Aditi (name changed), heads a business function for a Fortune 500 organisation.She just got the news that she is getting an award for the best performing business head in her region. Her spirits are not particularly up. She reads the email for the 100th time to check whether it is really her name that has been chosen for the award. She completely dismisses any thoughts about her capability and hard work that led her to get the award. She fears that people will laugh at her when she receives her award because they know she is a fraud. To appear deserving of the award, she wants to work long hours to the detriment of her health.
Imposter syndrome is a faulty assessment of one’s ability versus contextual requirements.
Psychologist Audrey Ervin says people who cannot internalise their success can have imposter syndrome.
Some people experience this as ‘I don’t belong’ and some others as “I don’t deserve.”
It's more prevalent in high achievers than others. It gives a false sense of lack in the midst of abundance.
There are 5 types of imposter syndrome
The common denominator in all the different imposter types is to think of something that is not real or a willing dismissal of that which is real.
What I do observe in my clients like Aditi is that Imposter syndrome is a mental construct/ thought pattern. It’s not tangible. Its False Evidence Appearing Real (FEAR).
What does help reduce the fear is to provide an alternate thought pattern that is real & more empowering.
The best way to clear fog is to stop working on it and bring in its opposite: light. We can’t shoo the fog, we cannot fight it and we cannot pretend it doesn’t exist and we cannot say we are seeing clearly when its around. We can only allow more light. So I believe, instead of dialling down the imposter syndrome it’s better to dial up reality. While there are several ways to overcome the imposter syndrome - I prefer to help people let go. The below is how one could do that.
1. Craft your mirror carefully
How do we choose a mirror to hang at out house? The glass has to be pure, it has to be flat, the thickness has to be right and the reflective coating has to last. The reason why we do it is to get an image as real as possible without distortions in shape, size or colour.
In the same way, when we have to judge ourselves, our assessment criteria to measure our progress has to be carefully thought over and refined to show the real us and our progress. If we use in-human benchmarks and borrowed perceptions to judge ourselves, our image is bound to be distorted. This is the image that creates the feeling of “not being good enough.”
The first and important step hence is to craft ‘what makes your mirror’ that gives you a sense of the “real” you.
What sensory (objective) /feeling (subjective) measures are you going to gauge where you are?
When you reach your goal, what are you going to see, hear and feel?
Take time and document them. Measure yourself against that and rest of the process will unfold effortlessly.
You can find a different take on goals here
2. Choose your glasses carefully:
I recently went to buy a new pair of spectacles - it took about 30 minutes for the optometrist to pick the glasses that will help me see things as they are - to read number 3 as 3 and not 8. The optometrist didn’t stop there - she checked after giving me a trial glass whether I am now seeing 8 as 8.
This would mean, you will examine your entire career/life and look for both successes(3s) and failures(8s) and not dismiss/overlap one over another. When you wear the right glasses, it’s easy to see with clarity.
3. Choose your milestones carefully
Even Olympics occur once every 4 years to give participants enough time to prepare and train.
If you are new to your job and you are going to compare yourself with someone who has done it for many years, you are going to appear as less capable. But all is not lost. With time and effort you can become as capable. Even solo performers in Olympics have a team that works with them to express the best performance. You can go alone but its a lot comfortable to work as a team!
4. Reflect on the benefits of imposter syndrome (Yes you read it right!)
There is always a beneficial intention behind all our behaviour. So your may have your imposter syndrome because it makes you do more, achieve more or prevent you from lazying. If you can find alternate ways to get the same benefits without belittling yourself, may be it will go away like the fog:-)
5. Reframe expertise as mastery
The difference between a good and a great dancer is grace. Grace comes when the dance happens effortlessly.While expertise and mastery both take time and effort, mastery is a journey that takes you a step further to effortlessness. The practice adds to your energy and fulfilment. When thoughts about having to know it all / be an expert come, be willing to accept that you are a work-in-progress in the journey to mastery. Ultimately, if you are not enjoying the journey despite your best efforts, should you be on this journey after all?
What resourceful thought pattern will you use to clear the imposter syndrome?