Moving Beyond The Impostor Syndrome

For many years I’ve recommended Dr. Valerie Young’s work each time I’ve discovered that a client suffers from the Impostor Syndrome. Because this happens so frequently, I decided to write about Dr. Young’s recent book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It.

Impostor Syndrome
You may be suffering from the Impostor Syndrome if you are intelligent and successful but you are still constantly plagued by the uncomfortable feeling that your accomplishments are the result of “faking it” and that any time soon, you will be revealed as a fraud. Instead of enjoying your career and life, if you live in a state of tension because you are convinced that other people’s praise and recognition of your accomplishments are undeserved, that’s the Impostor Syndrome in action. If you chalk up your accomplishments to chance, charm, connections, and other external factors, you may doubt that any success is lasting or can be repeated. If this describes you, the Impostor Syndrome is draining much of the joy out of what could otherwise be a full and rich life.

While the Impostor Syndrome affects both men and women, Dr. Young believes (with good reason) that it holds women back more than it does men, so her book is aimed at women (although I think it is still extremely useful for men as well). She cites example after example of famous successful people who struggle with chronic self-doubt. While I read some book reviews from readers complaining that they didn’t find it helpful to read about other people’s anxious feelings, to me, these examples are a huge strength of the book. If Meryl Streep worries about her acting ability, doesn’t that illustrate how commonplace and irrational the Impostor Syndrome really is?

Here are some specific steps you can take to move beyond the Impostor Syndrome:

1. Recognize when the culture in which you live is making the situation worse. This can be because of family-of-origin dynamics, the type of work you do (risk factors are student status, working in highly competitive or creative environments, and working alone), and/or being a member of a non-dominant group.

2. Read the book in a group because hearing about other people’s self-doubts can help end the isolation of thinking you are “the only one” who feels as you do. Dr. Young may even schedule a time to “drop in” via telephone or Skype on your book club meetings so she can discuss the Impostor Syndrome with your group.

3. Get clear on all the ways you are limiting yourself because of fear of being revealed as a fraud. Do you do any of these things?

    – Overprepare; work too hard
    – Hold yourself back
    – Maintain a low or constantly changing profile
    – Rely on charm
    – Procrastinate
    – Fail to finish anything
    – Show up late
    – Neglect preparation for something important
    – Zone out or put yourself in harm’s way with substances

What is the cost to you of doing these things? What would your life look like if you stopped?

4. Learn what healthy competence looks like. To be successful and happy, you don’t have to be a perfectionist. You don’t have to do everything alone. You don’t have to know everything. You don’t have to be flawless. You don’t have to do everything at once. You don’t have to be loved by everyone. Take a deep breath and read this paragraph again.

You can move beyond the Impostor Syndrome. Please start the journey TODAY.

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