Having spent the past two years studying for a masters in applied positive psychology, and completing a dissertation on the imposter phenomenon and self-efficacy I should know enough about it by now to write a blog. Yet my own Imposter rears its head when I go to put my fingers to the keyboard…. You probably know the sort of stuff, an internal voice which says “there are so many writing about this already, why you?”, “who’s going to want to hear your take?”, “are you sure you’ve got anything to add?” or “what if you write something that’s incorrect?”, “make sure there aren’t any spelling mistakes or typos” and “do you really know what you are talking about?”
Well do I? I have read a few (ok, several!) books, numerous research articles and interviewed successful entrepreneurs, six men and six women, for my dissertation on the subject. So does that qualify me to write a blog post?
What really qualifies me is my own experience of dealing with what I now know to be an Imposter for many years. Something which pops up every so often, or rather very often! On coming across the term two years ago in the early part of my studies I realised that this is what I had been dealing with.
It wasn’t exactly a lack of confidence, more a crippling
“don’t put yourself out THERE as you’ll be FOUND OUT” feeling…
For those of you who, like me, can relate to the imposter feelings, there is often a huge desire to be successful, to do well and make a difference in the world, which contrasts big time with the internal struggle of what to do if you are successful, if you do make a difference because then you really have to work hard at not failing. To fail, so the imposter tells you, negates the success you have achieved and proves that you weren’t worth it after all.
Right from my early primary school days I have been subjected to ridicule, or “teasing” as it is often innocuously referred to. Harmless to many, for me it became something to avoid. If I didn’t do well, I would be ridiculed. If I didn’t succeed I was a failure. If I didn’t know something I was an idiot. Not in other people’s eyes I might add…but in my own! Others would tell me how well I was doing, how entrepreneurial I am to start a training business on my own (sixteen years ago), and how brave I am (to travel to Outer Mongolia on my own, for instance). Internally those comments only fueled the desire to work hard, to be 100% perfect… so as not to be found out.
Last weekend I spoke at the District 71 Toastmaster Conference and I let my Imposter completely out of the bag by pulling off my mask. I spoke about the ridicule, the internal angst, the perfectionism and also ways to overcome the feelings, which I confessed I was still working on. Surprisingly (that’s my Imposter talking, to everyone else it wasn’t a surprise) I wasn’t ridiculed, I wasn’t run out of town for talking nonsense, instead I had people coming up to me to thank me for my honesty and to say how well I had connected with their own experiences.
Then just two days later I attended an event at the O2. A graduation ceremony for my masters in applied positive psychology. Again, I feel amazed that I not only now have a masters, but was awarded it with distinction! Compare that with failing the 11 Plus, an examination all primary school leavers had to take in the UK to determine whether they were clever enough to go to the grammar school. I obviously wasn’t clever as I attended the Spilsby Franklin School, a secondary modern. But just two years ago, at the age of 48, at the same time as learning about the imposter phenomenon, I realised that I probably failed the exam as I took it at the age of 10 because my birthday is in August. How I hadn’t come to that realisation before I don’t know, but there it was staring me in the face. My sisters both passed, I didn’t, yet I’m the only summer-born sibling.
What to do if you have experience imposter feelings
So what can you do to alleviate your imposter feelings? The first step is to recognise them for what they are. Feelings, not necessarily truths. The second step is to start to talk about them. You don’t have to go to the extreme of going on stage at a conference, but talk about them with family members or friends, or a work colleague you know you can trust. Chances are they’ll go “yeah, me too”.
Further ways of banishing the imposter and boosting confidence will be the subject of subsequent blogs. Meanwhile if you’d like me to speak at your conference, or to your staff or organisation, or for one-to-one coaching do get in touch. I’m on a mission to Banish the Imposter, my own included.