Updated: Dec 31, 2020
It wasn’t until recently that I heard of the term “Imposter Syndrome”. After reading this description from the Harvard Business Review article – "Overcoming Imposter Syndrome", I realized this is exactly how I view myself. I was both happy and amazed there is a name for this way of thinking.
“Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. 'Imposters' suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.
All my life I have battled with feelings of not being good enough and the fear of embarrassment. Although I have come to realize it is not in my nature to let these feelings hold me back entirely, it has certainly caused me to hesitate in moving forward. In fact, I have been known to live in a place of self-doubt, worry and anxiousness for an extended period of time.
I decided to research who else struggles with this issue and found that many celebrities also suffer from Imposter Syndrome. People like Sheryl Sandberg, Tom Hanks, Lady Gaga, Emma Watson, Natalie Portman, Padma Lakshmi, Jodie Foster, Harold Schultz and Helen Mirren, to name just a few whom I admire for their tenacity. I was blown away and no longer felt entirely alone. I thought if these remarkably successful people struggle with this mindset, maybe I’m not so different.
“Most of your healing journey will be about unlearning the patterns of self-protection that once kept you safe.” Unknown
After a great deal of reflection over the last several months, I have come to realize that it wasn’t one specific event that caused the development of feeling like an imposter, but a number of events over the course of my life. In fact, as is the case for the majority of our personality trait development, these feelings of “not being good enough” started to develop from a very young age. Looking back at my younger years, I considered myself for lack of a better word “awkward” and I was never able to feel as though I fit in or feel a sense of belonging. I didn’t have female friends close to my age until I was in my teens and by that point my social development was at best immature, naïve and from a male dominated perspective. Being the only girl, with 2 brothers and 4 over protective, relentlessly teasing uncles within 12 years of my age, I believe my points of reference were unlike most female children my age. Moreover, add in a low-income family status, buck teeth and lack of style or fashion, it is now very clear to me how this syndrome developed. In fact my favorite nursery story, which I connected with most and read far too often was the Ugly Duckling.
Fast forward to my pre-teen years, my family’s economic standing improved and we moved to a more affluent neighborhood. I had to move schools in January, half way through the grade 7 school year and it was during this time I realized what bullying is as I was on the receiving end a great deal. Kids can be very cruel. Remember I mentioned that I did not know what fashion or style was, I didn’t do my hair, wear makeup or have fancy brand name clothes. Going outside for recess was actual torture for me. I would do whatever I could to stay inside and when I was forced to go outside for recess I would try to hide in the bathroom. I am very grateful that when I went to high school, I met and connected with a great group of friends. In fact, there are 6 of us who remain in close contact to this day and I consider these ladies my dearest friends and advocates.
So you may be asking why I share this back history with you. My goal is to not only support women to overcome their imposter syndrome, but to help mitigate any damaging perceptions from developing in our female youth early on in life. By understanding how we develop our personality and the framework surrounding our experiences, we can begin to acknowledge and reframe the beliefs and perspectives we hold of ourselves. How we view ourselves impacts all aspects of our lives, including our ability to interact with others.
It took me many years to acknowledge the feelings and fear that attempt to hinder my success. I first had to identify and acknowledge what I was dealing with, in order to develop ways to overcome these feelings and the fear associated with them when they surface. Acknowledgement was necessary in order to help grow my self-awareness and recognize the impact these aspects were having in my life and relationships. Around the same time my self-discovery and awareness took place my daughter was approaching her teenage years and I began to notice in her many similar habits I held during my adolescent years including a negative self-perception. I realized that I did not intend for my past personal struggles and conflicts to be projected onto her. However, as parents we tend to unconsciously teach what we have been taught and experienced, whether it is good or bad.
“While you can’t change how your parents were raised; you can change how your children are raised.” Dr. Loretta Standley
When my daughter was 8 years old I recognized that she was entering the awkward pre-teen phase, similar to my adolescent experience, which had caused me to build a negative perception of myself that I struggle with to this day. I also recognized the signs when she stopped eating, as I had suffered from anorexia in my teens, and immediately took action to help her understand the ramifications of her actions. I shared with her the damage I did to my immune system during that time and how I still live with the consequences. In my adulthood, I understand now that being anorexic is a mindset disorder built on an unhealthy relationship with food, which I didn’t want my daughter to struggle with for many years as I have. I also did not want my daughter to experience this challenge on her own when I could teach her a different approach and ways to overcome her own anxiety and fears. Working with my daughter to help her build a confident and positive self-image has paid off. Watching her become a strong independent, capable woman is a true gift and a testament that the cycle can be broken when we start paying attention early on in a child's development. When my daughter turned 15, my father made a comment that she is just like me, but as the grown woman I am now (at the time I was 43). His recognition of the confidence I was ensuring she built in herself was the greatest compliment to me!
"A mother who radiates self-acceptance actually vaccinates her daughter against low self-esteem" Naomi Wolf
I consider myself a strong woman who has accomplished a great deal thus far in life. Although it has been a constant struggle to acknowledge my accomplishments and believe in my own value. I am the first to admit I am not perfect, but I am also learning to be very proud of my progress. I recognize the importance and willingness to continually learn and grow to become a more confident person with the ability to mitigate internal judgement and fear. I have learned that I am capable of improvement to overcome whatever obstacle or barrier that is set before me. My approach has transformed from being overly self-critical to having more self-compassion. I have learned the importance of self-care and creating intention towards future improvement for greater success while celebrating achievements.
Living with an imposter syndrome mindset, it never completely goes away. When a trigger pulls me back into the negative feelings from my past mindset, I sometimes think - I’m not good enough; I’m not enough; or there are so many other people smarter than me and my opinion doesn’t matter. To overcome this thinking when it happens, I have developed techniques to identify, manage and reframe my outlook and not let this belief hold me back. A couple of strategies that support reframing when a negative mindset surfaces is learning to identify the feelings, be more forgiving of myself and focus on what this experience is trying to teach me. I have also come to realize that perfection is a myth and doesn’t exist for more than a single moment in time because everything in life is constantly changing. What one person defines as perfection may not be the same for another. Instead, I have learned to strive for excellence, knowing I have attempted to perform to the very best of my ability at that moment in time. Understanding that the process of learning through this journey of life is continuous and the ultimate goal.
"I am enough" Brené Brown
Every person will face extreme amounts of stress at some point in life. In fact, when COVID struck, I was laid off from work within a week of the pandemic being declared. I was devastated as my assistant and I were the first employees to be laid off and I had been working for the company for over 23 years. My job had become my identity during this time investment. A couple of months later I was let go from the company, which followed shortly with my son being severely injured while going through the Green Beret program in the U.S. Army. All of these sudden and emotional situations caused my confidence to be destroyed and my Imposter Syndrome resurfaced with a vengeance. There were days I struggled to get out of bed and interact with my own family.
It wasn’t until my adult children, who I am so proud of, conveyed the same phrases I have encouraged them with over the years when they were down or struggling. It was through their encouragement they reminded me that I do have the emotional resilience to make it through this “bump” in the road of life and I know I will be stronger for surviving it!
“Life is a journey with problems to solve and lessons to learn but most of all experiences to enjoy.” Unknown
The longer a person has lived with a certain belief, approach, or way of thinking, the more difficult it will be for them to reframe their mindset. Especially in times of stress when we tend to revert back to the behavior that has been reinforced for a very long time and has become a part of our unconscious thinking. Change of this significance takes time and is a continuous process with practice. The good news is change is achievable. I continue to live with an imposter syndrome belief and have learned to recognize it quicker when it resurfaces, as well as, turn it off quicker. This is where coaching and accountability to reframe our mindset really does help.
It was with this growth mindset intention I decided to pursue my dream in opening a leadership coaching, consulting and training business. I am following what I believe to be my purpose in life - to help support others, especially women, face their fears, build their confidence and let go of the internal judgement that holds them back from pursuing their own dreams.
"I do not fix problems. I fix my thinking. Then problems fix themselves." Louisa Hay
If this article resonates with you and you would like to learn more about working with a coach to support a growth mindset, please check out my website at: www.lmcleadcoach.com and submit a request to connect. I would love to hear from you!
Written by: Lisa Caldwell