6 Strategies to deal with Imposter SyndromeSep 21, 2021
My story of Imposter Syndrome
I was born with Imposter Syndrome. I might have been doomed from the start. I was one of 6 children and the other 5 were boys! They looked very alike and I looked different. Often we’d hear friends and relatives say “I don’t know where ye got Tina from”. We grew up on a farm in the countryside.
I was sent to an all-girls secondary school in the city – what a shock that was! To boot, it was locally referred to as ‘posh’ as that’s where the daughters of the professional and well-heeled families mostly went to school. I didn’t fit that category. One day in First Year, after some innocent frolicking outside the convent, a very unimpressed, retired nun called me out of a group and up the steps towards her. Towering over me, she admonished me thoroughly, finishing with ‘I don’t know who let you in here but you certainly don’t belong here’. We all laughed hilariously at the time. It cut deeply though and it’s a moment that I never forgot for my 6 years there.
I arrived in university and felt a similar feeling. I was shocked in the early days as I realised how homogenous the undergraduates were – mainly middle and upper class young adults, high-achievers who had always known they would be third-level educated. The script ran again in my head: ‘I don’t know how you got here but you certainly don’t belong here’. While it nagged at me in college, it didn’t really hinder me too much.
However, my first graduate job brought me to the UK, one of only a few out of my course who had been scooped up in ‘the milk-round’ and had a graduate position upon leaving. Two of us got the same job in the same multinational company. Although we hadn’t really known each other in college, we ended up sharing a house together and becoming good friends. Without going into any details, I learned how different our life journeys had been that brought us there. While the fact that I too had made it to that point should have made me feel successful and emboldened, it had the completely opposite effect. It debilitated me. That feeling of not deserving to be there and not belonging there overwhelmed me. It shaped the two less-than-happy years I spent in England, eventually leading me to walk away from the job almost immediately after receiving my first and significant promotion.
Imposter Syndrome makes no sense
Why didn’t I feel successful instead of overwhelmed? I can’t tell you! Imposter Syndrome makes no sense. This is the defining feature of Imposter Syndrome - a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in the face of information to the contrary. It’s when people feel they do not deserve their success or current position. Flowing from that, come lots of other feelings: not belonging, being a fraud, living in a kind of semi-fear of being found out or discovered, feeling tolerated rather than accepted. It’s irrational because there is no evidence to back up the feelings.
Imposter Syndrome is common
Why share all of this with you? Only to share that I know a thing or two when it comes to Imposter Syndrome, I know how to recognize it and over the years I’ve invested significantly in learning strategies to manage it and get past it. I also know it’s very prevalent – maybe not the really overwhelming and debilitating kind, but the ongoing nagging, hindering kind. Most of us experience it to some extent in our lives and careers. It comes up with my private coaching clients and even in our Member Huddles at The Tourism Space. It’s very prevalent amongst tourism business owners and managers in tourism, when so much ‘success’ depends on putting yourself out there in public all the time. I meet many experience providers who still express shock that anyone is prepared to pay them for what they do, who read raving reviews with disbelief and put it down to the good weather on the day they were there! Sound familiar?
Common Symptoms of Imposter Syndrome
People who experience Imposter Syndrome usually experience some of the following:
- Putting your success down to luck
- Doubting yourself and your ambitions
- Overworking in order to overachieve
- Berating your own performance
- Setting very stretching goals and then feeling very disappointed if they are not met.
- Revising your goals, dropping your ambition levels and therefore not achieving full potential.
- Alternatively, setting over-stretching goals and feeling bitterly disappointed if they are not met.
- Downplaying your achievements e.g. saying you were just in the right place at the right time, calling an achievement ‘a fluke’, calling yourself ‘a chancer’.
- Dismissing positive feedback.
- Having difficulty accepting praise or a compliment.
Strategies to deal with Imposter Syndrome
While I wish I’d known more about what Imposter Syndrome much earlier in my career, I’m always grateful for the coach who first helped me recognize it and deal with it. It takes time and ongoing work. Here are some the key strategies that have helped me get past it (most of the time!).
1. Start with your very best visitor reviews and customer comments
Read them thoroughly and drink in every word. Acknowledge that people who owe you nothing and had nothing to gain from it took the time to say how great you, your experience or your service are. They are not lying – why would they? What they say is true and they have gone out of their way to ensure you know that.
2. Accept and acknowledge your role in making this success happen.
Avoid dismissing these reviews and any other positive feedback you get. Understand that you played the key role in your good fortune. Take the time to pat yourself on the back and avoid thinking the only validation worth having is validation from the outside.
3. Rewrite your script
Use the positive words and feelings that you inspired in others to write a new script for yourself. Believe what they say about you and then own it. Write your own story – literally, write it down – in the best possible terms highlighting all you did to get you there. Be ‘full of yourself’ when you write it! This is the only way you can learn to think like a non-imposter.
4. Accept compliments gratefully and graciously
This can be a real challenge, particularly in cultures that value modesty. In Ireland, we really struggle with it! Practice what you will say next time you get a compliment. Here are a few examples – only a small change in wording that will massively change your mindset.
a. Swap ‘That was nothing’ for ‘Thanks, I was delighted’.
b. Swap ‘Ah, I was just lucky’ for ‘Thanks, the work paid off and I’m delighted with that.’
c. Swap ‘Ah sure you have to say that to me’ for0 ‘Thank you for saying that to me.’
5. Build your trusted network
Many, many people experience imposter syndrome to some degree or another. Understanding how others feel will help you. Also, recognize that others who are in your network value you, admire you and are even inspired by you. They choose to be connected to you – you add value to them too!
6. Stop comparing yourself to others
This was the biggest antidote for me. Learning to define what success is for me and being content with that (rather than always striving for more or being led by what other people want) has brought me great freedom. Take the time to define what success is for you. Quickly you realise that making comparisons with anyone else is pointless and the question of ‘belonging’ or ‘deserving’ is irrelevant. Run your own race!
If you feel like an imposter, it means you have had some degree of success, you’ve brought yourself somewhere new. A coach once pointed this out to me and it struck home. The challenge and the opportunity is to focus on your success, take ownership of it and avoid attributing it to luck or circumstance. As my good friend Jamese McCloy once shared in our Member Huddle “You have to meet your luck half-way”. That much, at least, you can take credit for!
For Tina, the idea of Imposter Syndrome arose from a group coaching session in The Member Huddle. If you are interested in finding out more about our weekly Member's Huddle you can by visiting here.
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