(First appeared in WRAL Techwire.)
Hey we tried, but we can’t cover impostor syndrome in 500 words. It just can’t be done! Over the next six weeks we’ll zoom in on the what, why and how of it all. So let’s dig in so we can kick it to the curb.
Sweet Mary, impostor syndrome is getting a lot of attention these days. And while I have my opinions about why (which we’ll address in a later issue) it’s important to get the ball rolling on the topic by explaining the “what.”
Here’s the quick and dirty: impostor syndrome is the chronic feeling of inadequacy that, if not checked, can drive you off the road and into a wall of poor decisions, potentially stunting your forward momentum—like vying for that promotion, starting a new business or pursuing your master’s degree.
Turns out 70% of Americans admit to experiencing impostor syndrome. (And that’s just how many people admit to feeling this way.) JLo, Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks and even Maya Angelou have publicly admitted to falling prey to impostor syndrome.
So how does this thing show up in the real world?
Imagine you’re in your weekly staff meeting. The spotlight is on you as you’re asked for an update on a project your team is working on. You start to get hot. Your mind is racing, searching for the right words to communicate the strategy to senior leadership. Instead of locking in on the moment and showing up in your brilliance, you begin to listen to the voice inside your head that says, “You’re not qualified to lead this project. Pam’s got five years on you and is an authority on this subject. She should be the one answering this question, not you.” That, my friend, is impostor syndrome.
In moments like this, we often turn to behaviors that are comforting and familiar. Ones that we think will impress others and demonstrate our value. In the example above, instead of answering the question, you might deflect and tell everyone how much time you spent researching this over the weekend, and that you plan on working late tonight to do another “deep dive” and promise the team you’ll have a complete answer by the end of the week.
According to Dr. Young, author of Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, you’ve just channeled the impostor syndrome archetype called superwoman/superman.
Here’s the danger of the superhero response.
One, it reduces your ability to facilitate collaborative problem-solving with a confident-yet-humble “I could use the team’s take on this.”
Two, it can destroy your self confidence over time, because you might fool the room, but you’re not fooling you.
Three, it drives you to sacrifice time with family, self care and a healthy work-life integration because now that you’ve committed to it, you feel the need to work day and night to prove you’re enough.
We all have different ways of responding to feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. The key is knowing what your counterpunch will be so you can slay the beast.
We’ll dig into the soloist impostor archetype next week. So tune in!