Feeling like a fraud is a horrible way to live. Whether it’s a new job, relationship, income level or social circle, it’s brand new territory and you’re way out of your depth.
Before all this happened, you may have felt great. You were at the top of your game, ready and eager for a bigger and better opportunity.
Yet every waking moment is now spent obsessing over how to not be found out as a totally clueless imposter. Even the smallest amount of risk becomes a reason to freeze in fear, because making a mistake will only prove to everyone else what you already know – that you just can’t handle it.
I know firsthand how brutal it is to feel like a fraud. I spent years trying to hide feelings of inadequacy and impending doom, thinking that any wrong move could lose friends and get me fired.
To make things worse, I thought I was the only one who wasn’t good enough to do his job, so I suffered alone.
Life isn’t meant to be lived this way. Thankfully, there’s a way out.
But first, let’s identify the problem.
What is Imposter Syndrome?Dr. Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the term in 1978. It’s the overwhelming sense of not belonging that happens when we discount our successes as mere luck and feel like a fraud. As a result, we think we’re in constant danger of being found out. Most of us will experience Imposter Syndrome at some point in our personal or professional lives, and it’s important to know how to identify and deal with it.
How do you know when it strikes?Feeling like an imposter can manifest in many ways. Here are just a few of the symptoms you can expect:
- Stress ranging from nagging discomfort to full-blown anxiety
- Low self-confidence and high self-doubt
- Risk aversion and fear of making a mistake
- Feelings of shame, inadequacy and stupidity
- Inability to receive recognition or praise for a job well done
- Uncomfortable and/or afraid to disagree with others
- Quick to admit defeat when things aren’t going well
- Assumes that success is the result of luck
Common Imposter ThoughtsThese symptoms are quick to produce thoughts that perpetuate the problem by making you feel even worse. Do any of these sound familiar?
- “I can’t handle this.”
- “I’m going to be found out.”
- “Why do I even bother?”
- “Anyone could do my job better than me.”
- “I don’t belong here.”
- “This is going to end badly.”
- “I’m not good enough, smart enough or skilled enough for this.”
- “They’re all going to hate me.”
- “No one respects me.”
While all of these thoughts are common, none of them are helpful. They do nothing but hurt your confidence and sabotage your ability to act.
How Imposter Syndrome Works[New Situation + Unhealthy Belief = Imposter Thoughts + Fear-Based Feelings] We are all heavily influenced by our situation. In The Inevitable Win, I discuss how what’s happening around us has the power to activate personality traits, thoughts and feelings that can either help us or hurt us. When you’re feeling like a fraud, it’s not because it’s true. Rather, it’s because your situation is pushing you out of your comfort zone, where you haven’t yet learned to thrive. It’s brand new territory and your brain thinks you’re in danger.
You may be in a new relationships, a job promotion or in the midst of a difficult problem. You felt strong and confident yesterday, but today you’re feeling weak, uncertain and totally off-balance.
This state of fearful arousal is based on assumptions. Some are complete lies that need to be destroyed, while others are genuine gaps that need to be filled.
Unless you understand the keys to break through the Imposter Syndrome, you will remain overstressed and unable to make great decisions.
3 Keys to Break FreeHere are three things to consider as you fight to overcome your feelings of being a fraud.
Key #1: Develop New SkillsWhen staring down the barrel of a big problem, you need to feel a sense of self-efficacy; the certainty that you have what it takes to get the job done. Everything in life requires some level of skill. Here are a few examples:
Career Skills: reading a financial statement, learning a new software, getting to know social media, time management, writing, creating a business plan.
Leadership Skills: clear communication, motivating others, casting vision, delegation, positivity, self-awareness.
Physical Skills: hand-eye coordination, fitness (endurance, strength, speed), carpentry, dancing, driving.
Lifestyle Skills: healthy cooking, budget planning, reading, time management.
Relational Skills: communication, conflict resolution, empathy, emotional intelligence, forgiveness.
When you’re certain that you know HOW to do the right things well, the feelings of fear and anxiety begin to disappear.
Regardless of the situation, you now have a strong argument against the lie that says, “You’re the wrong person with no right to be here.”
Key #2: Find the Right SupportWe all want (and need) to be part of a group. When it feels like you’re alone, you live with a never-ending sense of danger. Not only is everything on your shoulders, with no help in sight, but it seems like you’re under the microscope, being judged by others for everything you do. However, when you have the right support in place, you’re suddenly able to step up and perform at a higher level. You finally feel confident and safe enough to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new. This happens for a few reasons.
1) You can take bigger risks when others have your back.
You may be in a new situation that makes you feel like a fish out of water, but it’s not nearly so bad when you’re sure that no one is going to crucify you for making a mistake.
Even if there are people in your life that are awaiting your demise, you can offset the pressure by enlisting a core group of friends and allies.
2) You can rest easy knowing that your weaknesses are covered by the expertise of others.
We all have strengths and weaknesses. When you feel like you have to do it all on your own, you end up drowning in the things you can’t do well.
However, when you have others who can help fill in the gaps, you can focus on shining in your own unique abilities.
3) The path to success is shortened with the guidance of a trusted coach or mentor.
It feels great knowing that there’s someone in your corner who knows more than you.
Coaches and mentors have “been there and done that”. They can offer an empathetic ear when you’re struggling, as well as a no-nonsense push in the right direction when you’re feeling stuck or afraid.
4) It’s easier to make tough decisions when you feel accountable to others.
You need to make an important decision, but all you can think about is throwing in the towel and running away in shear terror.
How do you tip the scales towards making the right choice? You add some additional weight to the “take action” side of the scale. You can learn more about the power of people in my free ebook, The Inevitable Win.
Key #3: Expand Your Self-ImageThe way you see yourself is one of the most influential forces in your life. If your self-image has determined that your current situation is far too difficult for you to handle, then Imposter Syndrome is sure to kick in. What is a self-image? It’s the picture of yourself that lives only in your mind. It says who you are, the way you live, what you’re good at, and so on. An unhealthy self-image says:
- “I’m too dumb to figure out these numbers.”
- “I’m not creative enough for this project.”
- “No one likes me, so why would they help me?”
- “If I don’t give in to their demands, they won’t work with me anymore.”
- “I’m not the kind of person who makes good decisions.”
- “If I do this, they’re all going to laugh at me.”
- “If I lose this weight, I’m going to be unsafe with other people.”
- “I’m too ugly to be with this person.”
- “I’m too poor to be part of this group.”
These negative assumptions create the unhealthy emotions that sabotage you.
You could be in the best position of your life in work, relationships, health or finances, and yet feel anxious, afraid and totally off-center.
Because you’re living outside of your self-image. In other words, you’re way out your comfort zone and your brain is trying to protect you. It flips on the fear switch to bring you back where it’s safe.
Your brain isn’t trying to ruin your life. It’s just trying to help.
Rather than allowing your “helpful” brain to run the show, you need to take action. In order to regain your confidence and become comfortable and strong in your new situation, you need to expand your sense of self to include this new life season.