How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
The first time I walked into an executive boardroom as a senior leader, I was 35 years old. As a woman, and averaging 15 years younger than any of my peers (who were all men), I felt more than a little out of my comfort zone - the imposter syndrome was IN!
Was a sign of me being out of my depth or somewhere I didn’t fit in? Did it mean I had lost my confidence? Or was there something else at play?
Imposter syndrome is prevalent. Research suggests that over 40% of men and 60% of women experience imposter syndrome at some point in their careers. For most, it is an unpleasant feeling - like a loss of confidence and deep seated fear of exposure.
But what I learned during 10 more years in leadership was that Imposter Syndrome was always the result of a stretching challenge - and it was always a precursor to learning something powerful. That first time I walked into the boardroom, it was the discovery that in spite of my fear and the discomfort at being such an outlier in age and gender, I was by no means an outlier in terms of my capability to add value.
This very senior meeting, like so many other meetings I had attended, was a group of very human humans trying to get something done. Their views on the ‘how’ didn’t always line up, so there were some clashing egos and tense debates and chaotic energy. Yes, these were esteemed and experienced leaders. But this was both a strength and a weakness.
Some had forgotten to be curious, others seemed unable to listen and needed to drive and dominate, others looked frustrated and closed off - perhaps dealing with their own insecurities. That same mix of emotions and behaviours that I had seen and felt in meetings throughout my career was right here on display amongst the most experienced group of professionals I had worked with.
And what I discovered is that there was a place for me there. I had views that were important, because I represented experiences and communities very different from everyone else around the table. I still had a ‘beginners mind’ curiosity - as the new kid in the room, I was still curious, really listening to what was taking place. And most importantly of all, I could see that there were ways I could add value - not through my expertise, but through my skills as a collaborator, mediator, ‘dot-joiner-upper’ and ‘big-picture-painter.’
Imposter syndrome often shows up when we are doing something new and unknown. What we forget is that being in a new and unknown space gives us access to certain gifts that tend to get lost once familiarity and certainty kick in. Gifts such as curiosity, humility, openness to learning - these have huge value - if we have the courage to use them. But our insecurity that perhaps we don’t know enough, or our attempts to mask our true selves and be inconspicuous can block us from harnessing these gifts as we hide, or freeze or allow our inner critic to shut us up and keep us small.
We tend to overvalue expertise because we think that this is where our value lies. People assume that success in life is about becoming an expert. And yet in my experience at ‘The Success Smith’ and in my leadership career prior to that, I learned that it is really not our expertise that dictates our success, it is our mindset. Our true value is not in what we know, it is in how we show up. It is not about having the best information, it is about asking the best questions.
So when the imposter syndrome next shows up for you, consider celebrating it. It means you are doing something new and you are going to learn something - about yourself, about others and about the situation you are in. Let the presence of the imposter syndrome be your anchor to bring curiosity, beginner's mind and active listening to whatever new it is that you are embarking on.
At my company The Success Smith, I specialize in helping my clients develop a Success Mindset so that they can create the lives they want. A big part of this is understanding and accepting that change and personal growth can bring about feelings like fear and discomfort that tend to make us want to retreat, or label ourselves as wrong. In fact, such feelings are a great sign that we are moving, changing and developing.
If you would like some support in handling your imposter syndrome, gaining more leadership confidence or developing a ‘Success Mindset, you can contact me victoria@thesuccesssmith or follow me on Instagram.