How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
A little while ago in a response to an Instagram DM about Imposter Syndrome, I shared that we need to ‘normalize imposter syndrome’.
Personally, I prefer the term Imposter Experience over Imposter Syndrome. I don’t think we need to add another way to pathologize ourselves about an experience that is so normal and universal.
The term was defined in the 1970s by two psychologists, Dr. Pauline Clancea and Dr. Suzanne Imes. They tried to understand why women who, despite reaching significant milestones, ranging from advanced degrees to professional awards, cannot internalize their success or convince themselves they deserve it.
Maybe you can relate?
It might manifest itself as comparison or feeling that you’re not good enough, that you don’t measure up or having an overwhelming sense of being a fraud / phony (despite much evidence to the contrary). It’s that voice that sneaks into your head and sends you down the rabbit hole of self doubt: “You don’t deserve it. You’re a fraud and sooner or later everyone will find out”
Clancea and Imes initially believed it affected mainly women, but later research has shown that men experience it as well. It’s been estimated that over 70% of people will experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives and the irony is that people who feel like imposters are usually anything but.
When I started my coaching career my focus was mainly around health and wellbeing. Many of my clients were women who wanted to learn how to manage emotional eating and heal their relationship with food and their body. After a while I noticed that even though my clients came to see me for “wellbeing related issues'', it was never about food, it was never about their body, it was always about something deeper. Mostly, it was about not trusting themselves and holding themselves back because of self doubt and indecisiveness.
That’s when I felt called to shift my focus and decided to “broaden” my coaching practice, that goes beyond body & food, that goes deeper into helping my clients to cultivate self trust, build inner confidence and follow their intuition so they can pursue and follow their deepest aspirations.
One thing that always surprises me in the coaching work that I do is that I get to work with some really brilliant women (and men), who 9 out of 10 don’t know how incredible they are. They are talented, high-integrity, smart, yet they often don’t see their own capability. They don’t see themselves as ready for that change they are so craving for or that next professional step or as worthy of taking that important role in their careers.
(one of my personal favorite parts of my work is that along the way they figure it out for themselves)
Why do we underestimate ourselves so much and how do we overcome that?
I kept asking myself this question as I kept seeing the same pattern with my clients. Soon enough it became clear to me that it’s really not about overcoming self doubt. This thinking only serves to put self doubt on a pedestal and give our power away.
It’s about changing the way we approach self doubt, reframing the way we perceive confidence and establishing a new relationship with our inner critic.
In an interview with Kate Winslet she shared “What people really think of me is something I remain blissfully unaware of most of the time. I love acting and all I ever try to do is my best. But even now I always dread those emotional scenes. I’m there thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m rubbish and everyone is going to see it. They’ve cast the wrong person.’ But I have come to realize that those nerves are all part of the process for me.”
Jodie Foster, on winning an Oscar shared: “I thought it was a big fluke. The same way when I walked on the campus at Yale, I thought everybody would find out, and then they’d take the Oscar back.”
Acclaimed best selling author Cheryl Strayed has shared “Writing is always full of self-doubt, but the first book [Torch] is really full of self-doubt, and it was much more of a struggle to keep the faith. By the time I wrote Wild, I was familiar with that feeling of doubt and self-loathing, so I just thought, ‘Okay, this is how it feels to write a book.’”
In an interview with Seth Godin he was asked whether he still experiences Imposter Syndrome, his response was “Only if I’m doing good work. Because good work for me is work that I’m not sure is going to work”
What enables people like Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Cheryl Strayed, Seth Godin and so many others to show up and create, despite the voice of self doubt?
They don’t wait for the voices of self doubt to disappear. They have practiced hearing the voices and not listening to them. They normalize self doubt and reframe the meaning they assign to those voices. Seth Godin, for example, shared that he practiced thanking imposter syndrome for letting him know he is doing good work.
It’s not confidence that enables them to succeed, it’s their relationship with self-doubt.
When we believe we need to have more confidence to pursue our aspirations, what we’re basically telling ourselves is that we need to eliminate self doubt. This creates a vicious cycle - we wait to “feel confident”, which rarely just happens when we perceive confidence as the absence of self doubt, so we don’t ‘do the thing’, which then provides us with evidence that we’re not good enough.
On the other hand, if we believe, that people pursuing and achieving their dreams (career and beyond) struggle with self-doubt; if we embrace that we don’t need to wait to feel any more confident than we feel right now, if we understand that inner confidence is built by taking steps within the presence of self doubt, we have a path forward of growth, evolution, self expression and fulfillment.
Instead of resisting self doubt, instead of judging ourselves for experiencing it, it’s about establishing a new relationship with it. We need to recognize the voice of the inner critic and distinguish that voice from the voice of our inner wisdom, our intuition.
If you’ve been listening to your inner critic for far too long it might be that you don’t even ‘hear’ it, you think it’s just part of who you are. I would invite you to explore that voice with curiosity. Bring awareness to when and why it’s speaking to you, and try to simply recognise “oh, it’s my inner critic speaking to me”. This is how you can start separating between you and your inner critic.
You become the observer, which gives you the power to hear but not to respond to the voice.
Once you’ve developed more awareness you can start practicing seeing your inner critic for what it is - the voice of fear. The voice that shows up to protect you from failure and disappointment. It bullies you so you shrink right back into your comfort zone. It’s an effective strategy to protect you from experiencing potential shame and self judgment. And, it’s so important to remember that in this attempt to protect you, it also prevents you from experiencing growth, meaning and fulfillment.
For this precise reason, we tend to hear the inner critic most loudly when we are taking important leaps or pursuing our most deeply held desires. This is why I always say --
your inner critic isn’t a sign to quit, it’s a sign to show up and leap.
When you remember all that, you can remind yourself that even though your inner critic might sound convincing and very ‘real’, it doesn’t make it true.
You can ask for a pay raise despite the inner mean voice telling you ‘who do you think you are’, you can launch your business despite the inner mean voice telling you that you don’t have what it takes, you can pursue a new career path despite the inner mean voice telling you it’s too late, you can speak up despite the inner mean voice telling to you that everyone will laugh...
You can show up for your dreams despite your inner critic.
And the more you do it, the more you create a new more empowering pattern. You learn to live with the voice of self doubt, and perhaps, you can even learn to see it as a sign that there is something amazing waiting for you on the other side.
Even if it’s scary. Even when you question your enoughness.
I have experienced imposter syndrome more than once, in many different areas and situations in my life, especially when I became a coach and started my business. Like every challenging thing I've done, the rewards seem so much greater when I stretch myself outside my comfort zone. When I let go of the story that 'people like me don't do things like this' or ‘everyone will laugh at me’ so many things become possible.
So much in my life has opened up for me as I learned to make peace with the voice of self doubt.
What would you do if it was ok to do it imperfectly? If you didn’t have to wait to feel ‘enough’
If you’re tired of self doubt and fear of failure holding you back from your deepest held aspirations, if you are ready to prioritise yourself - your healing, your growth and evolution, your intuition and your dreams - my 1:1 coaching container is waiting for you.
This private 6-month coaching program focuses on and honors you — your unique challenges, desires, and life.
Together, we work through the limiting beliefs, fears, and false stories holding you back from honoring your desires, listening to your own voice, showing up with purpose, and living a life full of joy.
We work through challenges and roadblocks that keep you from trusting yourself deeply. We work to empower you to make decisions, take actions, show up, and follow through in ways that feel authentic to you.
I'll be opening a few spots for private coaching in June. Here's where you can read more about the program + here’s where you can read what other clients have shared about their experience.
If you're interested in connecting for a chat to learn more and see if we are a good fit, you can apply for a free 30-minute discovery call right here.
Feel free to reply to this email if you have any questions. I can't wait to chat soon.