September is my favorite time of year and each year when it rolls around, I always forgot it’s also the most stressful one for me followed only by June and not even considering the “holiday season”. What do these two months have in common? Well that’s when the academic calendar starts and finishes. No, I’m not a teacher, but I have been a parent for thirty years now. My youngest is 15 and just started high school. School sports, back to school night, birthdays, and more, September is jam packed. This year I finally got to pause in October and reflect on a reoccurring theme, Imposter Syndrome. When a topic pokes at me several times, I think it’s time to tackle it and share it with others. Here are several scenarios where I observed Imposter Syndrome in myself and others, plus action or tools to overcome the anxiety.SituationI must have forgotten about how busy September is when I accepted the offer to present three workshops to the biomedical grad students at Georgetown University. It was a professional/personal brand themed day and as a guest trainer I added insight to pitching, presenting, and primping your social media. It’s one of my favorite activities, running interactive sessions where we all learn from each other. These workshops had a slight twist to them though, they weren’t focused on the mechanics of preparing for an interview, or creating a resume, the emphasis was on developing your own brand.TaskFor this reason, I had to do more prep than usual after 20 years of delivering my career workshops. Each and every audience has different requirements/needs, so I do customize my delivery. This time though, I got nervous and asked for feedback from the career center director, several times. Finally, I went out and made some special handouts which I hadn’t done in a long time. The day of the event I had more butterflies in my stomach than usual. Normally presenting raises my energy and I thrive.Action

Upon arrival we realized that the 25-30 students who had signed up, weren’t all going to be there. We shifted the tables to make things more intimate and created a U shape around the screen. Then we realized that to be responsive to the group that did join us, I was going to have to customize the content even more so the Prezi (newly learned presentation software better than Powerpoint), was basically useless.

Two bumps in the road, Bill Stixrud, local author, psychologist, always says expect obstacles to appear, and have a Plan B. Sometimes you need Plan C and D too. As the students and I discussed the various topics, preparing your pitch for networking, presenting the best resume/linkedin page, and leveraging your network, I gradually calmed down. My goal was to share as much information as possible, be responsive to the students, and earn my fee. As I continued to converse with the students, I remembered that I have wisdom and insight that was valuable for all the attendees. Feedback from the sessions will be helpful too. One of the grad students who attended mentioned she was running a workshop on Imposter Syndrome the following week. That made me pause and really think. Was I battling the insecurities of Imposter Syndrome after all these years?

Situation-Task

Two days later, on an early Thursday, I met with one of my career strategy coaching clients. My goal was to help her prepare for an important interview. She’s a bright PhD with several years of experience. We laughed but also stopped to reflect when she too described sometimes wondering if she was good enough or “for real”. According to several articles on the topic, when we tackle new tasks or have a major event, we often have relapses into insecurity. I saw that anxiety provoking monster of Imposter Syndrome poking it’s ugly head up again as she explored new jobs through interviews.

Action

The articles also shared that highly intelligent capable individuals often suffer intermittently from Imposter Syndrome. The tendency of Type A people is towards perfectionism. That rang several bells for me. I recognized my client had a similar profile and encouraged her to be well prepared as a way to regain her confidence. Also, I suggested she recognize doing a good job is important but also recognize when it’s time to let go and accept “good enough”. It made me read, reflect and remember another example from my childhood.

Savvy Psychologist Ellen Hendriksen, states that the syndrome is often seen in higher amounts within minority communities or when someone is an outsider. The fear of not belonging or feeling that they don’t deserve to be in a given setting is all part of Imposter Syndrome. To overcome these feeling we have to recognize that perfection is not the goal, “good enough” is plenty.

As a kid I remember not participating because of fear of failure and now I know this was an early sign of this syndrome. I was a talented athlete who dedicated considerable time to honing my skills as a soccer player. Being the only girl on an all boys team though, was a clear example of being an outsider in an environment that could make me doubt myself. On the field with solid passes, and strong defensive play, the feeling always disappeared.

A review of our many talents and abilities can help ease the feelings of doubt the syndrome causes. See my list below for other suggestions on beating back Imposter Syndrome.

Situation

Recently I was accepted into Leadership Greater Washington. The first time I wasn’t accepted so this was a second effort. The application process requires recommendations and entry is competitive. 65 people are selected each year to participate which includes a diverse group of community leaders. I was thrilled when I heard the news, but did I deserve to be there? Those familiar butterflies were back as I attended the orientation.

Action

I signed in, received my name tag and looked nervously into the room. Who would I talk to and about what? I took a deep breath, walked in and saw a classmate seated with her leg stretched out in a brace awkwardly in front of her with crutches dropped on floor below. Instantly, I forgot my nervousness and jumped into a conversation. We started to talk about sports injuries and the anxiety began to fade. We had a lengthy conversation spanning topics from waterskiing to her father attending the same school International school I did in Bangkok, Thailand. When I forget about myself and concentrate on others, the thoughts of being an Imposter quickly leave my brain. It’s one of the coping mechanisms I have adapted over my lifetime.

Results

For me that’s often the solution, just jumping in and focusing on others. This concept was driven home even further after I returned from the retreat. Day one had been fabulous, but day two I had gotten stuck with my “trainer hat” on. My husband was the one who reminded me that I am a participant, not observing and that by engaging in activities that take me out of my comfort zone, I could let go of any of that remaining anxiety. I also reminded myself that everyone around me was probably feeling similar. Best way I know to overcome the feeling of being an imposter was to remember I have lots of things to share, I’m an interesting talented genuine human being, and that’s all I can be.

Conclusion

There are several other stories I can share, from men, women, old and young. The common thread is that we all seem to have some form of Imposter Syndrome at different stages of our lives. Rather than allowing it to cripple us, I’d say embrace it, develop methods to channel that anxiety into being our best selves. Below are some suggestions to store in your tool box. And in the words of Bill Stixrud, remember to always have a Plan B in life. Or as someone once told me, “Fake it till you make it!”

Tools

Definition: Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

Signs you have it:

  • Can’t take a compliment?
  • Feel like a fake?
  • Convinced you’ll be unmasked at any moment?

Ways to overcome Imposter Syndrome:

  • Find a strong mentor or supporter to be in your corner
  • Recognize what you do well, write it down
  • Realize your expertise, share it with others
  • Let go of perfectionism, “good enough” is more than acceptable

Sources of Additional Information

https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx Kirsten Weir, article in the American Psychology Association published in 2013

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-impostor-syndrome/ Ellen Hendriksen, article in Scientific American

Professor Dr. Carol Dweck (author of Mindset) at Stanford suggests praising effort not a characteristic in our children to prevent building Imposter Syndrome in our kids. Kind labels about brains or beauty can be detrimental or imply you either have “it” or you don’t with no where to grow. With one failure they could feel your label is incorrect. We never want to discourage our children from trying new things out of fear of failure or that our “label is wrong”. She also adds, that by building in an expectation of early failure we help build resiliency. Bill Stixrud quotes her research in his book, The Self-Driven Child.