Lately, I’ve found myself talking often to folk about imposter syndrome. I’ve been feeling it too. Don’t we all, from time to time?
If you are new to the term, then it’s all about the fear of being exposed. Of being thought a fraud. Of not deserving to be where you are. It is the ‘what I am doing here, they are going to find me out any minute now’ brain tape. One that often plays when we need it the least.
It is debilitating. Confidence zapping.
If you follow my fitness blog, you will know that I have been studying to become a personal trainer. Never before have I felt imposter syndrome so keenly.
Imagine this. There are ten people on the course including me. Everyone else there is in the industry. Has a long history of fitness. They have done the event and got the t-shirt, and in a couple of cases were actually wearing it.
There were the two female body builders. The girl who had just left the army. The woman who was an established fell runner. A gymnast. A Pilates teacher. And me. I’m the least fit person in the room. Even at a size 10, I’m the biggest woman there by some distance. We start the first day with a detailed discussion about advanced weight techniques. And the tape starts to play. What exactly am I doing in this room, with these people? In a minute it will be my turn in the circle to answer a question and then everyone will know that I don’t belong here.
It didn’t get any better. Our afternoon topic? Learning how to take body fat measurements. On each other. The old school way, with measuring tools. Which involved stripping down to your sports bra and taking hold of each other’s fat. If there is one thing guaranteed to kill your confidence it is standing next to a girl who has12% body fat whilst other people practice poking at yours.
And on and on the tape played.
An urge to run. Somewhere, anywhere.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I have talked to many people who find imposter syndrome crippling. Because it gets in the way. Because when I told someone this story they were surprised to find that I felt this way too.
From what I have read about imposter syndrome, many of those who suffer from it don’t realise that it’s not just them. That it is a thing, not just their confidence and secret fears.
You don’t know when imposter syndrome is going to show up. I can stand in front of a room of several hundred people and talk about HR. I can write a book and a blog and put my thoughts out into the world for anyone to see. But in another context, in another place, I had to ride the wave of panic. I had to persuade myself that I was okay. That I wasn’t suddenly going to get found out or exposed or kicked out or have an epic fail.
We can talk about leaning in or showing up with presence. We can talk about faking it till we make it.
But these are not always easy things to do. Not for everyone.
I’m just for recognising about it and talking about it. As leaders, we can share when we have felt it and let others know that it isn’t all that unusual and it isn’t just them. By recognising imposter syndrome for what it is, we can start to control it.
We can tell the imposter within that this time, we are not listening.