I remember at the beginning of my undergrad degree, nervously handing in one of the first essays I’d ever written, sure I’d be ridiculed for how absolutely dreadful it was. It came back graded an A, along with some very positive comments. My boyfriend at the time (now my husband – he’s a keeper ; ) was really proud of me, but I didn’t feel like I deserved the grade. I figured I must have been awarded the A because they felt sorry for me and they could see that I tried really hard. I attributed that success to anything but myself. An honours degree and an MBA later, I still wonder if I actually know anything.
If you’ve ever had similar thoughts you’re not alone. Turns out the majority of the population, (around 70 %) experience this type of self-doubt known as impostor syndrome. It’s especially common among high achievers.
Highly acclaimed film-maker and actor, Jodie Foster has shared that she feels like an impostor and doesn’t feel like she knows what she’s doing. Kate Winslett has voiced similar feelings. It’s also common among entrepreneurs and I suspect this is the reason there are so many mindset coaches out there doing such great work. They’re treating impostor syndrome in its many guises.
Impostor syndrome can hold you back, causing you to unconsciously sabotage yourself by procrastinating, undermining yourself, and making you feel challenged every step of the way if you don’t manage to it so here’s my advice on how to get through it…
Step into your own abilities
Part of this is being comfortable admitting that you don’t know everything or that you’re unsure. Not knowing part of the puzzle doesn’t negate the skills and knowledge that you do have. Stop pretending that you don’t have any insecurities or that there aren’t any gaps in your knowledge and just be who you are. When you do this you’ll feel liberated and you’ll also unlock empathy and understanding from others who respect you for being open and authentic.
It’s super empowering to admit what you don’t know and it creates an environment where people can be open and more collaborative.
Side note: Unfortunately, this is not what we’re taught to do in school, in fact it’s quite the opposite. We’re told to be quiet and get on with our work, we’re told not to interrupt because there is more work to get through, and chatting with our neighbour in class is forbidden because it’s noisy and disrupts the class. We’re given external praise for being compliant and we quickly learn to use this hollow, extrinsic feedback as the yardstick by which to monitor and adjust our behaviour. Wouldn’t it be better if instead, we learned to listen to our intuition as to what feels inherently rewarding to us? Wouldn’t it be better if we could chat to a classmate check in with them and see how they are doing, find out what their perspective is, talk about the differences between how we approach things, and ask questions freely, as they arise, instead of having to raise our hand and ask the teacher, in front of the whole class? Whether it’s in school or at work we need to create an environment where it’s okay not to know. Not knowing is awesome, it means discovery is around the corner.
Start to notice when you’re apologizing for yourself (guilty) and Stop It! Instead of saying “sorry can I just ask a dumb question?’’ apologetically – replace it with the phrase – “just to clarify’’. Much better.
Action Trumps Fear
Get out of your own head and take action – action creates momentum. Taking action will force you to focus more on those you serve than yourself. Also, remember nobody really is bothered about you, they’re much too busy worrying about their own impostor syndrome!
So next time you catch yourself thinking, “But I don’t know what I’m doing, why would anybody listen to me?” Or you want to ask a question in a meeting but feel afraid it’s really dumb; Or you find it difficult to internalise and accept your successes and achievements, instead attributing these to mere luck, or timing rather than to your actual ability, realise you’re not alone. Many of the most successful people on the planet harbour an underlying fear that others will eventually uncover them as a fraud.
Oh, and, remember, if you don’t feel as if you’re way in over your head, you’re probably doing it wrong!