The rectangular yellow Post-in note has been stuck to my computer since November. At the time, I was working hard to revise my business plan and update my branding. I had explored some partnerships, had chosen a direction, and was excited about moving forward.
But I was also uncertain.
Even though I was confident about the work I had done and in my abilities as a coach and consultant, doubt was sometimes sneaking in and slowing me down. The phenomenon I had helped so many others address was affecting me.
I felt like an imposter.
Identified in the 1970’s by a team of psychologists, “imposter syndrome” is the feeling that one hasn’t earned their accomplishments and will be discovered as an intellectual fraud. Rather than seeing their status as validation of their efforts or talents, “imposters” feel undeserving of their successes and doubtful of their abilities.
Sound familiar? If so, here are some things to consider:
It happens to most people.
While initial studies focused on women, subsequent research shows that anyone can suffer from imposter syndrome—and that most do. Some high-profile people (Neil Gaiman, Sheryl Sandberg, Meryl Streep) have shared their struggles with sometimes feeling like a fraud. Personally, I have worked with bright and objectively successful leaders—some at the top of their organizations—who have struggled with periodic feelings of inadequacy. While you might feel like you’re the only one at the office feeling like an imposter, it’s highly unlikely that you are.
Make sure you’re not being a too-high-achiever.
The feelings of self-doubt that define imposter syndrome happen when we contrast our actual successes with our idealized standards. If there’s an area where you are questioning your abilities, take a look at how you’ve defined success. Is it reasonable? Could a different standard serve you better? Do you have a legitimate performance gap that you want to address?
It’s part of the journey.
If you resonate with the idea of imposter syndrome, it means you’ve achieved successes and are focused on achieving more. Which also means you may have more wrestling to do with your inner imposter. Psychologist Amy Cuddy, who gained notoriety from her 2012 TED Talk, claims “Most of us will probably never completely shed our fears of being fraudulent. We’ll just work them out as they come, one by one.”
For me, the Post-it note on my computer helps; it reminds the imposter in me that, “I am confident in my ability and clear about my purpose and path”. Sometimes I don’t need that reminder. And sometimes I do.