We Know You’re In There: Smoking Out The Hidden Impostor

Think about the woman described here:

She is well-educated, honest, ambitious, and has landed herself an excellent job with a respected firm. Yet somehow, she tends to frequently underestimate herself, characterized by a fear of failure and an underlying sense that she’s out of her league. To make matters worse, she’s chronically paranoid that someone will figure out who she “really” is. Her self-assessment is, of course, false, but she can’t seem to find the confidence to break out of her delusion.

Quite a predicament to be in. Sort of makes you want to empathize with her. Maybe you even see a little bit of yourself in her. Or perhaps you ARE her! If you can admit that it’s true, I have 2 surprising news flashes for you: A). There is a name for what you’re experiencing, and B). many of your colleagues secretly harbor the same such personal delusion.

That name I promised you? It’s the Impostor Syndrome, and by its very nature, it keeps you and many of your colleagues in a state of anxiety and career stagnation. Like all syndromes, once you realize you have it, it becomes obvious that you’ll need to shake it. And like with all syndromes, that is a gradual process. Fortunately, you have at your disposal the advice of someone who’s far along in that process herself: Me!

With the use of two articles, I plan to reveal to you the origins of the Impostor Syndrome, leading you on a tour through the recesses of your cognitive innerworkings. I will then provide you with the secrets to help you transcend this undue impairment that so many of us silently suffer from. YOUR role is to be true to yourself, and conduct a full “interrogation” of the impostor who doubles as you. Before long, you will understand with confidence that you ARE worthy of your position in life, and that you CAN continue to achieve excellence in your career.

Our First Mistake

Critical self-assessment is born when one’s vision of a business leader does not resemble oneself. For many of us, the image of a corporate ‘big shot’ looks like someone from the Mad Men era: a powerful, tall, clean-shaven, impossibly handsome man with good hair, who dresses in expensive suits even when he’s not at the office. A quick reality check reveals that most of us just don’t look like that. But instead of acknowledging that our image aspirations are unrealistic, we default subconsciously to “I don’t have what it takes.” At that moment, we can decide to enter one of two camps: One where you realize your value to the company regardless of your outward appearance, or one where you hide behind a shiny, polished façade, secretly entertaining feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. The latter is the Impostor Syndrome, and one’s ability to circumvent it boils down to a question of authenticity.

Me? Inauthentic?

Each of us must admit that the impostor within is a product of our own making, and relies specifically on our inauthenticity. Even when we pride ourselves on being authentic, once we take a few steps back and see ourselves from a broader angle, we can pinpoint the holes in our story. For instance, according to several studies, each of us is lied to 200 times per day, on average. This would indicate the we, ourselves, are responsible for some of the lying. Most often, those lies take the form of stretching the truth, as in the way we respond to the question, “How’s everything going?” When you reply, “Everything is great”, do you really mean everything? What about that headache you’re nursing? Or your election season anxieties? It might seem extreme to call this example a lie, but think of it as the gateway to insincerity on the outside, and self-doubt on the inside.

We have a 360-degree view of our consciousness, but we choose to present our colleagues with a mere 10-degree splice of our true selves. Some call this “being political” or playing the corporate game. Maybe so. But in the process, we are creating a character, and it is that character who morphs into the impostor and begins to work against us.

But Wait, There’s More

Now that you’ve learned to recognize the impostor, you’re ready to size her up and tear her down. In next week’s follow-up article, I will show you the connection between Impostor Syndrome and Executive Presence, and introduce you to the fearful factors that permit the Impostor to thrive. Your takeaways will have you unzipping that impostor suit and stepping out as your renewed, confident, worthy self!