Welcome to Imposter Syndrome 101 (or, as we like to call it, Impost-Her Syndrome). In order to enroll in this class you must frequently feel paralyzed by fears that you will be exposed for not being as awesome as others think you are or as capable as your degree dictates. You should also hold a strong belief system that you are sorely lacking in what it takes to succeed despite being knowledgeable, proficient, enlightened, educated and/or admired.
Do these feelings sound familiar?
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome as it was originally called, was coined in 1978 by two psychologists, Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. Clance and Imes described the phenomena as mostly women who “despite external evidence of their competence…are convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they really are.”
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of “Lean In,” said “every time I was called on in class, I was sure that I was about to embarrass myself. Every time I took a test, I was sure that it had gone badly. And every time I didn’t embarrass myself—or even excelled—I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up.”
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, said that at Princeton, she felt like she was waiting for someone to tap her on the shoulder and say, “You don’t belong!” Jodie Foster once said she thought it was a “ fluke” she was accepted to Yale. And after winning an Oscar she thought the Academy would try to take the award back. “They’d come to my house, knocking on the door, ‘Excuse me, we meant to give that to someone else. That was going to Meryl Streep.’ ”
Truthfully, Imposter Syndrome can be a big, old grand distraction from playing large in life; an (unconscious) excuse to hide and not shine as brightly as you’re meant to. So, how do we overcome the thoughts that keep you feeling like a fraud?
1. Heal Your Wounds
Find the wounds of unworthiness and start to heal them. Where and when were you told you were not enough? Did you learn at the feet of hypercritical adults? Were you taught to hide your strengths so others didn’t feel challenged? Find the wounds and treat them. It’s hard to live big and feel full of self when you’re walking wounded.
2. Purposely Practice Imperfection
Put down the pretense of perfection. We are here to live fully and that means failing, being embarrassed, feeling hurt, and at times doing B- work. When you put B- work into the world; you may find that while others are disappointed, the world does not end. You will learn that you can survive the discomfort of shame and embarrassment. It’s not comfortable, but it is survivable. And it’s also inevitable. Compassion, acceptance and self-forgiveness can go a long way in releasing yourself from mistakes you’ve made and the desire to appear flawless.
3. Be Real and Vulnerable
Let others know when you are struggling. Putting yourself into the world can make you feel incredibly exposed. Take time to connect in a real way with other women who have your best interest at heart. Ask for help. Create space to truthfully share your perceived inadequacies. Stand on the shoulders of conscious women who can share their journey. This can both validate and normalize your experience.
4. Challenge Limiting Beliefs
What thoughts or core beliefs do you hold that keep you living fearfully? Put your thoughts on trial. Is your thought based in fact or fiction? Is the thought habitual? What other thoughts could be as true or truer than the one that is causing you suffering. For instance, if one of your core beliefs is that you don’t know enough for your next project, write down what you do already know. You probably know more than you think. The missing information is just information you don’t have yet. Go find it.
In essence, you can use Imposter Syndrome to go into hiding or you can choose to use the fear and discomfort to move you into a higher state of being and living. You can develop a richer life that will emanate to others in a genuine way. When you live from your core, in a real and truthful way, you are free. There is nothing to hide because you’ve embraced all parts of yourself—the parts that know things and the parts that are still under construction.