by Kellie Whitehead
I calculated recently that I have spent well over 10,000 hours working directly with women over the past 6 years, helping them navigate the waters of business start up and growth, marketing and mindset.
Without a doubt, and whether they realised it or not, the biggest thing that was holding them back was their mindset. All of them are capable, ambitious, and keen to share their talents with the world, but held back by a nagging fear of doubt. This manifests itself as procrastination on certain tasks and stopping them from becoming visible. At the risk of sounding like I’m selling you a ‘blueprint for business success’ - without day to day visibility - or ‘putting yourself out there’ in layman's terms, it doesn’t matter how great your products and services are, if people aren’t meeting you, hearing you or seeing you, your chances of growth are low to nil.
This isn’t just about business, it’s about women - in your career or even amongst your social circle and day to day life. Interestingly, in all these years, I have only ever heard one person state very clearly ‘ I don’t suffer from imposter syndrome’.
On one hand, a large clap from the back, on the other hand I saw this as a huge red flag. Imposter syndrome is the curse of feeling that you do not have a place, or are undeserving of a place in your life - often at work or in business, or amongst a peer group. The feeling that you ‘don’t belong’ there - feeling yes, like an imposter, in a situation you are no doubt perfectly qualified to be.Will you be ‘found out’ ? Are people overestimating your abilities and they’ll soon seek out the imposter in the room?
The thing with imposter syndrome is that it is perfectly normal. My ‘red flag’ point above this is that I’m more concerned by someone's psyche if they say they have never suffered from it. Feeling nervous before that job interview? Butterflies before having to speak in public or meet someone for the first time? Over-preparing for that important presentation or hoping you don’t get called upon to contribute or answer a question? Absolutely! The biggest rock stars and performers in the world experience the same nerves before going on stage. Nerves are good (within reason) it’s a perfectly normal human reaction. Feeling nervous or anticipatory shows that you care. I’m not talking about crippling anxiety here, the type that actually stops you from completing tasks in your day to day life.
“This is weird” I said to my best friend at the wedding of one of our friends. “Yes”, she replied - “totally feel like I should be on the kids table”
Life stages, promotions, new situations, going to your friend's wedding when it feels like you were all playing with Barbies last week, will always elicit shifting emotions.
My problem with imposter syndrome is this. It feels like it is all we talk about. We all feel it, naturally, but it’s become all-consuming for women to not just feel it, but to beat it, to languish in beating it and spending more time beating it, discussing it, and understanding it, than just, well - getting on with it.
When we dismiss our own skills or internalise our achievements (big or small), we credit it more to ‘luck’ than simply being competent or good at what we do - afraid of somehow being ‘unmasked’ and it holds us back from moving forward or being more ‘visible’
If you experience imposter syndrome - and more than 70% of us, men and women, do - notable inclusions are Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg and former Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, then of course you are not alone:
Maya Angelou, civil rights activist, poet and Nobel Laureate wrote, “I have written 11 books but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.”
Imposter syndrome erodes self-esteem to the point where we can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don’t try, you can’t fail, right? So why bother?
If you are in a position of needing to grow, or a leader who needs to show up for your people and are holding yourself back - imagine the impact you can make by absorbing these negative stories for what they are and giving your own unique talents and taking on the world its best shot.
An overly critical childhood or one that focused on achievements only can be a contributing factor to the levels of imposter syndrome we feel. Cultural and gender expectations certainly play their part too.
What we must do is recognise these feelings and confront them head on. We all have our ways of dealing with the mind monkeys that tell us all kinds of negative stories about ourselves that simply are not real. We must rationalise these thoughts with the facts. You are where you are because you deserve to be. Do not confuse imposter syndrome with inadequacy. You were not given your job ‘for a bet’ - you have not been put forward for promotion for any other reason except you are a capable candidate. That client you won? They wanted you and your team - they are looking for the best, and you were it.
Whilst contributing to my cancellation, there are many useful articles, books and a burgeoning raft of support for women with imposter syndrome, who feel like it is impacting their lives and are looking to do something about it. This is great - you can work through things at your level and find coping mechanisms that work for you.
I’m cancelling the all consumable, the ‘imposter syndrome’ noise that has become an industry in itself. Keeping you in your safe zone, feeling like you need to work *more* on yourself before you can take the next step.
With any action, you get the results you want or the lessons you need. Whether you think you can, or think you cannot - you are right either way. The only way to know, is to *do the thing* - feel nervous, get those butterflies, cry, crumple or dry those sweaty palms - and do it anyway.