Today I’m writing about a topic that has been on my mind for months.
How many times have you sat in a boardroom and felt like you’re just not good enough? Perhaps you felt now that you’ve been given a seat at the table, maybe you didn’t actually deserve to be there at all. Maybe you felt like you’re not worthy of your achievements and that soon others will discover that you’re not as competent as they think you are.
Well girl, that’s imposter syndrome. The more I read up on this topic the more I realize how many women are experiencing it. In fact, there is a 2022 study by KPMG that found 75% of female executives across various industries had experienced some form of imposter syndrome at certain points in their careers. Nearly half of the executive women who participated said their feelings of self-doubt resulted from never expecting to reach the level of success they had achieved while 56% said they had been afraid that they would not live up to expectations or that people around them would not believe they are as capable as they expected.
Sounds crazy, right?
Well, it may sound crazy but it’s true. Scary… but true. Let’s explore this topic in a little more detail.
What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon where people doubt their abilities even when they are more than competent and accomplished. They could have a really decent education, years of experience and multiple certificates behind their name but they still experience a nagging feeling of self-doubt.
The term was derived in 1978 by two American psychologists – Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes although I think women have experienced this feeling for many decades before.
Have you ever felt like you’re just not good enough? Perhaps you don’t deserve a job title or a seat at the table? Or you weren’t good enough for a promotion? These are all examples of imposter syndrome and it’s extremely common among high achievers.
It can affect anyone regardless of their level of success or expertise but tends to affect women, highly creative people and minority groups a lot more.
What are the five types of imposter syndrome?
Research shows people experience five types of imposter syndrome. Being able to understand these different types of imposter syndrome together with learning how to overcome them can really help you break free from these awful feelings of self-doubt.
Um… yes, please because this blog is a safe space and we’re all about finding ways to better ourselves and live our best lives, right? Good, so let’s look at the five different types of imposter syndrome and then some ways on how we can beat them.
If you experience imposter syndrome in the form of the perfectionist, then you’ve most likely set very high standards for yourself. You believe that you need to excel in every task you participate in, and you cannot make mistakes. You set unrealistically high expectations for yourself and are often afraid of failing. In fact, even if you accomplish 99% of what you set out to achieve, experiencing a small failure can bring up feelings of self-doubt and be not good enough.
Not sure if this you? Here are some questions to help identify if you experience imposter syndrome in the form of the perfectionist:
- Do you find it difficult to delegate?
- If you do delegate, do you feel frustrated with the results you receive?
- If something doesn’t go according to plan and you don’t achieve what you expect to, do you accuse yourself of not being good enough?
- Do you find yourself dwelling on these feelings of not being good enough for long periods of time?
- Do your mentors tell you that your work doesn’t need to be 100% perfect?
- Have you ever been told that you need to learn the 80 / 20 principle so you can move on to other tasks?
Then you’re experiencing imposter syndrome in the form of the perfectionist.
How to overcome imposter syndrome as The Perfectionist
To overcome this type of imposter syndrome, it’s important to recognize that perfection is unattainable, and making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process. Okay easier said than done and if you resonated with any of the questions above, well then, you’re probably shaking your head right now! You need to change the dialogue within yourself because these thoughts are neither productive, forgiving or healthy.
Remind yourself that it’s okay to make mistakes and that you’re only human. It’s a natural part of the learning process and it’s necessary to learn and grow. Celebrate your existing achievements and give yourself the space to learn. Set realistic goals and be kind to yourself when you fall short so you can avoid burnout and still build your self-confidence.
This type of imposter syndrome manifests itself in feelings of needing to know everything before actually pursing a goal or taking on a task. If you experience this form of imposter syndrome, then you often feel that your competence is based on your knowledge and expertise. You often feel like you can never know enough or as I’ve experienced in the workplace, you fear someone saying you are unknowledgeable and inexperienced.
Not sure if this you? Here are some questions to help identify if you experience imposter syndrome in the form of the expert:
- Do you constantly look for new trainings or ways to improve your skills because you feel like you aren’t good enough yet?
- Do you feel uneasy or brush it off when someone says you’re smart or an expert?
- Do you feel reluctant to take on new tasks unless you know exactly how you will proceed?
- Do you hold back from applying for jobs unless you are 100% sure you can meet every requirement?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then you may be experiencing imposter syndrome in the form of the expert.
How to overcome imposter syndrome as The Expert
Learning is on-going process and improving your skillsets can be a really positive quality that helps you move up the professional ladder. However, if taken too far such that it stops you from taking on new tasks or applying for new jobs then it can actually hinder your growth and in some instances, be viewed as a form of procrastination.
So how do you overcome this form of imposter syndrome? Start by changing your mindset from being a person who must have all the knowledge (i.e., a knowledge hoarder!) to someone who can learn on the go. Be okay with improvising or saying you’re not sure about something and will have to do some research and get back to people. Use your time wisely and start practicing the ability to acquire a skill only when you need it – for example if you want to apply for a new job or if your responsibilities change. Spending time mentoring people can also be a great way to build your confidence.
The Natural Genius
Imposter syndrome in the form of the natural genius can feel like you need to excel effortlessly in all areas and that a struggle must be a sign of incompetence. You feel afraid of being exposed as someone who lacks ability, doesn’t know enough or just isn’t naturally talented.
Not sure if this is you? Here are some questions to help identify if you experience imposter syndrome in the form of the natural genius:
- Do you have a track record of being top of your class?
- Do you constantly feel like you don’t need a mentor because you can handle things on your own?
- Were you constantly told as a child that you were the smart one?
- Do you dislike change or new challenges because the unknown makes you feel uncomfortable?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then you may be experiencing imposter syndrome in the form of the natural genius.
How to overcome imposter syndrome as The Natural Genius
To overcome this type of imposter syndrome, recognize that everyone has strengths and weaknesses and it’s okay to embrace the process of learning. Be patient with yourself and identify specific behaviors or characteristics that you want to improve over time. One of the best things I read was to try seeing yourself as a work in progress. I love this because it creates a safe space for yourself to grow and be okay with not knowing everything.
The soloist imposter believes that they must accomplish tasks or goals entirely on their own and that asking for help is a sign of weakness or incompetence. They are afraid of asking for help as it may expose them as incapable of handling things alone.
Not sure if this is you? Here are some questions to help identify if you experience imposter syndrome in the form of the soloist:
- Do you always feel as though you need to accomplish things on your own to show your skill or value?
- Are you always telling yourself that you don’t need anyone’s help?
- Do you constantly feel as though asking for help will invalidate your contribution?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then you may be experiencing imposter syndrome in the form of the soloist.
How to overcome imposter syndrome as The Soloist
To overcome this type of imposter syndrome, you need to first understand that there’s no shame in asking for help. In fact, it’s a sign that you want to give your task or project every chance for success. Understand that it’s okay to ask for help and collaborate with others. Building a support system and seeking guidance from mentors or colleagues can actually enhance your skillset and knowledge. Find someone you look up to and trust and have a conversation about times they struggled and needed help. You’ll be surprised to learn they probably had a bunch of people who guided them along the way.
The Superwoman (or Superman)
The superwoman (or superman) imposter is known for pushing themselves harder than anyone else around them. They feel the pressure to excel in all areas of life, such as work, family, relationships, and personal endeavors. Often, they place extremely high expectations on themselves. They believe they must juggle multiple roles perfectly with the fear that they will be exposed as not being able to handle everything.
Not sure if this is you? Here are some questions to help identify if you experience imposter syndrome in the form of the superwoman (or superman):
- Do you often start early or work later than the rest of your colleagues?
- Do you get stressed when you’re not working?
- Do you push your hobbies and personal activities aside because of work?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then you may be experiencing imposter syndrome in the form of the superwoman (or superman).
How to overcome imposter syndrome as The Superwoman (or Superman)
To overcome this type of imposter syndrome, it’s important to set realistic expectations and prioritize your self-care. You need to learn that your validation should always come from within and not from external people. Learn to delegate tasks, set boundaries, and give yourself permission to prioritize your well-being. This is just as important (if not more!). Set healthy boundaries between work and your personal time and learn to stick to them. Find other ways to identify your success. This can be through personal activities such as working out, hobbies or goals set for yourself.
If you’ve identified with one or more types of the above forms of imposter syndromes, then you’re not alone. In fact, as I wrote this post, I realized that I identified with more than three! That sounds crazy to me! The most important take away should be that failure or lack of being the best in something shouldn’t automatically translate into you feeling like a fraud. It should mean that it’s time to re-evaluate your boundaries with people, how you handle criticism and most importantly, focus more your personal life. We’re not perfect women but we are on this journey to becoming strong, free-thinking and independent (an SFIwoman) and of course, our best selves.
Till the next post,