The imposter within

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.

6 thoughts on “The imposter within

  1. Interesting Gem. It made me think of a story I saw on the BBC website yesterday. It was about an actor who went to LA but didn’t make it. He came back and became a ‘hot yoga’ teacher. What he said about the experience of being in auditions struck me. He said: “everyone was a similar but better version of me”. That chimed with your thoughts on feeling like an ‘intruder’. Best wishes

  2. Recognise this well both in myself and in clients. There is a lot of goodness in understanding and naming it and knowing you are not alone. I’ve also noticed that it does not seem to be present when we are in flow or performing highly with ease. I have a working hypothesis that our feelings are a symptom of us a) not being in this state, and b) we are not receiving the fulfilling human contact & feedback that we need at this moment in time. The gap creates the false, doubtful feeling. Would be interested in your views on this.

    • Going back to my own experience on the PT course I can see elements of both. There was no flow for me – because I was so far out of my comfort zone but also because I wasn’t actually enjoying the learning experience. And on a practical level outside of the weekend workshops the course was delivered by e-learning, with a distinct lack of personal interaction and feedback. There were certainly times of feeling lost with the process and content.

  3. Hi Gem, we all experience occasional feelings of not being as good as anyone else. In our own heads we compare ourselves to others and find ourselves wanting. Why? Why do we constantly try to measure ourselves against other people – or the people we believe them to be? We need to recognise and accept that it’s normal to feel a bit unsure, normal to feel out of your depth from time to time. The question is, why do we lack self-confidence and what can we do about it?

    There’s discussion about how social media (everyone’s happy and successful on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, yes?) is helping to create FOMO and I’m pretty sure that it’s also making us a bit unhappy, a bit less confident in ourselves – whether consciously or unconsciously – because we imagine that everyone else is thinner, smarter, richer, funnier, more loved, more talented and more successful (whatever that means!) than we are. In our heads.

    And so what if there really is someone with more experience, knowledge or success in the room sometimes? That’s normal. Sit at their feet and learn from them. They’ll learn something from you too. We all bring something unique and irreplaceable to the party.

  4. Hey Gem, I talk about this a lot with other people as I experience more often than not it seems, but as David said, I don’t experience it when I am in flow or doing really well on a piece of work. Have you read the book ‘Imposter Syndrome’ by Harold Hillman? It is a fantastic book and filled with exercises. Richard lent it to me. I would recommend having a read, or at least passing it along to those who you talk about IS with and want to know a bit more about it.

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