“I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'” — Maya Angelou
A common theme many clients share with me is “I’m in this senior leadership role but I feel like a fake. I just don’t know how I got here.” One successful executive told me she felt like an actor. When I asked another high profile leader how she got there, she replied, “dumb luck, I guess.”
So what is going on? And why do so many of us feel like frauds, often hearing the voice in our head, our inner critic, that says, “go home, you’re not good enough or smart enough to be here.“
It’s more common than you think. In 1978 two clinical psychologists, Clance and Imes, coined the term impostor syndrome, which is an experience shared by many high-achievers who are fearful of being exposed as frauds and feel success is the result of luck. Just about everyone experiences it.
Misery Loves Company (and that’s okay)
Recognize other successful people share the same exact feeling. But just because others experience it doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. It’s up to you to own it and figure out what you need to do to tame the voice in your head.
How to Deal with the Impostor Syndrome
Self-compassion: Be gentle and kind toward yourself. I often ask clients – what would you say to your good friend, daughter, or husband in this situation? What words of encouragement would you offer them?
Review your past successes: Take stock of your achievements. One client visits her memory box where she kept records of her past accomplishments when she needs to lift her spirits and feel more confident.
Reality test: Find someone you trust, like a mentor, good friend, or colleague to share your feelings of inadequacy with who can be both objective and supportive.
Meditate: Focus on your breath and when you hear that little (or big!) voice in your head that says, “I’m not good enough,” gently tell it to go away. Remember, just because you hear it, doesn’t mean it’s true – you don’t have to listen to all your thoughts, you choose which ones have meaning.
Experience helps: Recognize that your confidence will grow with time.