Imposter syndrome, which was first recorded in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, plagues between 25-30% of high achieving adults and around 70% of all people will experience feelings of the syndrome at least once in their lifetime. In other words, it is no stranger to many and has remained a hot topic for decades for good reason.
Imposter syndrome is defined as:
“the persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills”.
Those struggling with imposter syndrome often think that people have an exaggerated view of their abilities, have a fear of being exposed as a fraud, and tend to downplay their achievements. Despite objective evidence of their success, they have a difficult time internalizing their accomplishments or acknowledging their role in their success. Oftentimes, this is because they are struggling to appreciate their own, unique identity.
To understand imposter syndrome, it’s a good idea to know where those insecurities came from. Here’s my story:
I grew up the baby in a family of four, having just one sibling who was 20 months older and one grade level above me. We had a neighbor who became our de facto bonus brother who was the same age as my big brother. Early in our elementary school years, they were both inducted into the Gifted & Talented program. I, sadly, was not. As upperclassmen, they took all Advanced Placement classes while I took their standard course counterparts. They got crazy high SAT scores while mine were just average. These guys were brilliant, and I mean brilliant, with one eventually ending up as an actual rocket scientist. I mean, come on! Needless to say, I very much grew up in their shadow, identifying them the “smart ones” and quickly identified myself as “not good enough”. Hence the start of imposter syndrome in my life.
After college graduation, I entered a highly competitive career field. Many of my colleagues were male, I was female. Many were taller than 6’ while I stood a mere 5’2”. Most previously played sports at a high level, while I did not. It will probably come as no surprise to you, dear readers, that good ole imposter syndrome quickly made my acquaintance there too. Since my core identity did not match theirs, I questioned whether or not I could find the same success.
Imposter syndrome is the dilemma between who we are and who we are perceived to be.
You see, the syndrome wouldn’t even exist if we weren’t worried about the thoughts and expectations of others.
As the saying goes, other people’s opinion of you is none of your business.
And this is where the fraud alerts should sound off – someone else is trying to steal your identity. Don’t let them!
You were not created to chase other people’s excellence or expectations of you. You were created to be you, to pursue the greatness that was uniquely destined for you. The greatest antidote for imposter syndrome is self-awareness; self-awareness that allows you to truly know and appreciate what separates you from others. Careful evaluation of your own thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and unique strengths enables you to identify your true identity and lean into your greatest potential rather than evaluating those around you.
It took me nearly 30 years to appreciate this. After years of striving and perpetually chasing achievement in an effort to prove I was indeed enough, I realized that no amount of achievement would accomplish this. You see, it was never about what I could achieve. It was always about uncovering my true self so I could positively impact and influence others in a meaningful way. There is no greater sense of belonging than this, which allows you to fulfill a higher purpose.
“Belonging is being part of something bigger than yourself. But it's also the courage to stand alone, and to belong to yourself above all else.” – Dr. Brené Brown
It’s all about the journey.
Your greatest vulnerability almost always leads to your greatest superpower.
For me, the feeling of inadequacy created a ferocious drive that has served me very well and allowed me to provide for my family. Once I appreciated how to channel that drive in a way that served others, I found the inner peace and worth I was always searching for. You too can check the imposter syndrome once and for all by discovering your true belonging.
To kickstart your journey, consider the questions below to help inform who you are, what makes you stand out, and how to articulate your unique value proposition to the world.
Discovering your IT-factor as a leader:
When do you feel most alive? What are you doing?
Outline of defining moments in your life. How did they shape and influence who you are today?
What’s the story you’re telling yourself? The inner critic or “gremlin”?
How does Step 3 influence Step 4?
How did this ‘gremlin’ serve you by feeding your strengths?
What do you want to be remembered for?
Remember, the journey of self-discovery is ongoing. Embracing your true identity and discovering your unique value proposition will help you conquer imposter syndrome and find a sense of belonging.
Audrey LaMere is The Confidence Coach at WeInspireWe. Her desire is for every person to recognize and harness the unique brilliance within themselves – owning their identity. Audrey is passionate about raising the consciousness of every leader at home, in the community, and in the boardroom so they can effectively raise themselves up to great leadership and can raise those around them up too. Audrey’s personal mission is to create a ripple effect that impacts the world - enabling greater connection, joy, purpose, and impact globally!
If you’re ready to know who you are, confidently step into your great leadership, and make that lasting impact, then schedule a free coaching session with Audrey today.