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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

January 29, 2020

My aim is always to you you become your calmest, happiest and most confident self and so this week I’m addressing a topic selected by popular demand because I did a shout out on my Instagram and asked you what you wanted to hear about this week – and imposter syndrome came up a lot. […]

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I'm a coach and hypnotherapist who helps people to create work life balance, quiet the inner critic and become their calmest and happiest selves. 

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My aim is always to you you become your calmest, happiest and most confident self and so this week I’m addressing a topic selected by popular demand because I did a shout out on my Instagram and asked you what you wanted to hear about this week – and imposter syndrome came up a lot. For a long time, I too battled to overcome imposter syndrome.

My aim is always to you you become your calmest, happiest and most confident self and so this week I’m addressing a topic selected by popular demand because I did a shout out on my Instagram and asked you what you wanted to hear about this week – and imposter syndrome came up a lot. For a long time, I too battled to overcome imposter syndrome.

I’m going to be sharing my own experience with imposter syndrome. I’m going to be talking about what it is and how you can tell if you have it and a little bit about how common it is amongst people. You know, “Are we the only ones or is it something that’s a much bigger issue than we realize?” And I’m also going to be sharing some really practical things that you can do to manage your own imposter syndrome and start to overcome it so that it’s not holding you back from enjoying your life and going after the things that you want. 

My own experience with imposter syndrome

So I’m going to just start off by telling you about my own experience with imposter syndrome and this was a couple of years ago. The main experience I had with it occurred about three weeks before my book The Anxiety Solution was due to be published. I had felt pretty confident whilst I was writing The Anxiety Solution, I felt like I knew what I was talking about, I was kind of just in the zone with my writing, I felt like it was going to help a lot of people, I felt like the expert and I didn’t have any problems when actually writing it. 

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But it got to, as I said, about three weeks before the book was due to be published and suddenly — you know, this wave – I’ll be honest – this wave of anxiety came over me which I was not expecting and I started to really have doubts about myself, my abilities and about the book. I started to think about the fact that it wasn’t just going to be my mum reading it, that actually it was going to be out on bookshelves and that maybe more than a couple of people would read it and I started to think “What do I know about anxiety? Who am I to talk about this topic when I’m not perfect and I sometimes get stressed or worried or anxious?” and I started to think that it would have been better if someone else had written this book and just questioning myself in every way. I felt really quite a lot of tension in those couple of weeks before it came out.

So I know that it’s ironic that I wrote a book about anxiety and was, in fact, feeling anxious about it being released, but that is the truth. And actually this is an incredibly common issue. So a study from 2011 found that approximately 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives and just so that we’re clear about exactly what imposter syndrome means — Because I know that actually a lot of people haven’t heard that term before. They might have experienced what it is, but they might not actually know what that means. 

What exactly is imposter syndrome?

It’s basically where you feel like a fraud, where you feel like you fooled everyone into believing that you are competent but in fact, you’ve been blagging it this whole time and you’ve managed to fool everyone to get to the position that you are in today and in fact you don’t deserve to be there and it was just luck that got you where you are today and nothing to do with your own abilities. So this is imposter syndrome. It’s sometimes known as “imposter phenomenon”, “imposterism”, “fraud syndrome” or “the imposter experience”. 

And I talk about this in my new book Brave New Girl and I spoke to a lot of people about this and I had a lot of female doctors get in touch with me and tell me that they believe that it’s right within their profession to experience imposter syndrome, to doubt themselves. You know what? In some ways, I think imposter syndrome — A little bit of imposter syndrome could be helpful! I mean, you wouldn’t want your doctor to be overly confident and never questioning themselves.

You kind of want your doctor to have that level of slight self-doubt that means that they’re safe and always learning and always growing. So in some ways, perhaps a little bit of imposter syndrome could be a good thing but in a lot of cases it really holds us back and it creates a lot of anxiety, a lot of worry, a lot of questioning and it stops us from being able to be ourselves and enjoy the moment.

Whose at risk of imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is more commonly found in women and this is not to discount the fact that it often happens in men, but it is something that is more likely to be found in women and that could be for a number of reasons. Probably because of the fact that women in general tend to have less self-belief than men and more self-doubt and more anxiety in general. It’s thought that women get twice the levels of anxiety as men, so it could probably be linked to that.

Another thing that I really have noticed a link with is perfectionism and this is something that, again, affects more women than men and you can imagine how that happens. As girls, we’re told to be good girls. We’re told to look perfect… all the messages we receive from a very young age are about perfection when it comes to us girls, and so we grow up with a feeling that we need to be perfect, that we need to do things perfectly and if it’s not perfect – if we’re not getting 100% – then maybe we’re actually an imposter and we don’t deserve the success that we have or we don’t deserve the job that we have. 

Another area that it can be common to show up is if you are an “expert” in something. So this is probably where it came up for me because I’d come forward as an expert on anxiety and yet – I don’t know everything about anxiety. I am not perfect. I don’t have it all figured out – and so that’s where that self-doubt can come in and that’s where we can start to feel like an imposter. So if you in your career or your life in some way are an expert or are labelled an expert, this is where imposter syndrome can come up when we don’t feel like we’re perfect and we don’t feel like we know everything. 

Where does imposter syndrome come from?

And so, if you’re thinking about “Where has this come from?”… So firstly if you’re a female, you know, it could be to do with the difference in the ways that boys and girls are raised. It could also be to do with perhaps things that you were told as a child. So were your parents always telling you that you had to get 100% in your tests? Were you told that you’re not good enough? Did they have really high standards? You know, did you grow up having a fear of failure for whatever reasons? These sorts of things in childhood could mean that you doubt yourself and your abilities in adulthood. And actually, there could be a million reasons why you are trying to overcome imposter syndrome. Those are just a few examples.

And actually, imposter syndrome is a really new term. It was only coined in 1978 and there was an article written about the imposter phenomenon in high achieving women; because this is the interesting thing about imposter syndrome is that it’s most common in successful women. So women that are at the top of their game, doing really well in their careers and you’d think that they should feel confident about what they’re doing and their profession and their working life but in fact successful women are the ones that are most likely to doubt themselves and to struggle with this and to feel as though they’re a fraud about to be found out.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

And it might be that you get a lot of external validation. You might be winning awards. You might be getting praise from your boss. But actually it’s about your own internal self-doubt and your own inability to acknowledge your own accomplishments and your own success. What happens when we experience imposter syndrome is also that we can either over-prepare for things where we push ourselves much harder than anyone else because we feel like we have to make up for this fact that we’re actually not good enough and we’re a fraud about to be found out or we go the other way and we actually procrastinate and put things off because it seems like too much to face things. It seems overwhelming or we’re so scared of failing – and we’re convinced we’re going to fail – that we don’t get started. And actually, if you struggle with procrastination, nine times out of ten it’s to do with fear of failure. 

Simple steps to manage your own imposter syndrome

So what I want you to know is that imposter syndrome is really normal. It affects about 70% of us, mostly women but men too, and so you’re really not alone with this. You’re not the only one experiencing this and it’s okay. So I’m going to share a few simple steps that you can take to start to manage your own imposter syndrome.

Acknowledge that you have imposter syndrome

So step one is to acknowledge that you have imposter syndrome. There’s something really powerful about naming something that we have and putting a label on it so that we know it’s not just us, it’s a recognized syndrome and it doesn’t make it true just because we’re experiencing it, just because we believe it, just because we’re having those thoughts of doubt and worry. It doesn’t make it true. 

So when we acknowledge something, we can start to put a box around it and we can start to change it and we can start to control it once we’ve acknowledged it and labelled it.

Just because you have a thought doesn’t make it true. – Chloe Brotheridge

Just because you have a thought doesn’t make it true

The second step once you’ve acknowledged it is to recognize that you don’t need to take action on it. Just because you have a thought doesn’t make it true. So you can say, for example, “Thanks for sharing”. If you’re having thoughts of self-doubt or about the fact that you don’t deserve the success you’ve got, you can just say “Thanks for sharing” and you can take action and move forward and live your life without having to take action on the thought and without needing to procrastinate or over-prepare or worry. 

There’s a really interesting thing that Liz Gilbert, the writer, mentions in her book Big Magic which is a book about living creatively and trying to do that without fear. She tells a story about imagining that you’re driving a car and that fear is always going to come along for the ride in our lives. This idea that we can live a life free of fear is just not realistic. We all are going to experience fear at some point or another in our lives. It’s completely natural and normal. 

So she asks us to imagine that fear, or imposter syndrome in this case, is going to be along for the ride. Particularly if you are doing things that are outside of your comfort zone and if you are living with anxiety. Particularly if you are putting something out there like I was with my book. That is obviously going to come with some fear attached! And actually, that’s okay. It’s actually natural and normal. 

But when we’re thinking about this car analogy… So fear or imposter syndrome is in the car, but Liz Gilbert talks about not allowing fear to control the radio station and certainly not allowing fear to drive. So fear or imposter syndrome stays firmly in the backseat and it can come along for the ride but it’s not going to be able to drive. And so it’s about not letting that imposter syndrome take over, not letting it drive the car.

You don’t need to be perfect

The next thing to remember — And I suppose this is kind of step three — is about the fact that you don’t need to be perfect. You don’t need to have everything figured out in order to be an expert or in order to be good at what you’re doing. It’s completely normal to not know everything. No one knows everything! We are all going to make mistakes at some point and we need to really be more forgiving of ourselves when it comes to making mistakes and be more forgiving of ourselves for not knowing everything.

Ask yourself: is this really true?

And then lastly, asking yourself when you have this thought of “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t deserve to be here”… asking yourself “Is that really true?” Is that really true and can you absolutely know that it’s true? So I really had to ask myself this question when The Anxiety Solution was coming out and ask myself “Is that really true that I don’t deserve to write this book? Is it really true that I don’t know anything about anxiety?” No, that’s not true. 

And actually, I started to find evidence that the opposite was true. So I started to find evidence that actually – you know what? – I have written this book. You know, a few people have read it. My publisher is Penguin and they liked it and they thought it was good enough and I have been working with people with anxiety for the last six years and I have had a lot of personal experiences that are useful to other people. So I was really searching for the evidence that the opposite was true – that I was good enough, that the book was going to do well, that I did have value to offer – and so really searching for that evidence to the contrary of that imposter syndrome.

Summary

Okay, so just to summarize… remembering that imposter syndrome is incredibly common. It’s a syndrome. It’s a thing. Loads of people experience it. You’re not the only one. It doesn’t mean anything about you. It’s good to acknowledge it, but don’t let imposter syndrome drive the car. Tell it “Thanks for sharing”. Acknowledge the imposter syndrome without taking any action on it and remember that you don’t need to be perfect and then just question… “Is that really true?” and what’s the evidence that actually you are good enough, that you are worthy and you do deserve to be in the position that you’re in.

So I would love to hear from you about your experiences of imposter syndrome and what from this blog you’re going to be taking forward and actioning and what the learnings are for you. So please come on over to my Instagram @chloebrotheridge and come and send me a direct message or post a comment on the image for this podcast. And if you enjoyed this blog or you’ve got a friend who struggles with this and you think that they really need this in their lives, please do share this with a friend.

And just a reminder that in my latest book, Brave New Girl, I talk a lot about imposter syndrome. I share more stories and examples and more tips and I’m also talking about a lot of other topics that are very much related to this around confidence, fear of failure, speaking up and feeling that you are good enough and valuing yourself. So if post resonates with you, I think that you’re going to love Brave New Girl. So definitely check it out.

So thank you so much for reading. I’m sending you loads of love and I hope you have a brilliant week. 

Get FREE confidence resources here

My aim is always to you you become your calmest, happiest and most confident self and so this week I’m addressing a topic selected by popular demand because I did a shout out on my Instagram and asked you what you wanted to hear about this week – and imposter syndrome came up a lot. For a long time, I too battled to overcome imposter syndrome.

I’m going to be sharing my own experience with imposter syndrome. I’m going to be talking about what it is and how you can tell if you have it and a little bit about how common it is amongst people. You know, “Are we the only ones or is it something that’s a much bigger issue than we realize?” And I’m also going to be sharing some really practical things that you can do to manage your own imposter syndrome and start to overcome it so that it’s not holding you back from enjoying your life and going after the things that you want. 

My own experience with imposter syndrome

So I’m going to just start off by telling you about my own experience with imposter syndrome and this was a couple of years ago. The main experience I had with it occurred about three weeks before my book The Anxiety Solution was due to be published. I had felt pretty confident whilst I was writing The Anxiety Solution, I felt like I knew what I was talking about, I was kind of just in the zone with my writing, I felt like it was going to help a lot of people, I felt like the expert and I didn’t have any problems when actually writing it. 

Get FREE confidence resources here

But it got to, as I said, about three weeks before the book was due to be published and suddenly — you know, this wave – I’ll be honest – this wave of anxiety came over me which I was not expecting and I started to really have doubts about myself, my abilities and about the book. I started to think about the fact that it wasn’t just going to be my mum reading it, that actually it was going to be out on bookshelves and that maybe more than a couple of people would read it and I started to think “What do I know about anxiety? Who am I to talk about this topic when I’m not perfect and I sometimes get stressed or worried or anxious?” and I started to think that it would have been better if someone else had written this book and just questioning myself in every way. I felt really quite a lot of tension in those couple of weeks before it came out.

So I know that it’s ironic that I wrote a book about anxiety and was, in fact, feeling anxious about it being released, but that is the truth. And actually this is an incredibly common issue. So a study from 2011 found that approximately 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives and just so that we’re clear about exactly what imposter syndrome means — Because I know that actually a lot of people haven’t heard that term before. They might have experienced what it is, but they might not actually know what that means. 

What exactly is imposter syndrome?

It’s basically where you feel like a fraud, where you feel like you fooled everyone into believing that you are competent but in fact, you’ve been blagging it this whole time and you’ve managed to fool everyone to get to the position that you are in today and in fact you don’t deserve to be there and it was just luck that got you where you are today and nothing to do with your own abilities. So this is imposter syndrome. It’s sometimes known as “imposter phenomenon”, “imposterism”, “fraud syndrome” or “the imposter experience”. 

And I talk about this in my new book Brave New Girl and I spoke to a lot of people about this and I had a lot of female doctors get in touch with me and tell me that they believe that it’s right within their profession to experience imposter syndrome, to doubt themselves. You know what? In some ways, I think imposter syndrome — A little bit of imposter syndrome could be helpful! I mean, you wouldn’t want your doctor to be overly confident and never questioning themselves.

You kind of want your doctor to have that level of slight self-doubt that means that they’re safe and always learning and always growing. So in some ways, perhaps a little bit of imposter syndrome could be a good thing but in a lot of cases it really holds us back and it creates a lot of anxiety, a lot of worry, a lot of questioning and it stops us from being able to be ourselves and enjoy the moment.

Whose at risk of imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is more commonly found in women and this is not to discount the fact that it often happens in men, but it is something that is more likely to be found in women and that could be for a number of reasons. Probably because of the fact that women in general tend to have less self-belief than men and more self-doubt and more anxiety in general. It’s thought that women get twice the levels of anxiety as men, so it could probably be linked to that.

Another thing that I really have noticed a link with is perfectionism and this is something that, again, affects more women than men and you can imagine how that happens. As girls, we’re told to be good girls. We’re told to look perfect… all the messages we receive from a very young age are about perfection when it comes to us girls, and so we grow up with a feeling that we need to be perfect, that we need to do things perfectly and if it’s not perfect – if we’re not getting 100% – then maybe we’re actually an imposter and we don’t deserve the success that we have or we don’t deserve the job that we have. 

Another area that it can be common to show up is if you are an “expert” in something. So this is probably where it came up for me because I’d come forward as an expert on anxiety and yet – I don’t know everything about anxiety. I am not perfect. I don’t have it all figured out – and so that’s where that self-doubt can come in and that’s where we can start to feel like an imposter. So if you in your career or your life in some way are an expert or are labelled an expert, this is where imposter syndrome can come up when we don’t feel like we’re perfect and we don’t feel like we know everything. 

Where does imposter syndrome come from?

And so, if you’re thinking about “Where has this come from?”… So firstly if you’re a female, you know, it could be to do with the difference in the ways that boys and girls are raised. It could also be to do with perhaps things that you were told as a child. So were your parents always telling you that you had to get 100% in your tests? Were you told that you’re not good enough? Did they have really high standards? You know, did you grow up having a fear of failure for whatever reasons? These sorts of things in childhood could mean that you doubt yourself and your abilities in adulthood. And actually, there could be a million reasons why you are trying to overcome imposter syndrome. Those are just a few examples.

And actually, imposter syndrome is a really new term. It was only coined in 1978 and there was an article written about the imposter phenomenon in high achieving women; because this is the interesting thing about imposter syndrome is that it’s most common in successful women. So women that are at the top of their game, doing really well in their careers and you’d think that they should feel confident about what they’re doing and their profession and their working life but in fact successful women are the ones that are most likely to doubt themselves and to struggle with this and to feel as though they’re a fraud about to be found out.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

And it might be that you get a lot of external validation. You might be winning awards. You might be getting praise from your boss. But actually it’s about your own internal self-doubt and your own inability to acknowledge your own accomplishments and your own success. What happens when we experience imposter syndrome is also that we can either over-prepare for things where we push ourselves much harder than anyone else because we feel like we have to make up for this fact that we’re actually not good enough and we’re a fraud about to be found out or we go the other way and we actually procrastinate and put things off because it seems like too much to face things. It seems overwhelming or we’re so scared of failing – and we’re convinced we’re going to fail – that we don’t get started. And actually, if you struggle with procrastination, nine times out of ten it’s to do with fear of failure. 

Simple steps for overcoming imposter syndrome

So what I want you to know is that imposter syndrome is really normal. It affects about 70% of us, mostly women but men too, and so you’re really not alone with this. You’re not the only one experiencing this and it’s okay. So I’m going to share a few simple steps that you can take to start to manage your own imposter syndrome.

Acknowledge that you have imposter syndrome

The first step to overcoming imposter syndrome is to acknowledge it. There’s something really powerful about naming something that we have and putting a label on it so that we know it’s not just us, it’s a recognized syndrome and it doesn’t make it true just because we’re experiencing it, just because we believe it, just because we’re having those thoughts of doubt and worry. It doesn’t make it true. 

So when we acknowledge something, we can start to put a box around it and we can start to change it and we can start to control it once we’ve acknowledged it and labelled it.

Just because you have a thought doesn’t make it true. – Chloe Brotheridge

Just because you have a thought doesn’t make it true

The second step once you’ve acknowledged it is to recognize that you don’t need to take action on it. Just because you have a thought doesn’t make it true. So you can say, for example, “Thanks for sharing”. If you’re having thoughts of self-doubt or about the fact that you don’t deserve the success you’ve got, you can just say “Thanks for sharing” and you can take action and move forward and live your life without having to take action on the thought and without needing to procrastinate or over-prepare or worry. 

There’s a really interesting thing that Liz Gilbert, the writer, mentions in her book Big Magic which is a book about living creatively and trying to do that without fear. She tells a story about imagining that you’re driving a car and that fear is always going to come along for the ride in our lives. This idea that we can live a life free of fear is just not realistic. We all are going to experience fear at some point or another in our lives. It’s completely natural and normal. 

So she asks us to imagine that fear, or imposter syndrome in this case, is going to be along for the ride. Particularly if you are doing things that are outside of your comfort zone and if you are living with anxiety. Particularly if you are putting something out there like I was with my book. That is obviously going to come with some fear attached! And actually, that’s okay. It’s actually natural and normal. 

But when we’re thinking about this car analogy… So fear or imposter syndrome is in the car, but Liz Gilbert talks about not allowing fear to control the radio station and certainly not allowing fear to drive. So fear or imposter syndrome stays firmly in the backseat and it can come along for the ride but it’s not going to be able to drive. And so it’s about not letting that imposter syndrome take over, not letting it drive the car.

You don’t need to be perfect

The next thing to remember — And I suppose this is kind of step three — is about the fact that you don’t need to be perfect. You don’t need to have everything figured out in order to be an expert or in order to be good at what you’re doing. It’s completely normal to not know everything. No one knows everything! We are all going to make mistakes at some point and we need to really be more forgiving of ourselves when it comes to making mistakes and be more forgiving of ourselves for not knowing everything.

Ask yourself: is this really true?

And then lastly, asking yourself when you have this thought of “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t deserve to be here”… asking yourself “Is that really true?” Is that really true and can you absolutely know that it’s true? So I really had to ask myself this question when The Anxiety Solution was coming out and ask myself “Is that really true that I don’t deserve to write this book? Is it really true that I don’t know anything about anxiety?” No, that’s not true. 

And actually, I started to find evidence that the opposite was true. So I started to find evidence that actually – you know what? – I have written this book. You know, a few people have read it. My publisher is Penguin and they liked it and they thought it was good enough and I have been working with people with anxiety for the last six years and I have had a lot of personal experiences that are useful to other people. So I was really searching for the evidence that the opposite was true – that I was good enough, that the book was going to do well, that I did have value to offer – and so really searching for that evidence to the contrary of that imposter syndrome.

Summary

Okay, so just to summarize… remembering that imposter syndrome is incredibly common. It’s a syndrome. It’s a thing. Loads of people experience it. You’re not the only one. It doesn’t mean anything about you. It’s good to acknowledge it, but don’t let imposter syndrome drive the car. Tell it “Thanks for sharing”. Acknowledge the imposter syndrome without taking any action on it and remember that you don’t need to be perfect and then just question… “Is that really true?” and what’s the evidence that actually you are good enough, that you are worthy and you do deserve to be in the position that you’re in.

So I would love to hear from you about your experiences of imposter syndrome and what from this blog you’re going to be taking forward and actioning and what the learnings are for you. So please come on over to my Instagram @chloebrotheridge and come and send me a direct message or post a comment on the image for this podcast. And if you enjoyed this blog or you’ve got a friend who struggles with this and you think that they really need this in their lives, please do share this with a friend.

And just a reminder that in my latest book, Brave New Girl, I talk a lot about imposter syndrome. I share more stories and examples and more tips and I’m also talking about a lot of other topics that are very much related to this around confidence, fear of failure, speaking up and feeling that you are good enough and valuing yourself. So if post resonates with you, I think that you’re going to love Brave New Girl. So definitely check it out.

So thank you so much for reading. I’m sending you loads of love and I hope you have a brilliant week. 

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