Jon* and I were sitting in silence as I waited for him to respond to my question about how he was feeling since he’d started his dream job. After a while, he looked up and said, ‘It’s great, I guess, but there’s this nagging voice in my head that’s really bugging me.’
‘What’s it saying?’
‘Stuff like – “who do you think you are?” or “maybe you just got lucky”.’
Like so many of us, Jon was experiencing imposter syndrome which is also known as ‘fraud syndome’ or ‘impostor syndrome’ (in writing this, I’ve learnt that both imposter and impostor are correct spellings). In fact, a study suggests that 70% of us will experience this syndrome at least once during our lives and is often experienced at times of high achievement.
Whilst the fact that most of us have this experience occasionally can be comforting in itself, Jon was looking for something he could actually do to combat imposter syndrome. We decided to start by listing all the ways in which the syndrome showed up for Jon. On giant sticky notes, he wrote the following:
- I’m not a real expert.
- I only got the job because I was lucky.
- The other managers seem so much more confident than me.
- I daren’t ask for help.
- When other people give me positive feedback, they’re just being nice.
- If I make a mistake, they’ll see me for who I really am.
Sticky note by sticky note, I challenged Jon to dig a bit deeper and consider each imposter thought from a different viewpoint.
- What is a ‘real’ expert anyway? Sure, there are people here who have been here for ages and know everything there is to know about the business but I have relevant skills and experience and can bring a fresh perspective.
- It wasn’t luck. I went through a pretty gruelling interview process and I worked hard to demonstrate why I was right for the role. The Director agreed and that’s why I got the job.
- I’m comparing how I feel on the inside with their external appearance. I have no idea if they feel that confident inside. Maybe they sometimes feel like imposters too.
- Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. My manager is there to help me. I have my coach. I am building relationships with my peers: I can ask them to help and in turn, I can offer to help them.
- If I refuse to accept positive feedback, I am questioning the judgment of the person offering it. I will thank them for the feedback and will work on learning to accept it.
- I’m only human. I will make mistakes. What matters more is how I recover from those mistakes.
As a final action point, I asked Jon to spend a few minutes each evening jotting down a few lines about what had gone well and what hadn’t gone so well that day.
That was six months ago. I spoke to Jon recently. ‘I have to admit, I do still feel a bit like a fraud sometimes,’ he commented, ‘but now I recognise that and analyse the underlying thought behind that feeling. Keeping a diary has helped me process my thoughts each day but also gives me the opportunity to look back and see that actually, things are going really well and I am making progress.’
Today’s pebble for your consideration: do you recognise imposter syndrome? What steps can you take to deal with it this week?
What do you think?
*Client’s name has been changed.
Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.
If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.