Feel like a fraud? Part 2

What makes certain successful people feel like imposters? Why are they weighed down by persistent self-doubt and fear of being exposed as frauds?

The imposter syndrome is real and complex. Although surprising to many, some research indicates that around 75 per cent of highly successful professionals believe they’re imposters. Women and men tend to be equally affected.

In Part 1 of this blog we defined the syndrome and its causes. This final part explores how to begin to deal with it.

Kim Vella, an accredited executive coach with a PhD in Sociology, says seeking support from a professional who can help talk matters through and reposition thinking is important.

‘As a coach, I partner with clients to teach them how to recognise imposterism, name the feelings for what they are and develop the skills to remind themselves that this isn’t reality, just their perception. We concentrate on how to internalise success. We use hard evidence to break down their assumptions.’

Working with an executive coach or attending a course targeting EQ (emotional quotient) helps those with imposterism avoid negative consequences of the phenomenon. This includes:

  • adopting strategies that may achieve temporary relief but also exacerbate the problem
  • avoiding developing a career plan
  • limiting their potential
  • experiencing episodes of imposterism at various stages of their careers.

Take Sue. She works in a senior role in government and her position requires a high degree of decision-making responsibility and authority. Kim worked with Sue to methodically and slowly show Sue that she can (and should) take credit for her true success.

Kim asked Sue questions designed to break down her imposterism and shed light. Some questions Kim asked were:

  1. How did you get your degree?
  2. Did you know the Chancellor at the university who awarded you your degree?
  3. How did you get your job?
  4. Did you apply through a competitive process?
  5. Did you know those on the selection committee?

Sue explained to Kim that she studied for six years. She received her PhD after two external assessors and a panel of academic experts at the university unanimously decided she had earned it. Sue then explained she competed nationally for her position against 250 candidates and was the top choice of the independent recruitment panel because she scored highest on all attributes.

Next Kim began summarising Sue’s situation: ‘So you were bestowed your PhD after six long years of study. You were granted your degree by a Chancellor you’ve never met based on the recommendation of external assessors and a panel of academics you’ve never met. And the recommendation was made because you exceeded on every front.’

Kim then continued: ‘You applied for your current position after competing against a whopping 250 candidates from across Australia you’ve never met. And you were selected on merit by a panel of experts who unanimously decided you were better than anyone else who applied.’

Sue soon realises her fears are unfounded and that she has earned success in her own right. Although she realises that while her initial discussion with Kim is a first step and not the whole solution, she realises she’ll be free to relax, and start thinking about developing a career plan for career.

Sue’s goals were to lead a healthier life, reap the benefits of her hard-earned efforts and enjoy a long and productive career.

After an initial consultation, like the one Sue had with Kim, an executive coach will support wellbeing and potential professional advancement by:

  1. normalising client concerns about imposterism, letting them know the phenomenon is are widely shared and that they are not alone in this
  2. supporting clients to recognise the signs of their imposter tendencies (for example, perfectionism, physical and emotional exhaustion, over-work, blaming themselves when things go wrong)
  3. engaging clients in a developmental conversation and supporting them to realistically assess their developmental needs (including through feedback from others)
  4. identifying imposterism triggers and supporting clients to develop a more resilient approach to coping (one that doesn’t rob them of their physical and emotional energy).

Do you have feelings of imposterism or now someone who has? Book a free 30-minute consultation with Dr Kim Vella and explore how coaching can help reverse the tide. You can also follow Kim on Facebook and LinkedIn for alerts to new and informative blogs on career issues.

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