Ask anyone around you the following question: how are you supposed to feel at the high point of your career? Most of the people will answer the following: strong, empowered, inspired, encouraged, proud and confident. But you would be surprised to learn that this is not the way most of high-achievers feel. Can you imagine that 70% of high-achievers say they feel like they are not qualified to be in their current roles? Can you also imagine that most of them simply don’t enjoy their position because the only thing they are able to feel is the stress generated by their position and the work overload? Reaching the top is not always as appealing and rewarded as you imagine it is. Most of the time, you are alone at the top of your pyramid with nobody to support you and many competitors who only dream about one thing: getting your position. You need to be mentally tough to succeed otherwise you will fail sooner or later as you will succumb to your biggest enemies: stress and anxiety.
Let’s imagine you have well deserved your high-level position. Well-deserved means you have the relevant operational knowledge, the technical expertise and the personal competencies required by your position. What happens is that you can become a victim of the so-called “Imposter syndrome”. For many people who experience it, imposter syndrome (or “IP”) is a of intellectual phoniness. It’s a voice in your head that sounds something like this: “I got lucky this time. I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. Pretty soon, people will realize it.” Despite proof to the contrary – like degrees, promotions, or an impressive career – people who experience IP are unable to internalize and accept their success.
The cycle begins with anxiety which generally fuels hard work leading up to completion of a task. Researchers have pointed to an “Imposter Cycle” that fuels this self-doubt. Here is the way the “Imposter Cycle” is being activated:
So, no matter what evidence you gather you can still feel like an imposter. This is how people can be very successful and still feel like frauds.
So, how can a person break the Imposter syndrome down?
Journaling is a well-known tool that we use in CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) or to handle stress. List your achievements in the workplace and the resources you have used to reach those achievements. These resources should refer to the points I have mentioned earlier in this article: relevant operational knowledge, technical expertise and personal competencies. The aim of this exercise is to make you feel self-conscious of your own abilities. Instead of focusing on the skills you think you lack, your brain will focus on what you master and have already succeeded at. Write everything like the increase in sales you were able to generate over the last month. At first, you will find it hard to gather your thoughts as your brain will still want to focus on gaps or failures but don’t give up and start writing. In the state of mind where you are, it is essential that you feed your brain with positive thoughts. If you can, write down facts with numbers. We are re-educating your brain which will recall and process numbers easier than words. Once you are ready with your list, read it and re-read it.
I have red many articles dealing with the imposter syndrome and proponing self-confidence as a cure. To me, this is a non-sense as when this syndrome strikes you, first thing that happens is that you lose your self-confidence. Self-confidence is really not an easy thing to cultivate, it takes time. This is the reason why I agree with my colleagues who favor self-forgiveness. Self-forgiveness is no more no less than empathy toward oneself. We are only humans and we spend our time dealing with our emotions. Add to those emotions sleep problems, stress, work overload and what you can get is anxiety which can result in the imposter syndrome. The idea is to use self-forgiveness to calm down the inner self-critic voice and replace it by a kinder voice. You have the right to be vulnerable, this doesn’t mean that you are weak, it only means that you are a human being, not a machine. Recognize that you make mistakes sometimes and instead of hiding them or not recognizing them, acknowledge them. Give yourself the space to learn and adjust, this doesn’t mean that you are incompetent, this means that you are aware that we learn all life long and that you are humble enough to accept it and move forward in your life.
A good thing about this syndrome is that it can encourage you to improve the way you work. You will challenge your methods, organization. Again, this can be good provided you don’t make an obsession out of it which can be dangerous and add more pressure on you. I am not trying to convince you but if you are in this situation, get help from a coach who will help you sort out your thoughts, feelings and emotions and get back to a more rational and realistic view of yourself and your competencies.