I keep hearing about people having ‘impostor syndrome.’ I guess it’s become a thing. Actually it was first referenced in 1978 followed by research done in 1985 by Dr. Pauline Rose Clance and the first measurement scale: the Clance impostor phenomenon scale (CIP). The scale measured impostor syndrome across six dimensions:

  1. The impostor cycle
  2. The need to be special or the best
  3. Characteristics of superman or superwoman
  4. Fear of failure
  5. Denial of ability or discounting praise
  6. Feeling fear and guilt about success

Impostor cycle describes the circular nature of impostor feelings. It starts with tasks being assigned, followed by self-doubt and lack of confidence. Anxiety creeps in and the person begins to second-guess themselves and have an overwhelming feeling that they are faking it and it’s only a matter of time ’til someone figures them out. These impostor feelings lead to masking and trying to portray a sense of adequacy. Perfectionism is a factor, and it often creates procrastination.

Those who struggle with impostor syndrome often feel like they don’t deserve the job they have, often deflecting praise and feeling unworthy. In a work situation a person often thinks they will be ‘outed’ at some point as being incapable of the work they are doing — not smart enough, trained enough, good enough. Ways to cope include working excessive hours and overdoing it on projects. The hope being that nobody will actually figure out that you aren’t competent to be in the job/place/position you are in.

Impostor syndrome has increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic as people transitioned to working remotely. The reason being, when we work remotely there is far less interaction with our peers and fewer opportunities to receive connection and to celebrate successes. We have less social cues helping us keep things in context rather than reading into or second guessing interactions by phone or Zoom.

How do we reduce Impostor syndrome? Here are a few tips to implement:

  1. Stick to the facts! What do you know for sure? When we start to read into things, guess, assume and speculate, we will always go into a negative head space. Keep it at face value — what was actually said or done? What could you prove in a court of law?
  2. Look for the proof. What evidence do you have to challenge the way you are feeling? Feelings are just giving you a read on the emotions that are moving through. Hold on to the positive proof/evidence that you discover rather than dismissing it. What proves that you are good at your job or fully qualified?
  3. Validate your feelings. There’s a skill we call non-judgmental stance — perfect for such an occasion! Notice your feelings without judging them as stupid or bad or wrong. That’s just how you’re feeling! Take a minute and acknowledge the feelings — they are real but they don’t get to dictate truth. Notice the emotions and move on.
  4. ┬áTalk about it. With an estimated 62% of people struggling with impostor syndrome, it’s a pretty safe bet that other people on your team might feel this way too. By sharing something out loud it reduces the isolation and shame that goes with it.
  5. Get a Mentor. Allow someone else to speak into your life to encourage you. Being aware of an issue and then working on it, has a wonderful way of making you more capable and better.

Remember, you didn’t get the new job or position because of a ‘fluke.’ You got it because you applied for it, sought it out, trained for it, earned it, etc. Stop thinking poorly of yourself and start to walk in the freedom of knowing that you are a human being who doesn’t have to be perfect — who can learn, fall, get up and progress!

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