26 May 2016
By Hannah Fitzhardinge
Senior Consultant, Facilitator and Executive Coach
Director, Integral Women in Leadership Program
Imagine this – it’s your first week at a new job, the boss calls you into her office, and asks for your expert opinion on something that is well within your area of knowledge.
A) Stroll casually into the office, speak confidently off the cuff about the issue and walk away telling yourself ‘I nailed that?’
Or do you:
B) Freeze at your desk like a roo in the headlights, quickly run through in your head the various excuses you could make to run from the office immediately, drag yourself into her office then forget how to string a sentence together as you bumble through some half-baked thoughts about a topic you actually know really well, and spend the remainder of the day reliving the experience in waves of horrifying self-doubt.
If you answered B, the good news is – you’re not alone.
In her most recent book, Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy unpacks the research on imposterism, or the ‘imposter syndrome’ and her findings are a relief to anyone who has thought that they will eventually be found out as not being worthy of their role in life.
Why? Because nearly everyone around you also feels this way! Yep, we all think we’re imposters and that everyone else is better, more qualified, more experienced and generally more suited to the job.
In one oft-cited study, two-thirds of incoming students at the notoriously selective Harvard Business School raise their hands in answer to the question: “How many of you in here feel that you are the one mistake that the admissions committee made?”
In my experience as a coach and facilitator, I’ve met everyone from PhD level scientists to senior executives to school principals who think they somehow slipped through the net to get their role. The problem is, apart from increasing stress and anxiety, this sense of unworthiness also makes it hard to show up as our best selves, especially when the issue is something we care about.
In the words of Amy Cuddy, “Imposterism causes us to overthink and second-guess. It makes us fixate on how we think others are judging us (in these fixations, we’re usually wrong), then fixate some more on how those judgments might poison our interactions. We’re scattered—worrying that we underprepared, obsessing about what we should be doing, mentally reviewing what we said five seconds earlier, fretting about what people think of us and what that will mean for us tomorrow.”
So how to deal with this phenomenon? Well to start, just knowing you are not the only one feeling this way may help manage the fear. Testing your fear against reality may also assist – noticing you are playing ‘the imposter story’ again in your head and having some counter-arguments ready to tell yourself.
Using some deep breaths, or a mindfulness moment to bring yourself into the present and calm the self-talk is another way of hushing your inner-self critic.
Fundamentally, each of us has had different formative experiences and spending some time unpacking the root causes of our psychology can have huge benefits for how we show up in the world – at work, and beyond.
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