Imposter Syndrome aka “WTF am I doing here?”

Tara Rhodes

March 2, 2017

You just went through a vigorous interview process at a company that you were so excited about joining. You beat out all the other candidates due to your technical knowledge, amazing people skills and personality fit with the company. Your onboarding process starts and you are starting to settle in. You feel you have so far made the right decision. Your manager says, ok, now go run with it, we know you can get it done. Pat on the back, right? But then it begins. Thoughts of, “WTF am I doing here?,” “I don’t know what I’m doing,” “They will surely find out I’m a fraud.” If you’ve ever had a thought cross your mind that closely resembles something like, “someday soon, these people are going to figure out that I don’t know as much they think,” congratulations, you have stumbled upon Imposter Syndrome. Yes, that’s a thing.

According to Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, the women who coined the phrase Imposter Phenomenon in their paper The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention, the definition is as follows: “The term impostor phenomenon is used to designate an internal experience of intellectual phonies, which appears to be particularly prevalent and intense among a select sample of high achieving women.”

For the record, this doesn’t just happen to women. It definitely is experienced by all those who are used to achieving at a high level, are looking to constantly grow and have bought into the idea that they are just not as good as others.

So, do you have it? Well, have you ever heard yourself think a variation of (or these exact) statements?

  • I’m afraid people important to me may find out that I’m not as capable as they think I am.
  • At times, I feel my success has been due to some kind of luck.
  • If I receive a great deal of praise and recognition for something I’ve accomplished, I tend to discount the importance of what I’ve done.
  • I sometimes think I obtained my present position or gained my present success because I happened to be in the right place at the right time or knew the right people.

If you just did multiple head nods, and thought something like, “GET OUT OF MY HEAD,” the good news is you are not alone. Many people are affected by these thoughts and I would argue that no one is immune to self-doubt at some point (unless you are a serial narcissist or enjoy performing at super low levels). The question isn’t whether or not you are affected by this, it is are you giving power to these fears and allowing them to keep you from taking the action needed to achieve your big, hairy, audacious goals? If you believe that you may be holding yourself back from being the amazing, successful person that you can be (and most likely are!), here are four ways to deal with the head junk.


Act Now!

In her book, Feel the Fear…and Do it Anyway, Dr. Susan Jeffers outlines a few truths about fear. Turns out that high achievers who commit to growing and learning will always deal with this negative self-talk in one way or another. The keys to combating it lies in these truths:

  1. The fear will never go away as long as you continue to grow.
  2. The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and…do it!
  3. The only way to feel better about yourself is to go out and…do it!
  4. Not only are you afraid when facing the unknown, so is everyone else!
  5. Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the bigger underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness!

If you’ve ever heard of the phrase, “What you resist, persists!” then you know exactly what she is getting at. Action is the only cure to aid thoughts of inadequacy, fear and helplessness. Whatever you are afraid of, go do it! It will help your mindset, and the action will keep your thoughts on the task, not on why you believe you suck.

Own it

As a Canadian I was taught to be humble and apologetic about everything. I know I say “I’m sorry!” even when I haven’t done anything. Add gender, age and other factors – there is a myriad of identity pieces that can contribute to feeling that we are not enough. I’m here to tell you that you have to start owning your successes (as well as your failures). Start with something as simple as accepting compliments – when someone congratulates you on something, the appropriate thing to say is “thank you.” Build your muscles around accepting and owning your accomplishments. Then keep them in a box or folder somewhere and label it PROOF I’M AWESOME, fill it with a party hat and a noisemaker and every time you need a reminder that you are as good as they all say you are, pull it out and hold a party. Add glitter for extra oomph. Just make sure that you are in a place that makes your glitter bombs easy to clean. If you need a pick me up, I highly recommend the book You are a Badass by Jen Sincero.

Get Help

You may feel that these thoughts are too much to handle on your own. If you try taking action and bigging yourself up consistently and you are still having debilitating thoughts about how much you are a fraud, you need to take steps to create a positive support system. Hang out with people that build you up and inspire you. Hire a coach and/or therapist. Have a conversation with your peer(s)/manager(s)/mentor(s) about what you need to help support you in success. Finally, make sure that you are easy on yourself as you deal with all of this. Unpacking all of this calls for extreme self care, so make sure that you find ways to destress and make yourself feel good.

Let Go

This is probably the hardest for many people to do, as we live in a world where we feel we can and should control everything. Life becomes so much easier when you can determine what you need to let go of and then let go of it! Really sit down and evaluate what you can and cannot control, then learn to focus on how you show up. High achievers are generally hyper focused on outcomes, which usually rely on a lot of external factors. Focus on how you show up, and what impact you want to have. You can control how you stand, how you speak, how you prepare, how you smile, the meetings you run – essentially, how you are when you are fully present in whatever it is you are doing. Learn to replace your expectations for appreciation and gratitude. Then let go of the rest.

This is not something that will go away overnight, but with awareness, practice and support, it is something that you can begin to deal with and overcome. I don’t know you, but I know that if you are dealing with this, you are someone who cares about what you put your name on. Lean in and acknowledge your thoughts, but learn to choose not to believe it and take massive action. You’ll not only be seen as someone who gets sh!t done, you’ll also cultivate high levels of respect for yourself, which contributes to minimizing those thoughts. You’ll prove it to yourself, you really belong wherever you are.

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