What new job did you start this year? Which award did you receive this year? What new company or venture have you been excelling in? Do you feel as though these accomplishments were just luck? Are you feeling like you are in over your head? Are you afraid of asking for that pay increase to match your worth? Are you questioning whether or not you really deserve success?
Well, I’m here to tell you, that this kind of psychological behaviour pattern is called The Imposter Syndrome and we will learn a little bit about how to combat it today.
In 2018, Michelle Obama spoke on imposter syndrome and her personal experience. She spoke of being haunted by the “Am I good enough?” question because, as she said, “the messages that are sent from the time we [were] little are: maybe you are not, don’t reach too high, don’t talk too loud.” The reality is imposter syndrome is real. Maybe to a lot of us, it didn’t have a name, now it does. Imposter Syndrome affects anyone irrespective of age, especially those females who are gaining stature at work or venturing into higher social classes than which they were born.
Personally, I’ve had my fair share of intimidation in the board room and workplace, that have made me questioned whether I actually belonged. Is it too grandiose to be under 30 being the chief executive of a national sector entity, being the youngest in the room and to be honest, feeling like the dumbest one in the room :-)?
2040 Exchange had a quick one and one with Ines Padar, The Imposter Syndrome Terminator, who shed some light on the feeling of constant inadequacy and self-doubt experienced by many people.
20/40 Exchange: Despite the evident success, some people still feel inadequate and undeserving. What exactly is the Imposter Syndrome?
Ines Paradar: Impostor syndrome is an umbrella term that describes anxiety/doubts about ourselves and/or our skills and knowledge, which can result in us undervaluing our competences. Typically, when we achieve something (graduation, a promotion, a new client, etc…), we’ll attribute it to “luck” or think it’s “normal” rather than being proud of the accomplishment.
Impostor syndrome is also that feeling that despite our success and achievements, we still feel like “the dumbest person in the room”. It can also cause us to feel like a fraud among our “real deal” colleagues or peers, who we perceive as better and more competent, when in fact, we are as qualified or even more than them (we just don’t realize it yet).
2040 Women’s Exchange: What are the signs and symptoms of imposter syndrome?
Ines Padar: The very frequent signs of impostor syndrome are the following:
- We feel like you need more certifications, more diplomas and more skills before we can feel confident about our competences.
- Lack of trust and low self-belief makes us overthink and procrastinate, which prevents us from making a full commitment.
- It feels uncomfortable asking to be paid what we are worth in case people won’t want to work with us. As a consequence, we might be stuck at an income level that doesn’t give us the freedom we want.
- Even though we know we need to make ourselves visible in business, we don’t like to speak up in a group/ team because we are afraid that we will sound dumb or that other people will judge us.
- We feel like a fraud, and that we don’t deserve to be where you are.
- We set excessively high expectations for ourselves and feel like a failure if we don’t reach these goals.
- Even though we’ve achieved a lot and/or get positive feedback, we believe that you got lucky, or that it’s normal instead of embracing our accomplishments.
20/40 Women’s Exchange: Why do women achieve so much at life, yet they feel like a fraud or undeserving of success?
Ines Padar: The reason why women can achieve so much at life yet feel like a fraud is simple and complex at the same time. Very often, impostor syndrome is triggered by a sense of « I am not good enough ». When this is the case, no matter how much we achieve and accomplish, we still feel like frauds because we are trying to get rid of an inner feeling with outer accomplishments.
This never works, and what usually happens is that ambitious women will go on a quest to achieve more and more, sometimes burning themselves out at work to try to prove to themselves and/or to their colleagues/clients that they are good enough and competent enough. But with each accomplishment, they also set the bar higher, and end up in a vicious circle. Furthermore, another mechanism often takes place in overachievers: the more they achieve and the more they know, the more they realize that there is still much more to learn and achieve. Paradoxically, overachieving can make us feel like we are the lowest achiever among the high achievers. The higher we climb, the more competitive our environment and peers become and the more we compare ourselves to others.
Another reason why some women don’t feel like they deserve success might be triggered by a specific type of impostor syndrome called « the born genius ». You are a born genius if you used to be a straight-A student, and if learning new things came easily to you as a kid, teenager or student. This creates a mental blueprint that says « everything is easy ». This can be problematic because, in our society, there is a strong association between success and working hard. Thus, when women achieve but felt like they didn’t have to put as much effort as someone else, they automatically assume that they don’t deserve success. They feel like frauds because it was « too easy ».
20/40 Women’s Exchange: So now that we know what it is, how to identify the signs and symptoms. Tell us a little about how we can address imposter syndrome before it kills one’s career?
Ines Padar: The number one priority is to restore our self of self-worth, and choosing to accept that we are good enough, no matter what are achievements are. That we are good enough as a person, and that our worthiness has nothing to do with our professional success and outward achievements. Indeed, this is an inside out job: we need to feel good enough from the inside before we can fully acknowledge and embrace our outward achievements.
Another top strategy is to stop comparing ourselves to other people. We all have unique personalities, values, competencies and things to bring to the world, and the more we can embrace our unique abilities, the easier it will feel good enough and be successful. Indeed, when we are ourselves, there is no competition, because everyone is unique. It’s also important to remember that while we might think we know the people we are comparing ourselves to, we really don’t. Statistics show that 70% of the workforce will experience impostor syndrome at some point, so the people who we look up to or that make us feel like frauds probably feel the exact same way as us.
Most importantly, it is important to have an open conversation about feeling like a fraud with other people. This is almost never done because overachievers who feel like frauds want to avoid getting «discovered» at all costs. This only perpetuates impostor syndrome, as everyone silently believes that others around them are better. Breaking the myth is the first step towards walking out of the impostor syndrome prison.
Ines Padar aka the Imposter Syndrome Terminator, while working with people from different industries and backgrounds, allowed her to identify typical patterns and blocks in entrepreneurs suffering from imposter syndrome. While working in Switzerland’s top financial institution, she noticed that countless ambitious women felt like frauds, which held them back in business. That, combined with her desire to empower women is what motivated her to drop her promising career in finance, and fulfil her passion to help entrepreneurs exploit their full potential. Ines developed a unique 3-pillar process to crush imposter syndrome for good. Check out more on Ines Padar and her work at www.inespadar.ch.