In this episode I give you a quick life catch up (there’s been a lot happening over the last few weeks) and then dive deep into the topic of imposter syndrome. Originally I planned for it to be about ‘how to overcome imposter syndrome’ and, while I do share tips to let go of fraudulent feelings, I also share a recent article which has changed my thinking on the topic.
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Links and further reading
In today’s episode we’re going to be diving into the topic of imposter syndrome, including what it is, whether or not it’s actually a problem we need to solve, and what we can do about fraudulent feelings.
Hello everyone, how are you doing? I’m going to start this episode with a bit of a catch up because quite a lot has happened since we last spoke. First of all we moved! We are now out of our small, mouldy moth-infested flat and are in a shiny new place which has more space and importantly – no mould! But with that in mind, apologies if the sound isn’t as great as it normally is, I’m recording in a different wardrobe so who knows if that’ll affect the sound!
The move itself went well, but our first few weeks here certainly didn’t go to plan. We had some issues setting up our internet and as Dan and I both rely on the internet to work, we had to go back to our parents to work until it got sorted. Then, once it was sorted and I was due to go back… I found out I had covid! Which wasn’t ideal, especially as I’ve been really cautious, but it just shows that it is definitely still out there. Thankfully I’m vaccinated so the symptoms weren’t as bad as it could have been, and my biggest concern was my parents getting it as I was still staying with them, but thankfully their vaccines did amazing jobs of protecting them and they didn’t get it.
During that time I also ran my first workshop, which was amazing – I wasn’t feeling too great when I did it, but I think adrenaline pulled me through and then I found out I had covid a couple of days later! But I loved delivering the workshop and am really enjoying running the small accountability group that followed it. Hopefully there’ll be more workshops in the future!
So yes, after self-isolating I moved back into the new flat where I’ve been the last few days, taking some time off work to just settle in and recover, and it’s been really lovely. It’s slowly but surely feeling like home and we’re in the fun stage of getting furniture bits and putting our stamp on it.
And that brings me to where I am today! And today I want to talk about imposter syndrome.
Let’s start by unpicking what it is. Imposter syndrome is the notion that you have only succeeded because of luck – not because of your talent. It was first identified by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978 and they believed it only affected women. Since then further research has shown that it does affect men as well.
Psychologist Audrey Ervin says imposter syndrome can apply to anyone who isn’t able to internalise their own successes.
In my research I also found a list of personas within imposter syndrome, outlined by author Valerie Young and they are:
Perfectionists. Those who set very high expectations for themselves and feel like failures if they are unable to deliver something 100% perfect.
Experts. Those who feel they need to know everything they possibly can before starting a new project. These people may spend lots of time and money on courses and qualifications to feel they are ‘expert’ enough to do what they want to do.
Natural genius. Those who feel that if they have to struggle and work hard to accomplish something, they aren’t good enough. As they are used to skills coming naturally, working hard feels like a sign they aren’t capable.
Soloists. Those who feel they need to accomplish things alone and believe that if they need to ask for support, then they’re a failure.
Supermen/Superwomen. Those who push themselves harder than others in an attempt to prove they’re not an impostor. They feel the need to succeed in all areas and feel stressed if they’re not accomplishing something.
So, when you start looking into imposter syndrome, this is the kind of information that comes up and I’m sure some of you listening are probably nodding along and resonating with these descriptions. But recently, I came across a headline on this topic that really pulled my attention and it was: “Stop telling women they have imposter syndrome”. That headline belongs to a Harvard Business Review article by Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey.
I’m going to link the article in the show-notes and I definitely recommend giving it a read but I wanted to share the summary here because I think it’s an important part of the conversation.
So here is the summary given at the top of the article:
“Imposter syndrome, or doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud at work, is a diagnosis often given to women. But the fact that it’s considered a diagnosis at all is problematic. The concept, whose development in the ‘70s excluded the effects of systemic racism, classism, xenophobia, and other biases, took a fairly universal feeling of discomfort, second-guessing, and mild anxiety in the workplace and pathologized it, especially for women. The answer to overcoming imposter syndrome is not to fix individuals, but to create an environment that fosters a number of different leadership styles and where diversity of racial, ethnic, and gender identities is viewed as just as professional as the current model.”
It’s a really eye opening read and I think my favourite section is about the type of confidence that’s acceptable, here’s an extract:
“We often falsely equate confidence — most often, the type demonstrated by white male leaders — with competence and leadership. Employees who can’t (or won’t) conform to male-biased social styles are told they have imposter syndrome. The same systems that reward confidence in male leaders, even if they’re incompetent, punish white women for lacking confidence, women of color for showing too much of it, and all women for demonstrating it in a way that’s deemed unacceptable.”
This just resonates a lot and is partly why I wanted my workshop to be about ‘quiet confidence’ and sharing that confidence doesn’t have to be a certain way. It’s just interesting to acknowledge how there are many systems fighting against us.
And that’s the conclusion of the article – that we have to have more inclusive workplaces that acknowledge and reward competence and different leadership styles over the norm.
Of course, this is a huge task that’s going to require a social shift, which isn’t something I honestly have the answers to and certainly not something I can share in a podcast episode. But I definitely encourage you to read up on this and start to question where your self-doubt is really coming from.
I do also believe individuals can help to create change. And while I now don’t believe ‘imposter syndrome’ is necessarily a problem individuals need to fix, I do think there are some mindset shifts that you can make to help you let go of fraudulent feelings.
The first thing – I’ve already mentioned, and that’s to think critically when it comes to imposter syndrome. Question where the feelings are coming from and look at the wider picture – how are the systems you exist in affecting you?
Next, I would suggest writing a list of all your successes and the work you put into them. We rarely reflect on what we’ve done well and when we do this we remind ourselves that we are truly capable and when we consider the work we put in too, we can let go of the notion that it was down to ‘luck’. It was down to your talent and the effort you put in.
You might find it helpful to have a short mantra or affirmation to repeat when you feel like a fraud, something like “I deserve this” or “I am where I’m supposed to be”.
Finally, take some time to reflect on your values and beliefs, on who you are outside of work and outside of success or failure. You are so much more than your work achievements. You could write a list of your values and beliefs, you could write a list of words to describe you that have nothing to do with the work you do or you could do an activity that has nothing to do with your work. I always find these exercises really grounding, a welcome reminder of how multifaceted I am. It just helps you take a step back, breathe and reboot.
So there we go, perhaps not quite the episode you were expecting, but I hope, if anything, that it’s helped you see imposter syndrome in a new light. I would love to hear your thoughts on this, do head on over to @katbluejay on Instagram to let me know what you think.
I’ll be back in a couple of weeks, but until then take care.
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