What is Imposter Syndrome
Do you recall that moment when you were about to apply for that job, attempt that business, speak at that event, advise that expert, organise that programme, advocate for this and that, but you changed your mind? Your heart wanted to, but the voices in your head were louder than your passion. You probably heard something to the extent of ‘what are you doing here’, ‘how dare you think you can’ and ‘you are not competent enough and everyone will see it’. Sounds familiar? Then you are no exception to the opportunity thief called Imposter Syndrome.
Coined by Clance and Imes (1978), Imposter Syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a fraud. Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve all they have achieved (Clance & Imes; 1978).
To commemorate Mental Health Awareness month this article focuses on one of the most common psychological issues faced by individuals in the work place. There are five (5) types of Imposter Syndrome, basically referring to the benchmarks that an individual uses to measure whether they are competent or not. These are as follows; the perfectionist who judges their competence on 100% perfection in their deliverables, any less, means they are not competent. The expert, who believes they need to know everything about their field of interest, otherwise they are not competent at all. The soloist, that wants to achieve every great thing alone, without the efforts of others. The superwoman/man believes competence is about being able to do it all and lastly, the great mind, they base their competence on whether they can deliver with ease and speed, if not, competence is lacking.
Competence is a process
Imposter Syndrome tells us that the value we add is not significant, thus diminishing us and making us feel inferior to others around us. When in reality our competencies are valuable and valid. They also enhance the competencies of others and vice versa. Imposter Syndrome affects all kinds of people at any level of the organisation, in any industry. Competence is not intelligence. The concept of competence is broad. Competence is a series of knowledge, abilities, skills, experiences and behaviors, which leads to the effective performance of individual’s activities (The ARZESH Competency Model; 2018). Competence is measurable and it is developed over a period, through experience, coupled with training, coaching, mentoring and more. Competency levels are observable through action and in respect to situation, person, purpose and organisation. However, a person experiencing Imposter Syndrome gauges their level of competence on preconceived perceptions of themselves (about themselves).
Focus on your reality
How can one deal with and/or overcome Imposter Syndrome. I took an excerpt out of Elana Lyn Gross’ 2020 article on How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome at Work. She lists the following tips; firstly, give yourself a reality check, by paying attention to your negative thoughts. Are the thoughts really the thoughts of others around you or just your own? Secondly, keep track of your strengths and accomplishments. Imposter Syndrome can only be quenched by positivity and celebration. Number three, create a professional support network. Strive to nurture some relationships with more experienced co-workers and other people you can learn from, to help build your confidence through exposure. Lastly, build your knowledge bank, focus on your professional development and empower yourself.
Each time I write an article, Imposter Syndrome invites itself to the table. The difference lays in whether or not I ever allow it to write with me (laughing). No, I do not, otherwise the articles would never reach the reader. Most people give in to Imposter Syndrome because of fear of failure. The next time Imposter Syndrome threatens you, remember the words of Dennis Waitley, “failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing”. If you desire to achieve great things, understand that Imposter Syndrome will show up every now and then, but always stay focused on your reality.