I know a young woman who is both confident and passionate. Blessed with a high EQ (Emotional Intelligence), she is able to quickly assess different personalities and dial in empathetically (if the need be). With ease. I often tell her, that this is her Super Power. These skills have been recognised in her work place and she quickly became the youngest manager in NSW of a large retail chain.
Personalities in the workplace can be difficult to manage. Especially if you are the manager. Ageism can go both ways. And recently she opened up to me about an on-going situation with an employee undermining her in both subtle and obvious ways.
We talked about all the basic “must – do’s’:
- Ask for support from higher up
- Document any conversations / text messages etc
- Keep your head held high and don’t bow to the pressure to talk negatively about this person behind their back in the workplace
She did all of these things, and thankfully her manager exemplified excellent leadership skills by taking her concerns seriously, worked on role plays and workshopped solutions. But it was still taking a toll. She admitted that she was begining to question her abilities and that perhaps she lucked into her position in the company.
She admitted she was experiencing Imposter Syndrome.
Imposter Syndrome… What is it? And strategies to help deal with it.
I was reminded of a presentation I gave a few years back at a Fitness convention held annually in New Zealand, called FitEx. In this particular year, I was also invited onto the Women of Influence lunch and asked to prepare a ten minute presentation which would inspire, help or support other women in the fitness industry to reach their full potential.
I immediately knew the area of my own vulnerability which stuck out the most. Imposter Syndrome.
And this is my presentation.
2017 FitEx Women In Leadership Lunch
(Auckland, New Zealand)
“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realise just how seldom they do”
– Eleanor Rooservelt
Thank you for the introduction and thank you for inviting me onto this panel today. Women in Leadership. What an honour to be here.
And listening to my bio and being here must indicate to you, that I am a leader.
That I am successful.
However, I would like to share something with you today.
The drive that I possess that has accumulated the list of achievements pinned to my name – comes less from wanting to achieve and more from wanting to diminsh the thoughts that I regularly battle with. And sometimes on a daily basis.
Thoughts that I am not successful enough.
Thoughts are that I have not achieved enough.
That I have not learned enough.
That I am not thin enough.
That I am not enough.
You see, I suffer from imposter syndrome.
And probably have for most of my life.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome is defined in 1978 as:
A concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalise their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”
For me, Impostor Syndrome drives me to do more – accomplish more. I am often on to my next big project / idea / revolution to change the world, without taking a moment to acknowledge the last project.
I don’t just start a fitness business. I start a franchise.
I don’t just organise a meeting for Women’s Health physiotherapists and fitness professionals to connect. I create the Women’s Health and Fitness Summit.
Imposter Syndrome Triggers
Sometimes the most common and reasonable acts can trigger a physical fear response. Opening an email, a meeting request or even returning a call. Imposter syndrome has fore told me that I have done something wrong. I have been found out and now I am going to be confronted about it. The triggered fear response can range from shallow breathing to a sick feeling deep in my tummy, to even a physical response of clenching my butt cheeks!
I am a fraud and now they know.
It will not be of surprise that Imposter Syndrome is more prevalent with women.
Imposter Syndrome STOPS us from reaching our full potential.
Giving Imposter Syndrome a name, gives it an identity. When something has an identity – you can then address it.
Then the dedication put into feeling inferior, can be re-directed to learn strategies to deal with this.
Today, I am going to share 3 ways that I have learned to address Imposter Syndrome:
Now you might think, “But I do that every day!” But this is different. I want you to go a step further. Precisely at that moment that your thoughts start the tail spin of “I am not enough” and you feel the triggered fear response – change that energy right there and then.
Serve others right now at this point.
Run through your list of clients / family / friends / new connections – there will be someone who is going something right now, that will really appreciate to hear from you right now. Send them a text message. Call them. If you make and do (like me – cooking is my love language) make and do for them.
I promise you this one works – and now I have shared this with you and you get a random act of kindness from me – you can think gee Mish is so thoughtful… or perhaps… she is being practical and dealing with her imposter syndrome.
(Though I do genuinely care about your well-being!)
Look to the stories of others.
For me, it is the story of women who have done great things. These women and their stories are often omitted from history, from our popular culture. I do this by listening to podcasts, read books, watch films about women well known. Though don’t limit yourself to just these stories. There are hero’s everywhere.
Have conversations with regular people… and ask them questions. Their stories, their words, their hardships, their success and their failures remind me that life is never simple or perfect… Life is messy, it’s complicated and it’s diverse.
The stories of others validate my own messiness.
Invest in the stories of those who have achieved great things.
Remember, they achieved these great things so by showing up. Rather than giving up.
Those who suffer from Imposter Syndrome can often be described as serial helpers. However, we can also feel uncomfortable to be helped. Brene Brown is a research professor who has spent nearly 20 years studying shame, vulnerability, courage and authenticity. If you have not hear of her, I recommend starting off with this TED talk that has been watched by 32,000,000 views. I admit more than a few of those views are my own.
Brene, a serial helper herself writes: “When you cannot accept help without self judgment… you are never giving help without self judgment”
Allowing others to help you in is in effect, sharing your vulnerability. Sharing your vulnerability enables you to be brave, take risks and kick Imposter Syndrome in the butt!
And I would like to share a final quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, whom has achieved amazing things many people around the world. Eleanor used her position as First Lady of the United States and then as a delegate on the United Nations to impact greatly on the lives of others.
However, Eleanor has also experienced great hardship – her parents both died by the time she was 10. She loved and married a distant cousin (hence she didn’t have to change her name) who had a long time (and well known affair) with his secretary called Lucy Mercer. Eleanor lived with this in order to preserve her husbands political position. She also become his carer when Teddy suddenly contracted an infantile paralysis and left him without the use of his legs.
Eleanor redefined the position as First Lady of the United States of America. She recieved staunch criticism for doing so. Unfortunately criticism of gutsy women is still prevelent. It would seem by all accounts, the older she got… the less she cared. In fact, #shepersisted.
Eleanor Roosevelt said;
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”
To my darling daughter:
Listening to the wisdom of other wise women who have come us, will help.
Dealing with Imposter Syndrome will not be a one stop fix it shop.
However, it can also push you to achieve much greater goals.
So if Imposter Syndrome does again rear it’s ugly head, remember – you are in good company.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC)
US Representative for New York’s 14th Congressional district.
And here is another young leader close to my heart talking about Imposter Syndrome: