I’m a Fraud! – recognising and dealing with Impostor Syndrome

Impostor Syndrome image - Hide by Lee ThatcherHave you ever worried that you’re not good enough? Are your achievements down to luck and you’re just waiting to be found out as a fraud? Have you recently been promoted, and are struggling to shake the feeling that you’re not operating at the required level?

If so, don’t worry. You are not alone. You might be suffering from Impostor Syndrome.

What is Impostor Syndrome?

The phenomenon called “Impostor Syndrome” was coined in 1978[1] and it is estimated that 70% of people will experience at least one episode of Impostor Phenomenon in their lives[2].

For sufferers this can result in working long hours, and putting down successes and achievements to luck or the kindness of others. In extreme cases it can become a vicious circle which can lead to burn-out and stress.

My personal experience with Impostor Syndrome

I experienced Impostor Syndrome when I was promoted internally to become Head of Transformation for TUI Destination Service. I went from having a small UK-based team to a large multidisciplinary team based across the globe. I was suddenly on the Senior Leadership Team with far more experienced colleagues (as I saw it).

For me, this manifested in fear that my boss (who had placed his trust in my ability) would be let down, and ultimately that I would be ‘discovered as a fraud’ in some horribly public manner.

Neither happened. You know why?

1) I was good enough – and had earned my opportunity
2) Most of my new peers felt the same way!

And this was a key learn. We’re all winging it to some degree.

Observations and ideas to work on

I’ve observed this in colleagues and members of my team. One example springs to mind of a recently-promoted colleague who made a mistake in their day-job. The impact of the mistake was very small, as they fixed the problem themselves prior to their key stakeholder noticing.

However the impact on confidence was large. Much larger than I would expect for an error so small. I was concerned that this confidence-knock could lead to my colleague pulling back and not getting the most out of the role.

We discussed the issue, and I was reminded of the Newly Promoted Oli back in 2015. It was a really good conversation, and it has given me a number of ideas on how to deal with this issue.

  1. Recognise that you are facing Impostor Syndrome
  2. Talk to someone you trust about your fears
  3. Itemise the issues you are most worried about – and come up with a plan for them
  4. Have a process to deal with flare ups – perhaps line someone up who can listen when you are struggling and provide an objective view

This is not an exhaustive list, and I’m sure there are people better-placed to provide insight on this issue. However I am a strong believer in sharing thoughts and experiences with the hope that this may help some who are struggling with the same issue.

So next time you are struggling with Impostor Syndrome – remember that you are not alone.

References

[1] – Clance, P.R.; Imes, S.A. (1978). “The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: dynamics and therapeutic intervention”. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice. 15 (3): 241–247. doi:10.1037/h0086006.

[2] Sakulku, Jaruwan (2011). “The Impostor Phenomenon” (PDF). International Journal of Behavioral Science. 6 (1): 73–92.

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