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Real Talk About "Imposter Syndrome"

I was recently interviewed for Chief Executive Magazine, and thought the editor, Emily DeNitto, did a wonderful write up. So, I wanted to share an excerpt of the full article


Q: Let's talk about “imposter syndrome.” It's a term used everywhere these days, and I think that speaks to how common it is, especially for women. Why do you think it's getting so much attention?


Well, you're right, the term is becoming more popular, but it was actually coined in the 1970s, I believe it was 1978, by [psychologists] Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. They wanted to understand, why do these high-achieving women who have all these degrees, who've made it to these senior level decision-making rooms feel like they're going to be found out, or all their success is a result of luck, or they're in that room and they don't belong there. They called it “the imposter phenomenon.”


I always tell folks when we talk about imposter phenomenon, which we now call imposter syndrome, remember that in 1978, women had just gotten the ability to have a bank account or a credit card in their own name. Four years earlier, women were not in the rooms where decisions were made. That was an anomaly.


And so this is a very real feeling. And it's not just women. Research shows that people of color, when they've experienced racial discrimination, experience more imposter feelings, people who work in high performance, cutthroat cultures, a lot of folks who work in education where brilliance is priced above all else, have higher rates of imposter feelings. I've felt it, that sense that people are going to find out that I have no idea what I'm talking about.


Imposter syndrome is caused by not seeing yourself in the rooms where decisions are made. And I do believe that organizations have a responsibility to have more diverse leadership teams because it does create feelings of belonging.


Q: How do we move beyond that doubt?


One critical question is, are we reframing our everyday feelings of doubt as imposter feelings?


Because here's the thing: Doubt is a normal, healthy human emotion. You're going to feel doubt every time you stretch your comfort zone. It's just science. There are people in this world who don't feel doubt. They're sociopaths.


Imposter feelings are real. I'm not going to minimize them. Yes, organizations have a responsibility to bring more diversity so we can see ourselves in the rooms where decisions are made. However, let's not reframe normal, healthy, everyday doubt into imposter feelings because you will feel doubt every time you stretch your comfort zone and move closer to your goals. Healthy doubt keeps us curious. It keeps us humble and it keeps us connected to our audience. We can do great things while also feeling those uncomfortable, nervous feelings of doubt.


Keep reading the full article to hear why overcoming doubt and imposter feelings is key to creating innovative teams and advancing effectively as a leader. I also share tips to lead while also feeling doubt. I also share five tips below to advance with confidence!


In my and my clients' experiences, I believe that imposter syndrome (the feeling you'll be found out as unqualified, a fraud or just lucky) keeps women from switching careers or seeking advanced roles that would make them happier. 


If they do choose to change roles or ask for a promotion, research shows only 60% of women negotiate their salaries, and when they do, they ask for less than men. I've personally experienced, and seen in others, imposter syndrome holding us back from applying for projects or roles we are fully capable of doing. Imposter syndrome is the ultimate career killer, but it doesn't have to be. 


Here are five ways you can advance with confidence - even when you feel big self-doubt or imposter feelings:

1. Notice it. Have compassion without fighting it. Self-compassion is underrated when it comes to building confidence. Why? Because you can't criticize your way into more confidence.


2. Name it. This feels like doubt, overwhelm, insecurity…imposter feelings


3. Normalize it. Everyone experiences doubt and 70% of people experience imposter syndrome. It's normal and healthy to have these feelings when I am doing something new.


4. Reframe it. This is what growth feels like. Stomach butterflies mean I care about good work.


5. Act on it. The actions of confidence come first, the feelings come second. You can advance your career even though you don't feel 100% confident...yet. Confidence is a side effect of taking action.


TRY THIS NEXT: Keep a career journal with your wins and good feedback so you can refer back to it in moments of self-doubt. Add to or review this quarterly as high achievers frequently look towards what's yet to be accomplished without appreciating how far they have already come.

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