How to Handle Imposter Syndrome before it Happens: Part 1

LOS ANGELES - FEB 22: Oscar statue in the press room at the Osca

After working as an actress for 20 years, Jodie Foster won her first Academy Award for Best Actress in I988.

In a 1999 interview with Charlie Rose, Jodie Foster explained how she felt after winning the Academy Award: “I thought it was a fluke …the same way when I walked on the campus at Yale. I thought everybody would find out, and they’d take the Oscar back. They’d come to my house, knocking on the door, ‘Excuse me, we meant to give that to someone else. That was going to Meryl Streep.'”

Imposter Syndrome is a terrible, anxiety-crippling belief that sooner or later, “people” are going to find out that any achievement you have earned happened by chance.

Not your experience, knowledge or skills.

Just pure luck and timing.

Or, in the case of Foster, that after 20 years of acting experience, her winning was a”fluke.”

First coined in1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes, Imposter Syndrome is a self-destructive coping mechanism that manifest for everyone who has to do something beyond what they believe is their ability and thus will be exposed as a fraud.

And once everyone “knows” that you are a fraud, it will be mere seconds before you are chased out of the building by a crowd wielding torches and pitchforks. The ones Most Offended by your Mediocre Existence will have a cowbell in which they will shout Shame! Shame!

You expect tomatoes and rotten eggs and shoes to be thrown in your direction.

And that children and animals will hiss at you.

In fact, you won’t be surprised if the children and animals will be the ones throwing the shoes and eggs and tomatoes and take away your Oscar.

And to avoid this from ever happening you find yourself making sure to:

  • work 5 times harder than your colleagues, and
  • know the answer to every question that has been, is and will ever be asked about your specialisation, and
  • pretend to find things funny, interesting, amusing, fascinating, disturbing, whichever emotion and reaction that you think is the most appropriate one at the moment, and
  • play down your achievements, because ‘it was nothing”.

You will do all of this to avoid being found out that you are NOT one of them.

Remember that in 7 seconds, you are communicating your character. How is this character formed? To paraphrase Maya Angelo: You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us.

In a nutshell, your character is who you are. Many people focus on their reputation but as John Wooden said, “Your reputation is who people think you are, your character is who you really are.” When you focus on your character, you do not have to pretend. You move through life effortlessly as your wisdom and judgement provide a compass map on your journey. When you focus on your reputation, you are concerned about how other people view you. And this is where Imposter Syndrome lives: being concerned about how other people view you.

With Imposter Syndrome, the more you try to hide from your achievements and downplay your success out of fear of being “discovered” the more likely you will begin to lose your confidence and really become an Imposter. Ask yourself, how can people focus on who you are when you are worried about them finding out who you are not?

The first step is to see if you have Imposter Syndrome. Before taking the assessment, a word about the different reactions you may experience.

You may feel your body tighten and reject the score. Ask yourself, am I rejecting the score because it is true or false? 

You may feel your body relax and accept the score. Again ask yourself, am I accepting the score because it is true or false? 

You may feel nothing. Ask yourself, Do I feel nothing because it is something that I have about myself or is because I have never considered that I have Imposter Syndrome? 

The first time I took the assessment,my body tightened and I rejected the assessment. When I came back to the assessment, I relaxed and realise that I had imposter syndrome big time. The initial rejection was just a way to further avoid the need to address the situation and change. Now with that Public Service announcement click here for an assessment developed by Dr. Pauline Rose Clance.

Once you have taken the test, if you feel that you have Imposter Syndrome,here are some advice I have given to clients:

  1. When you are speaking to another person, two people can hear you.

If you say, “I can’t do this because….” then you reinforce a perception of your limitation. Instead say, I can do…”. By focusing on what you can accomplish, you promote your capability to handle the situation. Remember, you don’t have to have all of the answers at once. Just speak on what you can do, and then..

  1. Blink, don’t think

Once you speak on what you can do, then just do it. A sign of Imposter Syndrome is overthinking a situation and then either procrastinating or over preparing. If a task seems daunting, use the Pomodoro technique of working for 25 minutes with a rest period of 5 minutes. You can try the Pomodoro technique for the next point which is….

  1. List your accomplishments

Review any documents related to your professional life (such as a resume) and see if you have the following listed:

  • How many people you have managed?
  • How much money you have managed?
  • How many awards you have received?
  • How many papers you have published?
  • How many languages you can speak?
  • How many countries have you visited or lived in?
  • How many people do you have in your network? (Linked In)
  • How many times have you been on a panel or been invited to speak?
  • How many computer programs do you know?
  • How many degrees do you have?
  • How many social media sites are you active on?

Remember to focus just on the number, not the results. Once you have written out the number, put the paper away. In a future post, we will come back to it. But for now just list the numbers. And if something isn’t listed, feel free to add to you list and in the comment section.

In future posts, I will walk you through tips to handle handle Imposter Syndrome before it happens. The first tip? Let go of being concerned of how other people see you, and commit yourself to strengthening how you see yourself.