A few weeks ago we got back together for our fourth Coaching Circle workshop, Feeling like a fraud? We had decided to tackle the idea of Imposter Syndrome as it relates to women in the workplace, and explore how to stop the tape that sometimes manifests in the following ways (trust me, this is not exhaustive): perfectionism, overworking, undermining your own achievements, fear of failure or discounting praise.
So let’s start at the beginning. What is Imposter Syndrome? For a simple definition, here’s what Wikipedia says – “Imposter syndrome (also known as imposter phenomenon, fraud syndrome or the imposter experience) is a psychological pattern in which people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’…Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved.”
We knew walking into this it was not the easiest topic to deal with, and that the attendees would be at different levels in dealing with it or even awareness of it. We really focused on creating a safe space for everyone to feel comfortable enough to share (or not to share), as once this type of stuff is unearthed, it’s unlikely you’ll go back to ignorance. Another way of saying, “It’s not for the faint of heart.”
We started off with the concept of “The Arrogance of Belonging”, found in the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. We want everyone to feel comfortable enough to be their real selves at work. Our intention is always to have people walk away with tools that they can use right away, and a validation that they matter, and their ideas are valuable.
As the discussion began and went around the room asking people what they wanted to walk away with, it was clear that most women wanted to navigate the voice(s) that appear, and how to appear more confident when the feelings of being fraud show up.
We want to share four steps that help to identify ways that you can deal with the imposter thought process. In our experience, these reflection questions can help you stay in control of how you respond when faced with the you aren’t worth it voice(s) in your head. Let us preface this to say that these four steps are helpful when you are relaxed and not triggered. The purpose of these steps is to build resilience so that you can be prepared for the next time.
As you prepare to walk through these following steps, think of a real situation when you felt like a fraud.
Step 1: Identify & Acknowledge
You want to take some time to figure out what happened in that moment when you felt inadequate. Here are some questions to prompt your thinking:
- What happened?
- What did you feel?
- What did you hear (in your head)?
Take yourself back to the time and place and really feel into what was the trigger to you feeling like you weren’t able to or didn’t deserve to do what you were tasked with. What do you notice?
Step 2: Stop the Tape
Next, you want to be able to stop the voice that is telling you that you are a fraud. Make it real by asking yourself some clarifying questions:
- Personify the voice that goes off in your head. NAME IT.
- What does it sound like?
- What does it look like?
For example, there is a voice that shows up for me that is very judgmental, that looks like a teacher tapping her foot at me disapprovingly. I call her Mrs. No No, and she shows up when I feel like I “should have” done something else.
Step 3: Make Space/Design Coping Mechanisms
Then you want to brainstorm what are the actual things you can do in the moment to get present back to where you can evaluate whether or not the feedback your voice is giving you is accurate. Give yourself some space with some of the following actions/questions:
- Take a breath. Take a walk. Drink some water.
- What’s the intensity rating (out of 10)?
- Who is in your corner that you trust? Family? Friend? Colleague?
- What would your wisest self say?
- What would your best friend say?
Check-in with yourself. Is the tape telling you something that is true, or would those who know you best think otherwise?
Step 4: Resilience
Now you want to build your strength muscles so that when you can identify the tape in step 2, what are the things you can identify to be mindful of in the future? The triggers you identified in step 1 will validate the voice and the judgment. Remember, you are not alone, all humans can (and do!) experience this in some way, shape or form. The big question you want to ask yourself is, “how will you support yourself?” When this happens again, how are you going to give yourself some self-care TLC, and not beat yourself up because the tape is happening again?
Once of the most helpful pieces that we heard in the group discussion was the idea of a “derby diary”. There was one participant who shared that they started skating in a roller derby, and she was older than most and was learning all of the skills. She took to journaling after every game all the things that she learned, so that she could go back and prove to herself that she was learning when she felt she was failing or not good enough.
As we walked away, there were a lot of great shifts in the room. People learned ways to get present and discovered affirmations that help them get out of the “should’ve, would’ve, could’ve” game, and stay present to believing that they deserve to be here.
We would highly recommend that you read some of the following resources that helped us as we prepared for this workshop:
- Is the Confidence Gap Between Men and Women a Myth?, HBR, March 2018
- The Confidence Gap, The Atlantic, May 2014
Once you do, we’d love to hear from you. Do you have similar feelings of fraud? What do you do to stay present to your confidence? Any other helpful resources?