Are you faking it?


Sure I am successful, but I can explain all that: I got lucky, they’re just being nice, I had connections.”

Despite actual achievements, some successful people believe their accomplishments have been overrated and that they will eventually be exposed as impostors. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent that they believe themselves to be. Research in the early 1980s estimated that 40 percent of successful people consider themselves to be frauds, and other studies have found that 70 percent of all people feel like impostors at one time or another. Even Meryl Streep the most academy award nominated person in history once said “Why would anyone want to hire me again in a movie?”

The imposter syndrome refers to high achieving individuals with a lack of ability to internalize their success and a constant fear of being exposed as a fraud. Some studies suggest the impostor syndrome is common among high-achieving women, other studies indicate that men and women are equally affected (Clance & Suzanne, 1978).

While there’s no magic cure for the impostor syndrome, the following activities have been suggested by Valerie Young (The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women) as being helpful:

  1. Bottom line — you have a name for the feeling, you are not alone, and you can turn this around to see your competence.
  2. Journal/keep a notebook for those aha moments.
  3. Written accomplishments – keep a list of your accomplishments, what actions, what results, and how you felt.
  4. Get support and give support (form an impostor club).
  5. Remember — the person to acknowledge how brilliant you are is you!

Amy Cuddy, social psychologist, well-known for her TED talk on body language suggests that the best way to get rid of the impostor syndrome is to be aware of your feelings and communicate them. Most people remember the TED talk about body postures associated with dominance and power (the superwoman stance, hands on hips). For some, that power stance may provide the confidence that is needed in the moment. In addition, Cuddy noted that you’ll probably never completely get over your fear of being “found out.” Her idea of “presence” ultimately comes down to conquering your fears as they come, in the moment — as opposed to finding an inner source of strength that will last you the rest of your life. The next time you start feeling like a fraud at work, remember that even your boss probably feels like a fraud. Hopefully, that idea will help you conquer your fears and act confidently in the face of challenges that come your way.

© 2016, Carol-Anne Minski, PhD.

CMA Leadership Consultants provides confidence coaching for individuals and leadership development for organizations.

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