Looking for a Brand New You?

Should I Even Be Here?

Posted on: Thursday, May 31, 2018 Category: Blog (58)
3 min read

By Jo Martin

The Irishman, Dr James Barry had an amazing career as a surgeon in the British Armed Forces. A pioneer of surgery and stationed all around the world, even working for Napoleon’s team. In the Crimea, he famously aggravated Florence Nightingale! Only upon his death was his womanhood uncovered. She lived as an imposter, the only way to fulfil her career in her time. James Barry was Margaret Ann Bulkley.

It is believed that up to 70% of the working population at some time suffer from Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome is not actually impersonating someone else. Or is it? Sufferers believe they have been wrongly attributed intelligence and capability and are so concerned with being found out, that they continue to play to a role, often suffering in silence.

Wikipedia describes Imposter Syndrome as an “inability to internalize accomplishments coupled with a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.” While we all experience feelings of self-doubt at some point or other, imposter syndrome is regarded as a very specific form of intellectual self-doubt (American Psychological Association, Dr Kristen Weir).

Sufferers believe others have an inflated sense of how intellectual and how talented they are, live in constant fear of being exposed/ found out and believe that any success they may have achieved can be attributed to luck, chance, good fortune. Basically, despite evidence of achievement, people with Imposter Syndrome have a paralysing fear of inadequacy. And any success achieved is attributed to luck or some other external force that they can not control.

This phenomenon was first coined in 1978 by Dr Suzanne Imes and Dr Pauline Rose Clance, who studied 150 successful women and their feelings of “phoniness”.  Their study took place in an American era generally regarded as the second wave of feminism.  Initially, it was thought that only women suffered, but it now appears as many men can also claim the unenviable experience of feeling like a fraud. (International Journal of Behavioural Sciences).

Imposter Syndrome and perfectionism go hand in hand and leads to two usual responses.  The first is that the imposter sufferer procrastinates and puts off tasks out of fear they won’t meet their own high standards.  Or the sufferer becomes a self-handicapper.  In other words, he or she self-sabotages performance to create a ready-made excuse for failure.

The second and arguably more common response is that the perfectionist conscientiously over-prepares and over works, obsessing until perfection is achieved.  And thus, a cycle is born.  Afraid of being found out, the imposter sufferer, fighting anxiety, pushes themself beyond the realm of necessity, often spending time and effort disproportionate to the task at hand and when success starts to be achieved they believe that the stress was worth it.  More than that, the stress was necessary to achieve and without failure is certain. Conscientiousness and greater effort leading to success and promotion and so it continues. And they continue to suffer in silence because by its very definition, they fear being found out.

So, who gets it?  Well if 70% is to be believed, then almost everyone.  In reality, it appears to be most common in high-achievers and anyone who feels different to their peers.  Minorities (gender, race and sexual orientation) seem to suffer more. Isolation leads to feelings of inadequacy which leads to anxiety and if untreated, depression.  According to Dr Christian Jarrett from the British Psychological Society there are any number of social factors that can contribute to a person’s likelihood of suffering including; growing up in a family where specific achievements were more heavily weighted than other, having no “backup” plan if things go awry and when you feel like you owe people for the opportunities you have been given.

How do you deal with it?

Dr Valerie Young runs workshops and courses in dealing with imposter syndrome for large US companies including Boeing and Harvard University.  Her tips for dealing with it are:

  1. Talk to someone you admire.
  2. Recognise what you do well.
  3. Realise that no one is perfect.
  4. Change your thinking and reframe your superstitions.


What does all this mean for your personal brand?

At BNY, we talk about the importance of being deliberate, being authentic and being consistent.  People with powerful personal brands make connections with others.  They get people on side by sharing a bit about themselves and allowing themselves to be known and to know others.  Talking to someone you admire and sharing a bit about yourself can be powerful and it can help with the feeling that you are not alone in this.
When you are authentically you, you more easily recognise what is distinctive about you, what sets you apart from others in your team. This should help you to identify both your strengths and the things you do less well at.
Wearing any sort of mask is not sustainable in business because one day the mask will slip and with it, trust.   You are not perfect and no one else is either.  It is that simple.  So, change your thinking.  Realise that diversity means there are multiple ways to work and multiple points of view and not everything you do will work all the time.

Be like Tyra Banks – be Flawsome.  Own your flaws and no one can ever use them against you!

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