It is estimated that 70% of people will experience the feeling of being an imposter at some point in their lives (Gravois, 2007). However, it seems that this feeling is quite prevalent in the learning and development community. Even in a recent TLDChat with Kristin Anthony, she mentioned her struggle with imposter phenomenon and her resources to gain the necessary knowledge to overcome her feelings.
I wonder, as the common phrase denotes, is ‘knowledge as power’ enough to change our fraudulent feelings. Or if we require an even deeper delve into the foundation of these feelings to combat them.
The ‘Imposter Phenomenon’
The initial ‘imposter phenomenon was defined from Clance (1985) and suggested an internal feeling of ‘intellectual phoniness.’ This feeling of phoniness also encompassed those that could not internalize their success and believed their success was the result of luck rather than their own abilities (Alexander and Sakulka, 2011). This feeling also inhabits itself within a cycle where a person begins with high levels of self-doubt and anxiety.
Even further, those who feel like imposters usually want to be the best yet find themselves to be closer to ‘typical’ when compared with the larger masses, this pushes them to disregard their talents. As you can guess, they set almost impossible standards for themselves and are disappointed when they are unable to fulfill these goals. For them achievement-based tasks come with a large amount of anxiety, as they fear their own failure, so they over-work to reduce the risk of failing. Finally, those with the imposter phenomenon are not bound with false modesty, but rather they are unable to accept praise as valid and they even feel guilty about their own success in relation to their peers (Alexander and Sakulka, 2011).
Does this sound familiar? Maybe not in the extreme, but myself and quite of few of my friends have discussed these same feelings. I would expect that we may be part of that 7 out of 10 who feel these feelings at one point in our lives. Even if you don’t feel the same in your current role or place in life (good job!), it’s likely that there are a few of these feelings floating around your friends or colleagues.
How to help
Dealing with feelings of being a ‘fraud’ can be very difficult and even, at times, paralyzing. These imposter feelings are not going to go away overnight nor will others be able to push them away for us. Combating these feelings will take time, self-reflection and a little bit of courage.
Recognize your own value
It took until Amy Cuddy, described in an online excerpt of her book Presence, heard similar feelings from one of her students at Harvard. As her student mentioned the feelings she was having, which were so like Cuddy’s own past feelings, she began to recognize that this student really shouldn’t be feeling that way (that this student was not an imposter at all). Cuddy then realized that she no longer felt the same way either. It took Cuddy recognizing the value in her student to be able to recognize her own value.
To combat the imposter phenomenon, we can work with those at lower levels of knowledge than us. This assistance to others in their journey helps us recognize our own journey and progress. We’re able to see very visibly how far we’ve come. We will ultimately see the value that we can impart to others and work to recognize that value in ourselves.
Change your focus
Just as Kristin Anthony highlighted in her blog Unpacking my desire to speak she had to change her thinking. Rather than working to make a name for herself she needed to focus on her own authenticity. She chose to focus on sharing her process and work on her own inspiring projects with the intention to inspire others. Changing her focus allowed her recognize her value in sharing and being an authentic voice in learning and development.
Changing our focus to sharing and authenticity rather than achievement will gradually remove the imposter feelings. As the value will shift towards the steps in the process rather than the success itself. This success won’t have so much power to cause anxiety surrounding failure because value is gained through the journey.
Talk to others
Talking to others, learning from their stories and hearing about their failures will provide the insight that ‘you’re not alone.’ Just as I was battling my internal feelings of fraudulence (lack of experience) within Learning and Development, I turned to sources of conversation with others to help change my focus. I used TLDChat, reading blogs from peers in the industry and other social collaboration mediums to learn from my peers’ experiences. This helped me to hone what steps to success I was taking and make sure my goals weren’t impossible.
We can all claim that we know that we’re not alone, but internally knowing this and hearing examples from other peers and even mentors can hit closer to home. We can hear, first-hand, that no one’s perfect and that there are different measures of success.Success can then be shaped to us, individually.
Combating our internal ‘phoniness’
Combating our internal ‘phoniness’ will require a continuous change in focus, practice in recognizing your value and talking to others. These tasks will take time and courage to really work towards, but will pay off in the satisfaction that you’re not a fraud and have quite a bit to offer. Plus, you’ll get to know a lot of other people who may have had your same thoughts and you can see their journey through it. As Tina Fey once said in an interview with The Independent:
“Ah, the impostor syndrome!? The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania, and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh god, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud. Seriously, I’ve just realized that almost everyone is a fraud, so I try not to feel too bad about it.”
Alexander, J., & Sakulka, J. (2011). The Imposter Phenomenon. International Journal of Behavioral Science, 5(1), 73-92. Retrieved from http://bsris.swu.ac.th/journal/i6/6-6_Jaruwan_73-92.pdf
Anthony, K. (2015, March 09). Unpacking my desire to speak [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.knanthony.com/blog/unpacking-my-desire-to-speak/?utm_content=buffera4496&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
Cuddy, A. (2016, March 03). I Don’t Deserve to be Here: Presence and the Impostor Syndrome. Retrieved September 24, 2017, from https://leanin.org/news-inspiration/overcoming-imposter-syndrome-to-reveal-your-presence/
Gravois, J. (2007, November 09). You’re Not Fooling Anyone. Retrieved September 24, 2017, from http://www.chronicle.com/article/Youre-Not-Fooling-Anyone/28069
Tina Fey – From spoofer to movie stardom. (2010, March 18). Retrieved September 25, 2017, from http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/tina-fey-from-spoofer-to-movie-stardom-1923552.html
Weir, K. (n.d.). Feel like a fraud? Retrieved September 24, 2017, from http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx