I’m not worthy. I’m not qualified enough to do this. Not only that, but I’m a poser. This is a fear that at times strikes many of us. This is the impostor syndrome: feeling deeply insecure on the inside, wondering who you are to do what you’re about to do.
Impostor syndrome is one of the most common feelings when you’re trying to do things you’ve never done, or simply steeping out your comfort zone.
When some years ago I left my job and started working as a coach, I felt this. At times, during these years facing new challenges, working with more experienced colleagues or acquiring new skills, I felt this. The first time I lectured at the university, I felt this.
And I’m not alone. Research shows 70% of people feel this way one time or another. It’s not the lack of self-confidence in general. It’s more that in specific situations, many people tend to have doubts about themselves.
There are some patterns found in people who experience impostor feelings. One of them is perfectionism, in which I declare myself guilty. Set extremely high expectations for ourselves and looking for failures, even if we meet 99% of our goals, can make us question our competence.
Own internal pressures, to avoid failure or judgement, can cause perfectionism. And there is also a social component due to, for example, professional competition. Not everything is bad, though. Healthy perfectionism, the aim of doing better when we fail, could be self-motivating and also the door to overcome problems and achieve success.
Adam Grant in his book “Think again” explains how to use impostor syndrome to your advantage, and stop aiming for perfectionism, embracing mastery instead.
Mastering something is a journey, not a destination. It means becoming an everlasting student. In this journey, it’s perfectly right not to know everything and use that energy to look for what is needed. This can make us question what we are doing and, eventually, change our strategy.
Fake it till you make it
When we feel powerless and insecure, our non verbals show it. We tend to close up and wrap ourselves. The opposite is also true. When we feel powered, we tend to open up. Therefore, with our non verbals we are communicating a lot of how we feel, and also making other people think or feel about us.
But, as Amy Cuddy said, the real question is: do our non verbals govern how we think and feel about us? The answer is yes.
We can use our body to hack our minds, pretending to be powered and secure. Opening up, looking above, smiling have the power of making us feel more secure when we think we shouldn’t be doing something. Thus, these gestures can give us strength to start doing things we’re afraid of. And this has a curious effect: the more we do, the less we doubt.
Many years ago, when I was going through my coach certification program, I received this advice from one of my favourites coaching trainers:
Fake it till make it. There could be really difficult clients, and, at the beginning, this can make you doubt about your skills for coaching them. It’s OK. Just pretend you can do it. Breathe deeply, unwrap yourself and focus on them.
It worked for me.
So, next time you have this impostor syndrome, take a deep breath and just pretend you can do it.