Last week I was at a training weekend for mindfulness practitioners. It was the second weekend we were meeting after our first session two months previously. I was one of 21 people there studying mindfulness and compassion for teachers. We started the day going around with a brief sharing of how we were doing with the study and in our practice. I was about the third person to share as we worked around the circle and I spoke of how I can struggle at times with issues relating to feeling not yet sufficiently experienced to teach in businesses…the ‘imposter syndrome’ or fear that I’m not really as good as I expect I should be to meet people’s requirements. In the past this has stopped me from going forward to find new clients or take up leads as I have felt I am not yet ready, that others are far better able than me to go into a business and teach, or lead a workshop on shame, or give a talk.
After I spoke, nearly every person in the circle said how relived they were to hear me say that and how in their own life they also feel this, that for many of them as yoga or meditation teachers there is a feeling that they are not really good enough, or are an ‘imposter’. I found it really moving to hear a room of people, all very good at what they do saying how they recognise this tendency and how it limits them. As I chatted with some people in the tea break one said that research has found that many feel this. I was curious and researched the study. It had been published in the International Journal of Behavioural Science and found that 70% of people questioned had the feeling of being an imposter in what they did. This was likely to be more prevalent in people who challenge themselves, such as entrepreneurs or CEO.
The “Impostor Phenomenon” was first identified in the late 1970s by Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. Their researched showed that many high-achieving women tended to believe they were not intelligent and that they were over-evaluated by others. People who have Impostor Syndrome “experience intense feelings that their achievements are undeserved and that they’re likely to be exposed as a fraud,”. Whilst initially thought to only apply to professional women, it has been found to apply as much to men.
Here’s a taste of what it feels like, from some people who would be looked at as being successful:
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”MAYA ANGELOU
“The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.”TINA FEY
“There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert. How do these people believe all this about me? I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.”DR. CHAN, CHIEF OF THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION
“Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this. I’m a fraud.”KATE WINSLET
What can we do in response to this imposter syndrome?
- accept compliments by simply saying thank you and allow them to sink in rather than brushing them off, feeling you don’t deserve them.
- reflect on your qualities – what skills, attributes and abilities do you have that others appreciate in you. To really see this it helps to take in compliments! Where have you made a difference in the past? What have people said that they appreciate about you?
- stop comparing yourself to others – notice how looking at others public presentation of themselves on social media may make you feel inferior or less capable, but then remember everyone is showing themselves as they want to be seen! If 70% of people feel themselves to be an imposter, then it is very likely behind those happy faces and career updates and amazing holiday photos is someone fearing they will be seen through!
- record the nice things people say to you – if you receive a compliment write it down. When someone praises you, write it down. When you get a thank you for something, write it down!