I am an introvert by nature.
I love living a big life in a quiet way. My parents call me their butterfly, as I get bored easily and am always looking for the next challenge. In my corporate career, this meant constantly looking at ways to improve my skill set and going for opportunities in exciting projects that enabled me to continuously grow and improve. Taking challenging roles and projects expanded and grew my abilities and experience. As I went for each role, I was able to see the possibilities and what I would bring to the table. As I moved into the new position, however, I found myself in a 3-6 month learning curve, accompanied by a crisis of confidence. I asked myself if I could actually do the new position, and just by asking the question, allowed the doubt to creep in.
With my confidence on temporary hiatus, it left me wondering when (not if) my new manager would realize they had made an awful mistake and find me out to be a fraud—someone who wasn’t capable of doing the job they employed me to do. I catastrophized the situation: my whole career would be in ruins! No-one would ever employ me again at this level. You get the picture?
I had wanted to prove myself and prove that the person hiring me made the right choice. I ended up working stupidly long hours, which led to many outcomes: feeling burnt out because my work/life balance had disappeared, feeling resentful because I was looking at colleagues, wondering why they got to leave on time and have a life outside of work, or, my absolute favorite, having an emotional meltdown in the office, triggered by that one little comment from that one unfortunate person.
The doubt in myself could be crippling. At the time, working harder was the only strategy I had to get through. I suffered sleepless nights, worrying about the next day. I was constantly scared that today might be the day that I was 'proven' to be the 'loser' or 'failure' I believed I was. It was overwhelming. It was exhausting. And I went through it every time I took on a new role or promotion, yet it didn’t stop me taking on the new roles and promotions!
Lifting the mask
It was part of the training, personal development and self-analysis I did during my life-changing transition to a coach that I realized the above was a behavioral pattern. When I researched further, I found out it had a name—imposter syndrome! Today, I want to share with you some super simple strategies I know work both from my own experience and from seeing the changes in my clients.
I do have a caveat on this though—confidence is like a muscle, and it needs constant exercise. Imagine you are training for a marathon. You put in months of training and run the 26.2 miles. You then stop exercising for a few months. When you go back, do you just expect to be able to still run 26.2 miles? Confidence is the same principle. Because we are constantly growing, evolving, improving and facing new situations, we need to keep doing the work to keep our confidence high.
Here are the techniques that you can do on a consistent basis to help build and maintain your confidence—trust me, these do work!
1. Reframe Your Feelings
We all have a comfort zone. Anytime you go outside of this, you are growing and developing, and feelings of being an imposter may emerge. The first reframe is to practice saying to yourself, “I feel like an imposter and this is a good thing because it means I am learning and developing”.
As adults, we aren’t great at embracing the learning experience. We put undue pressure on ourselves to just know how to do whatever it is we are attempting to do. While you wouldn’t expect a child to just know how to do something, you often expect to be able to do everything well, the first time. When you can’t, you conclude that you are some sort of failure. This is where the use of the word ‘yet’ can be useful. When you catch yourself saying things like “I’m no good at this,” or “I can’t do that,” put the word ‘yet’ at the end: “I’m no good at this, yet” and “I can’t do that, yet.” This reframe is moving you from a fact in your mind (“I can’t do that”), to a growth mindset where you have given yourself the possibility of change in the future (“I can’t do that, yet.”). This is a simple technique that clients often comment has a profound effect on their lives. It isn’t forcing you to think about a positive affirmation to replace a negative thought, but taking your own words and adding ‘yet.’ It totally reframes the meaning of your own words for you.
2. Remember: You Are Not Alone
With an estimated 70%* of people experiencing imposter syndrome at some stage of their lives, this is an experience the majority of us share. People probably don’t even realize you are struggling with these feelings because you are hiding them so well and are awesome at what you do. This is exactly why you have no idea that 7 out of 10 people you know either have struggled, will struggle, or are currently struggling with these feelings.
You can be affected by feelings of being an imposter because you think in a polarized way—they are perfect, I am not. This is due to your own incredible self-awareness: You can easily recall all the times you did something wrong, the struggles you had in learning a new task, and off-hand comments that were said to you. All of these memories are internalized and become part of your own story about the sort of person you are.
You then compare this knowledge to your knowledge of others. But your knowledge of others reflects only what you see—airbrushed celebrities, glamorized Instagram/Facebook lives, and your manager, who always seems so cool, calm and collected. You don’t think about their struggles: that maybe they didn’t find everything easy, that they make mistakes, or that maybe they are faking it until they make it, too! You have a limited, external view—you see what they are showing the world, not what they are feeling.
Both these views are your truth but the comparison isn’t fair. You are taking into account only your external view of them and acknowledging that they are fully deserving of their status/situation. Because you are acutely aware of everything you have been through in life, you similarly assume that you are not deserving because you don’t think you can measure up next to them. You must be an imposter.
Last year I completed independent research on confidence and asked participants whose confidence they most aspired to have. Michelle Obama topped the list. You may also be aware that towards the end of 2018, Mrs. Obama was quoted as saying she still sometimes struggles with feelings of being an imposter. This amazing woman whose confidence we aspire to have feels just like we do. Remember, the image we see isn’t necessarily the same as how someone is feeling.
3. Write Down All of Your Past Achievements
And then internalise these! Achievements are anything you have accomplished—learning to drive, studying for your degree, getting a job promotion, using a computer programme, explaining a difficult concept to your child, willing an award, giving a kickass presentation—list them all! This gives you a permanent record of everything you have already achieved and is a great reminder of how things that once seemed impossible [when you were learning] are now things you take for granted. Yes, you may be facing different situations when future feelings of being an imposter arise, but you then have your own evidence that you can refer back to that you have overcome many other challenges. It also helps you remember that it is a [learning] process. Though it is difficult now, you know you can ride this out until it becomes easier. This is about building your inner confidence in your abilities to cope and be resourceful.
On this list, also include mistakes you have made and how you overcame them, or, what you would do differently the next time. This is showing you that even when things have gone wrong, you survived! It is also giving you the chance to think through different options so that when you face similar situations in the future, you have more resources available to you.
I suggest my clients take time with this exercise. Journal for 20 minutes a day and keep growing and adding to this. Clients are amazed how many things they end up with, and love that when they then achieve their next goal they can add it to the list so it keeps growing and their confidence keeps building.
4. Create a plan
Think about your ideal situation—where you know you wouldn’t feel like an imposter. Identify what you genuinely need to learn and develop and then get the help you need. This help could be a mentor or coach, talking to your manager, obtaining a new qualification, training, working on your mindset, referring back to your past achievements! From here
you can create a plan of action that has small steps for how to get from where you are today to where you want to be—and always remember to celebrate your wins along the way, adding them to your list of achievements!
Learning to accept myself, perceived warts and all, has led to increased emotional freedom. I show up fully, as me. No apologies, no worries about being 'found out.' I love coaching amazing women to feel genuinely confident in their uniqueness, to see themselves as others do, to harness their natural skills to excel in the career they love, to know their worth and the value they are bringing to the table, and to show up in all of their glory! That's my wish for you too!
Do you ever feel like a fraud? Leave a comment below to let us know we're not alone!
Lindsey Hood is a gentle life and executive coach who specializes in working with amazing women who secretly struggle with impostor syndrome. The combination of coaching skills, her experience within her own corporate career, and her own struggle to overcome imposter syndrome means Lindsey is well poised to support women in improving their confidence, deepening their self-awareness and helping them create the life and career that they want, as defined by them.