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An Impostor in my Own Mind

I feel like at some point in their professional lives, nearly every woman feels the Imposter Syndrome kick in. For those of you unfamiliar with this phenomenon, Impostor Syndrome—the idea that you’ve only succeeded due to luck, and not because of your talent or qualifications, along with an internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”—was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. As an example, it may kick in when you’re given a promotion and you second guess if you deserve it, or when you’re running a project or meeting and feel like everyone must know that you don’t know what you’re doing. Research suggests that 70% of people experience these impostor feelings at some point in their life1, but it appears to be particularly prevalent and intense among a select sample of high achieving women2.

The interesting thing is that in my experience, while you might be feeling like a fraud in your own mind, most people have no idea you’re anything but confident.  Twice recently I was having conversations with former coworkers, senior executives themselves, and they were shocked as I spoke about my own insecurities.  It was surprising to me, given how I had been feeling in those roles, to hear them use words like “confident”, “self-assured” and even “intimidating” to describe me. (Not sure I like that some people may find me intimidating – I’m guessing that’s just the way some of us introverts are interpreted&nbsp at times!)

When you realize that other people whose opinions you respect have a completely different view of you than you have of yourself, you need to give that some credence.

I haven’t found too many resources focused on Impostor Syndrome, but I recently stumbled on a book called “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It” by Valerie Young, Ed.D. This is one of those books that I felt was written personally for me. As I read it, I consistently found myself saying “Oh my gosh! It’s not just me?!” When I’m deep in the throes of those feelings of self-doubt, it’s hard to imagine that anyone else can relate. It was empowering to read stories and scenarios that matched my own life, validating that I’m far from unique in my experience.

For me, chipping away at the intensity of Impostor Syndrome has been a long process. At times I have felt it kick in more strongly, and sometimes I’ve been able to keep it at bay. My poor husband is usually the one talking me off the cliff of self-doubt when I’m ready to give up or run the other way. But reading books like this one and talking about it with peers and friends has helped significantly. When you realize that other people whose opinions you respect have a completely different view of you than you have of yourself, you need to give that some credence. Mentors have also been a huge help to me. Having someone much more senior than me tell me about their own battles with feeling like a fraud helped to normalize my own experience, reminding me that others who have felt this way have managed to succeed despite Impostor Syndrome. Over 1/3 of Ceresa mentees are working on confidence and addressing Impostor Syndrome as one of their top goals for our mentoring and leadership development program.

Do you battle Impostor Syndrome as well? How does it manifest for you, and what tools have you found to help battle it?

References: 

  1. http://time.com/5312483/how-to-deal-with-impostor-syndrome/
  2. http://www.paulineroseclance.com/pdf/ip_high_achieving_women.pdf

Beth Yehaskel is Ceresa’s Chief Customer Officer, and is responsible for leading sales, business development and customer success. She has more than 20 years of experience scaling rapidly growing companies and building customer service teams, and previously held VP roles at Spredfast and Jungle Scout. She’s a jigsaw puzzle enthusiast, former Peace Corps volunteer, and a Ceresa mentor herself!

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