Does any of this seem familiar? You feel highly anxious, frustrated with your performance, lacking in self-confidence and have an acute fear of failure.
Each time you embark on a new role, new project, situation, relationship, or piece of learning, you become overwhelmed with doubt and uncertainty.
Despite your achievements, you feel you’re a fraud and will be found out at any moment, and regardless of any positive feedback you receive, your sense of fraudulence increases with every new project or task you’re asked to perform.
Every success sets you off on a vicious cycle of self-doubt and anxiety, followed by over-working or procrastination.
If so, you’re not alone.
Why Imposter Syndrome occurs
A research study in 1978 on 150 high-achieving women who experienced Imposter Syndrome – found that this psychological pattern was down to a number of contributing factors.
I believe these factors create a perfect storm for vegan women leaders in particular:
1. Gender stereotypes: while there are more opportunities for women leaders since 1978, we know there’s still a long way to go. You only have to look at last year’s gender pay gap reporting to get a true sense of what it’s like to be a woman in any industry, let alone at the top of your game. Being a woman means we’re in the world’s largest ‘outgroup’ psychologically speaking.
2. Status/Background: Women in my mother’s generation typically stayed home to raise the family, or if they did work it was on a part-time basis. Personally speaking, I had very few role models; in fact I was the first person from my working-class family to go to university. Belonging and roots matter when considering the feelings of fraudulence. If you don’t fit anywhere, the feelings associated with Imposter Syndrome will be amplified. This is even more the case for vegan women who are often made to feel weird or ostracised due to their veganism.
3. Culture/Ethnicity: research has since shown that women leaders from ethnic backgrounds present with higher incidences of Imposter Syndrome. Not only do they have to contend with the issues of gender stereotyping and in extreme cases racism, but these women also often discount their achievements due to positive discrimination, or ‘making up the numbers’. Add veganism to the mix and it’s no surprise that Imposter Syndrome is likely to impact vegan women of colour even more.
4. Dominant Groups: Despite the changing times (hurrah!), veganism has been a marginalised way of living for many years. Many vegans are the ‘outgroup’ within their own families let alone in the workplace. A sense of belonging and the need for a ‘tribe’ is now being more widely researched within the wellbeing sector as it is understood that it’s an essential aspect of high-performance functioning.
More recent research published in the International Journal of Behavioural Science in 2011, shows that 70% of men and women have experienced Imposter Syndrome at some point in their lives.
Millennials may suffer even more as they’ve started their careers at a time of extreme technological pace, where there are constant comparisons on social media between group members.
Personally I believe Imposter Syndrome occurs across populations for two key reasons: Fear and beliefs.
The fear of ‘being found out’ or ‘not being good enough’ is so strong and real to the Impostor that they never question it.
Meanwhile our beliefs have been created over time in response to conditions in our childhood. For example, if we received love for doing well at school, then we’ll try and replicate that behaviour, believing doing well = love; not doing well = not good enough or not worthy of love.
Similarly if we were vilified for talking about our achievements, through a familial sense of modesty, then that too will create a pattern of behaviour later in life where we might feel shame for our achievements and try to hide them or feel we don’t belong if we’re successful.
Types of Imposter
Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It suggested there are 5 types of Impostor:
- The Perfectionist
- The Soloist
- The Expert
- The Natural Genius (great mind)
You may be one or a combination of two or more.
So, how do you beat Imposter Syndrome?
Because there are the 5 different types of Imposter, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach, but here are my top 10 strategies to beat Impostor Syndrome:
- Know the beast
Find out more about Imposter Syndrome. There’s even a hashtag now (#ImpostorSyndrome). Sometimes awareness and knowing that you’re not on your own is enough to spur a different approach. Above all, be patient and kind to yourself. You’ve been living with these beliefs all your adult life and it might take time to change them.
- Become a first-class noticer
When does your impostor come out to play? Are there certain people or situations when this is more likely to happen for you? What frame of mind are you in? What is your overall wellbeing like at this point? What thoughts and beliefs are running through your head?
Journal or write these insights down, as near to the moment as possible. Become an archaeologist of your own syndrome.
- Evaluate your beliefs
Are your beliefs working for you or working against you? We re-evaluate our relationships, goals, progress, career and so on on a regular basis, why wouldn’t we do the same for how we think about ourselves? What messages did you receive as a child about your achievements, importance, mistakes or values? What was your family’s definition of success?
What if all these experiences and resulting beliefs weren’t right in the first place? Who could you be without these beliefs?
- Log your successes
You can be as creative as you like here: write, draw, mood board, timeline ALL your successes and keep adding to them.
Successes can include your qualifications, job promotions, salary increases/bonuses, compliments, praise, voluntary work, difficult situations handled well, presentations given, positive feedback, or personal success in hobbies or family.
I keep a journal/scrap book of all thank-yous, notes, testimonials, and all the things that have brought me joy and a sense of pride.
Another approach I use with coaching clients is to create a list of “X Things I Like About Me”, where the X stands for your age. This can include anything from the way you think, your attitude, values, personality, strengths, skills or your physical appearance. You can even involve others in your quest and keep adding an extra item every time you have a birthday (an extra birthday present to yourself).
- Feel gratitude
I recommend daily gratitude writing or journaling. I use an app called Presently and every night before I go to bed, I sit and write down everything I have been grateful for that day.
It’s the little moments that make a big difference to changing the way we think about ourselves and our lives around us.
- Stop procrastination
Start with your why and visualise how good it will feel when you have completed the project/task.
Chunk it down into manageable steps – what is the first step you need to take to make a start. Diarise it. Do it. If something takes less than 2 minutes, do it immediately.
“Eat that frog” (a vegan chocolate one of course!) Do the hard things first, don’t be tempted to check emails first.
Set a timer (pomodoro technique) and work on the project/task for 30 minutes then allow a break.
Layer in accountability and let others know about your plans; get a cheerleader or accountability partner to hold you to your plan.
For soloists who are struggling with asking for help on this, how about reframing the request as a “need for the project” versus a personal need? It will help you think differently and might take you away from ‘I am an Island’ beliefs.
- Move from perfection to good enough
The thing about perfection is that it doesn’t exist. If you are setting a completely unrealistic bar for yourself, you will never be happy.
If you’re leading a team, think about the impact this is having on those around you.
Who said things had to be ‘perfect’? What’s important to you and what could you let go of or delegate?
Be crystal clear about what deserves your attention. If you’re still struggling reframe the idea of perfection into an idea of efficiency. Is it efficient for everything to be perfect and take three times as long? Where did that belief come from?
Aim for 80% and stop agonizing over the last 20%!
When reviewing projects start with what’s gone well, what could be different and the lessons learned. Don’t start with what wasn’t perfect.
Experiment with letting it go and you won’t be disappointed. Trust me on this one, it was a revelation to me and life got a whole lot easier after I realised there was no imaginary bar to start with.
- Be kind to yourself
As Zig Ziglar said, “You are the most important person you will talk to all day”.
When you are in freefall, stop and ask yourself, “Would I say that to someone else…out loud?” The answer is usually no.
Instead of “I am rubbish at”, try “I can’t do that…yet”.
What advice would you give to your best friend, family member or son/daughter right now?
Does your Impostor have a voice or do they remind you of someone?
Could you draw a picture of your Impostor and give it a name? (I once left mine on a train, and have also locked her in a cupboard when I needed to start an important piece of work and she was distracting me.)
- Learn how to fail
Failing is all part of growth. It’s ok to not get it right all the time. What beliefs are at play here?
Instead of “I have failed”, try, “What I have learned today is…” or, “I will do X differently next time.”
If you’re frightened to fail, you won’t try anything new and we need experimentation for innovation and creativity.
This might be harder for natural geniuses but try seeing yourself as a work in progress instead of the finished article.
Give yourself permission to get things wrong. Seek out experiences where you will fail, because you’re new at it.
Undo those ‘failure is not an option’ beliefs and see what happens.
- Embrace vulnerability
This is similar to the above tip on failure, but is more about how we see ourselves.
We all have doubts at some time or another. It’s ok not to have all the answers – or any of the answers.
In a world that is constantly changing, how can we? Focus on what you can do, what you do contribute.
This might be particularly tricky for Superwomen/men and Soloists but needing support and asking for help doesn’t cancel out what you bring to the table. It just makes you human like everyone else.
Try saying “This is new to me, I don’t know”, “I’m not there yet, but I’m making good progress”. I guarantee the person sitting opposite you, will thank you for it and your relationships will be strengthened too.
What I know from delivering over 2000 hours of coaching is that the majority of professionals, many of whom have been working at Director and CSuite level, experience Impostor Syndrome at some point or another.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
You can overcome it by understanding your fears better, replacing them with more helpful responses and challenging entrenched beliefs.
This will take work and practice – there is no quick fix, but it is fixable if you are willing to put yourself under the microscope.
Please believe me when I say, you are definitely NOT an impostor.
Watch a webinar presentation by Jayne Harrison on ‘How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome and Realize Your Full Potential’ – Available for Premium Members. Join here
Jayne Harrison is a leadership coach with an additional specialism in plant powered wellbeing and nutrition in the UK. She is the founder of Peak Potential Consulting Ltd: Consultancy – Career Management – Developmental Coaching and a faculty member of the NHS East Midlands Leadership Academy.