It’s time to stop worrying because you feel like an imposter. Embrace it, own it and let it empower what you do.
Let me guess:
- You don’t belong where you are;
- You’re not good enough to be there;
- Your success was a fluke;
- Any day, any minute now, they’ll discover you’re a fraud.
In other words, you’re suffering from Imposter Syndrome. In that case, welcome to the club.
If you feel like an imposter, maybe it’s because you are one. Perhaps you’re a successful career woman working in an all male office. Or you’re in a new role surrounded by a team of people with more experience. Or you’ve been trusted with a project you think is way over your head. If you didn’t feel like an imposter in this kind of environment, then something would be wrong.
I’ve been an imposter all my life. When I went to boarding school at the age of six I was the only black girl in the whole school for years. I was treated well but there was always someone to remind me that I was different – whether it was my music teacher, who instead of using my name referred to me only as “Lady of the Jungle”, or my friends who, lovely though they were, never tired of telling me that I was “really nice. Not like a normal black person at all”. When I moved on to secondary school at 13 the situation was the same, though without the interesting names. I was one amongst a small scattering of non-white faces at University and the trend continued through two years at the College of Law and when I started my training contract in the City. I felt like an imposter, because I was one.
Years later, when I had finished writing my book Babyproof Your Career, that feeling was still haunting me. Every writer is vulnerable to ups and downs, and I was no exception. When you are someone who has always felt like an imposter, putting 45,000 words in print and releasing it to the world is about as daunting as it gets. Where was I supposed to find the confidence, determination and resilience it would take to succeed if I felt myself always the imposter?
Reflecting on the events of my life so far, what I find remarkable is not how much of an imposter I felt growing up, but the belief that I was the only one. I was the only odd one out, the only lucky-for-not-being-found-out one, the only one who didn’t deserve to be there. It felt like a guilty secret I’d been carrying around with me all my life, afraid to articulate or talk about for fear the bubble would burst and that luck would run out.
Now I find myself coaching clients and working with women in the City who, much to my surprise, are suffering from that exact same feeling. It turns out that Imposter Syndrome is a widespread phenomenon. I wasn’t nearly as unique and special as I thought!
- As a mother of four I’ve watched a lot of Disney over the years. One of my favourite films is The Incredibles, about a family of superheroes with secret identities who (unsurprisingly) save the world against the forces of evil. In this case, the force of evil is a wannabe superhero called Syndrome. His evil plan: to give everybody super powers “because,” he says, with a super villainous laugh, “when everybody is Super, no one will be!”
When I watched the film again for the six hundred and eighty fifth time (four kids over twelve years – that’s a lot of Disney), I had an epiphany: if everybody is an imposter, nobody can be. Which means, being an imposter doesn’t matter any more.
If you suffer from Imposter Syndrome and feel it’s holding you back, and the usual advice isn’t working, it’s time for a different approach: instead of trying to convince yourself you’re not an imposter, celebrate it, be proud of it and use it as a source of strength. Here are three reasons why you should:
- Where there’s Imposter Syndrome, there’s success
Ask around: Speak to women you see as successful and confident and ask them whether they’ve ever felt like an imposter. You’ll discover that most successful women is yes. “I still face situations that I fear are beyond my capabilities. I still have days when I feel like a fraud.” Says Facebook COO and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg.You’ll soon discover that it’s normal and natural for a successful woman to feel like an imposter. The difference is, she doesn’t let it hold her back.
- It’s a sign of strength, not weakness.
Feel proud of your achievements. The chances are you feel like an imposter because you had to work hard to get where you are. Perhaps you were competing against others from a cultural or economic background that gave them a head start over you. Being or feeling different to every other successful person around you is a reason to feel more, not less confident, about your ability because you achieved success in spite of that difference.
- It reflects your authenticity
Feeling like an imposter is a sign you are being authentic at work, and not pretending to be someone you’re not. This matters hugely for work life balance because of how much of your life you’ll spend working – 90,000 hours, according to Jessica Pryce-Jones, author of Happiness At Work. That’s a lot of hours to spend pretending to be someone you are not. The part of you that feels like an imposter is the part of you that’s humble and sensitive and real, the part that brings humanity to those many hours you dedicate to your work. This is how it should be.
I’ve been an imposter all my life and I spent years thinking it was holding me back. But looking at where I am today I discovered that the opposite is true. I discovered the reasons why I am an imposter are the reasons that got me here. So now instead of feeling limited by Imposter Syndrome, I’m grateful for it.
If the feelings I’ve described in this article resonate with you then take heart. What seems like your weakness is actually your strength. Embrace it, own it and let it empower the work you do.