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Do You Have Imposter Syndrome?

Updated: Feb 25, 2022

The last time I saw one of my good friends for coffee, she asked me whether I think I suffer from imposter syndrome.

Before she mentioned it to me, I had never considered the topic. But then in the coming days, I started to reflect on what she said and what imposter syndrome meant.

Although, after some self-reflection, I concluded that I do not suffer from it, I also found myself wanting to understand why someone as talented, intelligent, kind and fun as my friend would think herself an imposter in any environment.

Imposter Syndrome is defined as "the persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills."

While I concluded that I didn't suffer from it, I also realised that the main reason for that is because I believe my success is a deserved or natural outcome of putting forth a lot of hard graft, effort and skill.

And before having this conversation with my friend, who is highly educated, accomplished and beautiful, I wouldn't have been able to understand why someone like her could ever believe that she was an imposter at any job or position.

Now, I just want to clarify, that I am not addressing people who have never put forth the effort or where they have acquired their success through nepotism, or perhaps pure luck, and have since not taken the time to level up to the position in which they now find themselves.

This kind of person may feel like an imposter because they are in a position they don't deserve, cannot perform well at (and they know it!) and this may naturally cause some anxiety.

I am talking about people with true imposter syndrome, which is when the feeling of being an imposter is irrational and inaccurate.

I have a naive and quite honest approach to success; if you work hard and you are good, it will come and it is deserved - I believe that action begets consequence.

However, in many other peoples minds, the link between hard work/ skill and success is not so simple. And the complexity comes from three limiting beliefs.

These are:

Belief 1: I do not believe that my effort and skill, such as they are, should bring about this level of success.

Belief 2: I do not deserve this level of success.

Belief 3: I do not feel my success is legitimate.

So let's take the first one. The limiting belief is: I do not believe my efforts and skills, such as they are, should bring about this level of success.

This is to say that you believe that the quality or magnitude of the skill or effort you put in is different, or less than, the idealised image of the person you need to be or standard you believe you need to reach, for the success you are enjoying.

In other words, in your mind, although you may recognise that you do work hard and are clever or talented, it should not be enough for this level of success.

You have a person in your mind (whether you know them or not and whether they are real or not) who is doing it 'right' and you are doing it 'wrong' ... somehow.

The key to dealing with this is to start valuing your unique contribution, the style in which you work, and the particular brand of hard and soft skills and talents you bring.

It is easy to take your unique gifts and talents for granted because you have always had them, but if you are the person I am talking to, it is likely you do not recognise the true value of the full package you offer.

The next limiting belief to unpack is: I do not deserve this level of success.

This is where, perhaps, you do see that you have some talents and work hard, but you still don't feel you deserve this level of success.

The feeling of being undeserving often lies in deep-rooted trauma that comes from our childhood and past. It can be for many reasons, including what we have integrated into our belief system from other people who told us we were bad or stupid.

Our stored trauma and childhood is a large source of all kinds of limiting beliefs and I am not going to go into that here.

But this feeling of being undeserving can also arise because we have yet more, deeply buried, limiting beliefs about the world and the kind of person who we believe, on a subconscious level, is deserving.

If you have done the work, and you are good, then why would you not be deserving?

Put another way, if you, with your graft and skill, is not deserving, then who is?

Challenge yourself to put a face to the idea of this person who is so much better than you.

You may find that you can't ... because the person is a myth.

Or maybe you will uncover your own internal prejudices about the world that serve to keep you stuck.

For example, many of us, when we explore this, will find that the person they imagine would usually have this kind of success is of a certain race or gender or class background or has a certain persona or communication style.

When you break down this mythical figure, you sometimes find your own buried beliefs about the world and who it rewards. But just because this is your belief about the world, doesn't mean it has to be your reality.

Lastly, the third limiting belief is: I don't feel my success is legitimate.

This limiting belief is tied to the way in which you have interpreted the circumstances of your success.

For example, if you feel you went to a comparatively good school or had a privileged background, you may have interpreted that to mean that this is the only reason you got those breaks and that you wouldn't have this level of success if you weren't from a certain background.

But equally someone from an underprivileged background who came through an access scheme, for example, could come to the same conclusion; that they didn't do this 'fairly' and their success is not legitimate.

In either case, the limiting belief that your success is not legitimate is purely your own interpretation. Someone else may have had the same opportunities and background and not feel that way because they have not made it their story.

The truth is, whatever side of the fence you are coming, you can always find reasons to think these are the only reasons you succeeded, rather than giving yourself the credit you are due.

Even if it is true that you got your foot in the door in some 'lucky' or opportune way, going beyond that and staying successful over a period of time, is all you.

You can't avoid taking the credit all your life for actually having made this happen!

You will see that among all the limiting beliefs that underlie imposter syndrome is one common belief, which is:

Someone deserves this success ... but it is not me.

If this sentence strikes a chord with you, I would say, if you don’t deserve this success, then who does?

Who is the person that is more deserving of it?

If you are the imposter then who is the person that is not?

If the answer is vague or you don't know the answer, then it is time to look in the mirror and see the person looking back is the one right now, in this time and place, who is exactly where they should be, where they deserve to be and the one who needs, most of all, to start acting like they belong.

If you have got to the end of the article and identified that you have imposter syndrome, and you now know you have no real reason to feel that way, then it's time to start owning where you are and flexing and enjoying the success you have earned ... success which you most definitely deserve!

Have you ever suffered from imposter syndrome? Let me know in the comments.

If you need performance and life coaching to more confidently own your success or access the next level you deserve, you can learn more at the link below:

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