What is imposter syndrome?

What is imposter syndrome?

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Ever feel like you didn’t deserve that promotion and that you’re going to be found out? This constant fear that you aren’t good enough is something over 70% of people identify with. What’s more it’s got a name: imposter syndrome.

So, what is imposter syndrome?

We spoke with Bethan Davies in a recent Let’s Talk interview about imposter syndrome to learn what it is and how to create the right environment for others who may be struggling to silence their inner critic too.

Here we dig a little deeper to learn more about how it can impact your career.

Q: Hey Bethan *waves*. Tell us a bit about yourself:

Bethan (BD): After spending many years working in L&D in the corporate world, I co-founded a coaching and development company, The Bravest Path. We work with individuals and organisations who want to become braver and support their people to take more smart risks.

As a coach and leadership development facilitator, I help people build the courage to lean into the discomfort of uncertainty, set clear boundaries around what’s ok and what’s not ok, and to find the bravery to ask for what they want without the fear of hearing “no”.

My passion is helping others build confidence and resilience. I strive to help everyone recognise that they are worthy of their opinions and successes, that only a small trusted group of individuals opinions count. I support people to let go of imposter syndrome and live a braver life to realise the things they want to achieve.

Q: How have you come to specialise in this area?

BD: I came to this work after realising I was coaching others in my corporate role to take smart risks and let go of feeling not good enough or an imposter, but that I wasn’t living this for myself.

I wasn’t being as brave as I wanted to be; I was holding myself back by fear of what others would think and my self-doubt. I realised I would rather live with failing than regret, I was tired of my very noisy mind and wanted to do something about it. The research of Brené Brown was game-changing for me and I knew it would help others also.

Q: Talk to us about imposter syndrome, what exactly is it?

BD: Imposter syndrome is the feeling of being a fraud; the worry that one day someone will find out that you are not good enough and don’t deserve your achievements. It’s a constant low-level anxiety that can rise when doing new things and stepping outside your comfort zone.

Q: Why do you think more people are talking about it?

BD: My belief is that its twofold – the increased pressure to be perfect and the trend in people being more vulnerable and open in the last couple of years, especially online. Social media gives us unrealistic expectations when we views others’ lives of “curated perfection” and we beat ourselves up more trying to achieve that unrealistic ideal.

Brené Brown’s research shows that vulnerability; defined as risk, uncertainty and emotional exposure is actually courage, and courage is contagious. People see others being brave with their lives and sharing their stories of imperfection and are encouraged to do the same. The #metoo movement is a good example.

I subscribe to the “better out than in” ethos, as I think through sharing our experiences we create connection and it helps us understand that we are not alone and can reach out to others for support.

Q:  Can you overcome it?

BD: I’m not sure if anyone fully overcomes it but having tools and strategies to manage it can reduce the impact substantially. Preparing for and recognising it when it comes is an important part in managing it, so it doesn’t become overwhelming.

Q:  What’s the impact on a business if its staff identify as having it?

BD: It could hold people back from sharing ideas, taking smart risks, and generally fulfilling their potential which is likely to impact on performance.

Companies need to build psychological safety into their culture, a space where people feel like they can experiment without consequences – talk about their thoughts and feelings and suggest ideas without fear of judgement, shame and blame. When you create these conditions you get the best performance from your people.

Q: What piece of advice would you give to someone who experiences imposter syndrome?

BD: It’s very hard to tell if someone is experiencing imposter syndrome if they don’t share it because it’s often an internal struggle.

Start by challenging and reframing your thoughts when you notice yourself beating yourself up for not being good enough, ask “What evidence do I have that this is true?” We so often make up stories rather than look at the objective facts. Think how you could reframe your narrative so that you are speaking to yourself as you would a friend – what would you say to them in this moment?

It’s useful to get clear on whose opinions matter, picking a small group of trusted people that opinions really count and using them as a sounding board to build confidence. There will always be critics and the key is to move forward despite them, and not let the fear of what others may think hold you back.

Interested in learning more about what is imposter syndrome?

Check out the full Let’s Talk interview with Bethan Davies.

Visit The Bravest Path

Download our latest guide Millennials in the Workplace whereby we talk about this very subject.

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