, there are a number of ways to control the voice.

 

Someone, and most probably a number of people, decided you were the right person for this job and they have belief and faith in you to deliver and be a success.

 

Amplify the Positive

Someone, and most probably a number of people, decided you were the right person for this job and they have belief and faith in you to deliver and be a success. Therefore what do they see that you are not seeing?

Your first exercise is to think clearly about your strengths, and this should not a quick list of things. Take some time to identify what combination of strengths are unique to you; what impact as a leader do you bring that no one else does? Another way to think of it is this – if you were not in that job, what might not get done as well as you would do it.

Next step is to ask others – maybe those who were involved in promoting you or colleagues that you trust – for their feedback on what they see as your strengths. A good question to ask is, if you were not on a specific project or in a specific meeting, what would be missing? Why were you hired / promoted?

Write all of this down, all of it!  Don’t judge want they say, just capture it. Now put these words in a location where you can see them every day – pause for a few moments each morning and remember this is YOU they are talking about.

 

Believe in yourself, be kind to yourself and know that you are not alone in these feelings.

 

 

Remove Judgement

We are surrounded by judgement from an early age – whether praise from our parents, a good grade in school or a “like” on Facebook. As humans, we have an inbuilt judgement system – often telling us we are not good enough. Timothy Gallwey wrote a book on this very topic in 1971. He suggests that if we withhold judgement we can achieve our potential.

So practice withholding judgement – the facts are you have a new job / promotion, you have work to do, and you feel overwhelmed and daunted. Now, instead of your brain attaching a judgement to that feeling, instead say to yourself – I feel overwhelmed and daunted, I am aware of this feeling, I need to move on now.

Try really hard not to determine the feeling as good or bad – it is a feeling with no judgement. This technique eventually becomes easier the more you practice it.

 

Find a Mentor

Find a mentor – someone who has done this before, who you trust and who you can be open with, and use that person to help you through this. If you don’t know of someone, find someone who does – most senior leaders love being asked to be a mentor and are delighted to do so – just ensure that they can make the time to listen to you and have the skills to encourage you.

 

Embrace the fact that you got to where you are because of who you are and your accomplishments are proof of that

 

 

Take Time to Pause and Recognise Success

Most hard-working achievement-oriented people are continuously looking to improve and will often focus on what needs to change or be done better. This is a great trait to have, but equally important is the need to pause and recognise success. Neuroscience explores the world of neural pathways and how what we focus on can “re-wire” our thought process. As a result, if you focus on the negative your brain builds connection around the negative, until eventually your thoughts will believe the world is negative.

It would be naive to suggest you only focus on the positive but it is important to balance every negative with a positive (in fact, some researchers say that for every negative thought you need five positive thoughts to balance it out!).

On your commute home remind yourself of five good things that happened during the day, and on Friday, schedule thirty minutes in your calendar to write down your top achievements of the week. What did you achieve? What was your impact? Start to build up your ‘accomplishment list’. When those feelings of being an imposter come back, reflect back on this list. You will be amazed at what you are achieving each week!

Embrace the fact that you got to where you are because of who you are and your accomplishments are proof of that.

 

Change Your Language and Find a Mantra

Think about the language you use to either describe yourself or a situation you are facing. Remember the words we use become the house we live in! Do you always think the worst? When you are in a meeting what is it that you are saying to yourself? Do you beat yourself up internally?

Change your language – use positive, assertive phrases and treat yourself with kindness. In a new job you need to ask lots of questions to understand the role and company so be confident in those questions; you are not expected to know everything. You have already built up knowledge and wisdom in your career to date so don’t be afraid to start your question with ‘help me understand?’

Finally, I would suggest you take some time to think of, and write down, a mantra of confidence. Using words that you can relate to and that you believe in. I would then write your mantra in the subject heading of an e-mail and email it to yourself every day. This will allow you to automatically read your mantra every day as you see it in your daily inbox.

Believe in yourself, be kind to yourself and know that you are not alone in these feelings.

 

About Susan Manning

Susan Manning is an accredited Executive Coach, Consultant, Leadership Facilitator & Mentor committed to developing people and organisations to be their best.

A seasoned HR executive, with over 20 years experience working for both multi-national and individual companies, Susan is based in Cork, Ireland.  By creating a thinking environment, Susan enables clients to understand what is going on for them and what is the question that really needs answering.

Contact Susan on 087-210 6432 or susan@thepeoplepracticegroup.com. www.thepeoplepracticegroup.com

Susan Manning

Do you have a career dilemma you would like answered? Drop us an email at contact@thedailyslog.com and we will ask our experts to help.

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