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  • Writer's pictureJon Mechan

About Imposter Syndrome

Many leaders suffer from Imposter Syndrome.

It is a frequent problem among many people during their careers, with one survey suggesting more than 80% have experienced it at some point.

Today I'm going to talk about a couple of different philosophies on the subject, and how you can work with and overcome it.

Firstly, what is imposter syndrome? There are a lot of definitions out there, and the one that resonates most with me is "the idea that you've only succeeded due to luck, and not because of your talent or abilities".

Over the past couple of years I've worked with two thought leaders that have very different philosophies on the subject.


Playing a Big Game

Rich Litvin believes that imposter syndrome is a good thing, as it shows that you're dreaming big and playing at a level that stretches you. He says that it's something you should "get good at" and is a clue that you're heading in the right direction.

In fact he says that "if you don't feel imposter syndrome, you're probably not playing big enough".

My take on this is that while it might work for some people, I feel that it lacks nuance and empathy. That said, it is a good positive framing of something that is usually negative, and there's something to be said for stretching yourself, and making sure you don't sit in your comfort zone all the time.

Gap Between Capability and Self-Image

Robert Ellis describes imposter syndrome as the gap between capabilities and self-image. It can be easier for other people to see what you've done than for you to see it yourself.

Often there's a lag between what we're doing and our self-image. How many times have you seen someone achieve something and state "I can't quite believe I did that". It takes some time for our image of ourselves to re-program and catch up with where we're at.

This perspective resonates more for me, and it's what I see most often in myself and my clients.


Tackling Imposter Syndrome

It is possible for both of the above ideas to be true at the same time, and you might find yourself experiencing either or both with different intensities at different times.

So what can you do about it?

Well, given a desire to adjust your self-image, you can speed up this process by having a regular habit of self-reflection. If you write down your achievements at the end of every week, it gives your brain a chance to catch up and reinforce where you currently are.

You can extend this technique by gathering evidence - look at the work you've done, look at the goals you've reached, save good feedback emails, testimonials and recommendations, and ask for direct feedback from a relevant audience.

I don't believe that this is an overnight solution though - it takes time for us to adjust to our new reality, and that's okay.

What do you think? Do either of these perspectives resonate with you? If you're experiencing imposter syndrome now, what will you try?

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