Mastering the mindset: ditching imposter syndrome

Blog published by KISS, under Business Development, Education / Training

My working life started back in the early 90s in a predominantly male industry. I was the only female as one of four trainees, and I was always the one asked to make the drinks, do the photocopying...the list was endless.

The other three male trainee solicitors were never given these tasks and exuded a confidence I just didn’t have. Eventually I started to feel I was only there because I was a working-class girl from Liverpool, so I ticked their ‘diversity and inclusion’ boxes (was DEI even a thing back then?!).

Despite being a very confident person, I started to question my abilities and self-worth. No matter how much I achieved, the nagging voice in my head was always there whispering, "you don’t really belong here." I felt everyone around me was much more qualified, and I was just good at fooling them into thinking that I could do my job. Years later, throw into the mix having three children, taking maternity leave, a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis and returning to work, the negativity I felt reached fever pitch.

The “Impostor Phenomenon” was first described by Dr Pauline Clance, from her observations in a clinical setting (Clance, 1985). Individuals with the 'Impostor Phenomenon' experience intense feelings that their achievements are undeserved and worry that they are likely to be exposed as a fraud.

I’ve battled this for most of my career but having had countless conversations with friends and colleagues I know I’m not alone. I’ve seen enough of life and business to know that these feelings of self-doubt aren’t unique to me. They’re incredibly common and recognising that I wasn’t alone was oddly comforting.

First, a few stats

• Almost two thirds (62%) of adults have experienced imposter syndrome at work
• Nearly two-thirds of Britons (57%) say they criticise themselves more than other people criticise them and 56% also say that they tend to downplay their achievements when they speak to other people
• Three quarters of women executives and a third of millennials experience imposter syndrome in the workplace

These stats don’t make for great reading but, there is a happy ending – I can say that finally, after 30 years, I’ve come to terms with these thoughts and have managed to develop a few ways to banish those negative voices.

Reframing my thinking

Whenever I caught myself doubting my achievements I consciously shifted focus to my hard work, skills and the value I could add. And I always ensured I worked in organisations that encouraged and celebrated achievements and acknowledged my expertise. Needless to say, I left the 90s legal world and entered into the much more welcoming world of comms!

Celebrating successes

I always celebrate successes, no matter how small. Whether it was a piece of great coverage in a newspaper, a positive feedback session or hitting all the KPIs in a digital campaign, acknowledging these moments flipped my internal narrative and started to make me feel good about myself. And whenever the imposter feelings crept back, I made sure to remind myself of my competence and achievements. To coin a phrase my mantra became, ‘I am worth it’!

The importance of sharing

It doesn’t just help me to speak my thoughts out loud but it’s also helpful to others to see that they’re not alone in experiencing internal negativity. It’s also important to accept that in addition to positive affirmation from your peers, you too have to take control of your mindset. It’s you who has to boost your confidence from within.

Being nervous doesn’t mean you’re a fake

Going into work and feeling like a fraud isn’t OK but let’s acknowledge that a little bit of nervousness can actually be quite healthy and that feeling uncertain about something does not mean you’re a fraud.

Imposter syndrome certainly doesn’t disappear entirely, and I’ve accepted that. It occasionally resurfaces but the difference now is my response: I recognise it, address it, and refuse to let it dictate my actions. Overcoming this hasn’t just led to a more successful career; it’s allowed me to mentor others with authenticity and empathy.

Finally, I’d like to make a request: can we just stop calling it imposter syndrome?

It’s time to ban the term and instead acknowledge our feelings, that questioning ourselves is great, but not when it goes too far and becomes toxic. And we need to reframe the rhetoric - why not turn it into a positive? We must deliberately tell ourselves we’re not frauds and set ourselves up with reasonable expectations, improve our communication skills and ask our leaders what our core strengths are to help us focus on them. Let’s build each other up – we rise by lifting others after all!

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