Are you an imposter?

By Felicity Dwyer | Career development

Jan 31

Do you ever feel that you’re not as competent as other people seem to think you are? That you’re going to be “found out”?  This feeling is quite common and is sometimes referred to as Imposter Syndrome.

Last year I attended a conference about inspiring women in business. As you would expect from this type of event, it included talks by business women who were undoubtedly successful. This included a talk by a massively impressive 29 year old CEO. Yet two of the speakers expressly talked about this “imposter” feeling, and they had clearly chosen to do so in the hope that it would help other women in the room.

And it’s not just women. I remember working with a man on this issue, quite early on in my coaching career. And in my own field of training and coaching I know the feeling of coming home from a training course that has received excellent feedback, yet focusing on the one slightly less positive comment.

If this resonates with you on some level, then what can you do about it? Here are some ideas that can help you build up your inner confidence, so it matches the outer.

Keep a record of strengths and achievements

Build up a foundation of belief in your own skills and strengths.  If you receive some positive feedback – write it down.  To kickstart the process of recording positive feedback, take a paper or online notebook, or open up a document, and write down everything that you are good at.  Think back to all the comments you have received in recent months. Go back over positive emails or messages and gather them in one place.

And record your achievements too, big or small, whether or not anyone else acknowledged them. If you know you did a good job, recognise and note it. As you do this you might feel some “yes buts” creeping in…  “Yes, it was a successful meeting but that’s because everyone else was so involved …”  (forgetting that it might have been because you planned and chaired the meeting so well).

We sometimes overlook our strengths because they may feel easy or effortless.  I now find it easy to facilitate a meeting, because it’s a strength. It’s something that I’ve learned to do, and it’s only when I notice that not everyone can do it so smoothly, that I realise it’s a strength and not a given.

This exercise of writing down strengths and achievement is well worth doing.  And then when imposter syndrome strikes and your confidence wobbles, go back and read what has been said.

See mistakes as part of learning

If you do make a mess of something, that doesn’t mean that you are incompetent as a person. It means that you have something to learn, and by recognising that, you can talk steps to change it.

Stanford University psychologist Carole Dweck has researched the differences between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. If we have a fixed mindset, we assume that our intelligence and personality are hard to change.  If we have a growth mindset, we believe that we can change significantly throughout our lives.

If we tend towards a growth mindset, we are more likely to enjoys challenges that stretch and develop us, and view mistakes as an opportunity to learn, rather than confirmation that we are lacking. So a step towards greater confidence is developing the ability to genuinely see our mistakes as a part of learning and growing, and believe that we can change as a result.

Notice and let go of thoughts

I love the quote: “don’t compare your insides with someone else’s outsides”.  Other people see how you speak and behave, but they don’t know about the doubts that might be going through your head. And we all have doubts at some point in our careers. There is a time and space where it is appropriate to share these thoughts and feelings, with a friend, a coach or a supportive line manager. But in professional situations, we do need to learn how to manage them and not let them get in the way.

A thought that you are “not good enough” is just that, a thought. It’s not true unless you are trying to perform a job that is clearly outside your capability or skillset, which is something different. I’ve written before about meditation, and a daily mediatation practice can help you recognise that during the course of the day many thoughts pass through your mind, and you can learn to get better at noticing them, and letting them go.

Measure success by doing your best

In The Chimp Paradox, consultant psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters has some interesting things to say about confidence and success. “If you measure success in life by effort and doing your best, then it is always in your hands to succeed and be proud of yourself.”   So if you prepare well for a meeting and give it your full attention, that can count as a success, even if the outcome isn’t quite as you would have wished.  And if you identify one thing you can do better next time, then this is useful learning.

Need a boost of confidence?

Confidence is an area I can help with through my coaching service. If you feel a lack of confidence is holding you back in your career or business, then why not book in a free consultation call and find out more.

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About the Author

Felicity is a career coach. She help people who want to change career, start a freelance business, or build their confidence. Felicity writes about career and business development, leadership and personal effectiveness.

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(2) comments

Mike Clayton 8 years ago

I also think that it is sometimes important to recognise that, when we start a new job, or take on a new role, and feel we are not good enough, we may not be… YET. What is important is that we give ourselves the credit we deserve for the successes we have and the progress we make. But, of course, we far too often focus on our own failings and our setbacks.

The process of a daily reflection at the end of each day is the best way that we can build our leadership and wisdom capacity. I thought this was a useful article and prompted me to start a reflective journal at the beginning of this year:

    Felicity Dwyer 8 years ago

    A useful article, thank you Mike.

    And I agree. It’s not about thinking we’re competent when in reality we’re not yet. And when we recognise that we could have done something better, we are already moving forward in the learning process, uncomfortable as it can seem at times.

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