Imposter syndrome issues? Try resilience-based career coaching

Most of us have, at some point in our lives, experienced that destabilising feeling that we don’t deserve the position we’re in. It might manifest as a constant anxiety around making mistakes or looking stupid - an almost unbearable pressure not to fail. Or you might find yourself always waiting for that moment when someone taps you on the shoulder and says “you know you shouldn’t be here right?”.

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My experience with career coaching in my resilience practice has shown me that this is something both men and women can experience. But there is no doubt that our society makes this even more likely if you’re a woman in the workplace today. 


Where does this feeling of being an imposter come from?

‘Imposter syndrome’ is the label that has been given to this feeling of not belonging or not fitting it. It can infiltrate your perspective due to your own feelings about yourself and tends to be heavily influenced by what you see in your working environment and the wider world. One key thing to note is that it rarely has any basis in what you’re actually capable of. The career coaching process frequently reveals that some of the most talented people in the room feel like they are a fraud. So what is actually going on inside when this happens? Here’s one academic definition:

Imposter syndrome is: “feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, and fraudulence despite objective success. It’s hard to internalise success and genuinely hold the belief that you’re competent and capable.”

If that feels familiar to you then you’re in good company as a lot of people we’d view as objectively successful have said they struggled with it, from Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, to actor Tom Hanks, songstress Lady Gaga and the brilliant Tina Fey. Just to be clear, this is not the occasional feeling of self-doubt that most humans experience from time to time. It’s something much deeper, much more ingrained and which feels like the loudest voice in your head. These are some of the signs that it might be affecting you:

  • You often attribute any success you have to luck or winging it. 
  • You may not feel happiness when you’re successful - maybe all you feel is relief that something didn’t go wrong or even distress because success feels hard. 
  • It’s a habit to seek validation of your professional life from others in positions of power like your boss. As far as you’re concerned, it’s them, not you, who determines whether you're successful. 
  • Self-doubt isn’t an occasional experience but something that rears its head in every part of your professional life - and always has. 
  • You can never shake off the feeling that you’re always about to be found out as a “fraud.”
  • Generalised anxiety is a reality for you, especially when it comes to work.

Resilience-based career coaching tips for dealing with imposter syndrome

As you can see from some of the (very) famous people who have struggled with imposter syndrome, simply experiencing it isn't the end of the story. However, it’s not something that simply goes away. If you don’t tackle it - most people achieve this with coaching or some type of therapy - then you will hold yourself back and cap your success and potential because you feel like you don’t deserve more. No one wants to look back at life with that nagging feeling that you could have done more, gone further, taken that risk if you’d had the confidence and self-belief to do so. Maybe that’s why you’re here. 

Imposter syndrome can be something we subconsciously deploy in ourselves as a protective mechanism (the smaller we make ourselves, the less vulnerable we are) - or feeding it may be someone else’ tool of oppression. Either way, it doesn’t have to keep you small. There are steps you can take to start to tackle it.

Accept your feelings as valid

One of the reasons imposter syndrome thrives is because it can perpetuate a continuous cycle of shame. You feel like a fraud, you feel ashamed that you feel like a fraud, you don’t tell anyone because then they might also think you’re a fraud, the feeling gnaws deeper and so the thoughts continue to spiral. It can be a huge relief just to admit that this is how you feel right now. Feelings are temporary and will pass. But trying to ignore or suppress them will only make them stronger.

Acknowledge the reality you’re in

Imposter syndrome isn’t just generated by our own internal view of ourselves - it’s often being reflected to us by the world around us. For example, we are more likely to experience feeling like an imposter if there aren’t many examples of people who look like us and share our background who are doing really well in the field we’re in.

This is one of the reasons why women - and especially women of colour - tend to feel imposter syndrome more often and more acutely. A lot of imposter syndrome is generated from the messaging and social conditioning we get from the world around - don’t dismiss the insidious, but powerful, effect that this may be having on you.

Interrogate your imposter syndrome

If you feel like a fraud at work then you might get stuck in a spiral of freezing and fear. Literally just going through your day with that sick feeling that you don’t belong and not really being able to do anything about it. If you don’t turn and face this feeling - and find out more about it - the likelihood is that it will just stay there. Powerful questioning is a key tool in coaching - sometimes the right question is all you need to open up a new perspective. These are some of the questions you can start to think about:

  • What is your earliest memory of self-doubt?
  • What do you think is going to happen if you’re exposed as ‘a fraud.’ Often if we follow this train of thought through to a conclusion there is less to be afraid of than we feared.
  • What compliments do you find it difficult to accept? This can be a clear sign of the places you most feel your imposter syndrome.
  • What accomplishments in your life have made you feel most like an imposter and do you still feel like that about them now?

Celebrate the small wins when they happen

When you have imposter syndrome you’re not in the habit of validating your own success. Instead you wait for that validation from others - sadly, sometimes it never comes. By celebrating all your wins, including the small ones, you get used to recognising your success for yourself and you’re able to start generating your own internal validation, which is incredibly empowering. 

Question your habitual responses

We are our own worst enemies when it comes to imposter syndrome - especially if the inner critic is strong and was fed at an early age by a critical parent. If you feel your own inner narrative kicking in to undermine you in your career, check yourself and ask “is that actually true or am I just making a negative assumption?”.

Imposter syndrome thrives on negative assumptions so if you can start identifying these you can stop letting them influence your reality. Get used to checking your inner narratives for assumptions - and putting aside anything you don’t know to be true.

At the end of the day, imposter syndrome is one type of habitual thinking that we have learned to listen to more than another. It’s not the truth - it’s behaviour we can change. And it doesn’t have to hold you back for a minute longer. 

Resilience-based career coaching helps you to restructure your mindset and move on from negative, imposter-driven narratives, to get clear on what you want from your career and take steps to make that happen. It’s a tool you can use to be more adaptable and optimistic professionally, no matter what you do. To find out more, get in touch to book a free intro call.

Life Coach Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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London, N1
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Written by Alex Pett
London, N1

Alex is an ICF trained and NLP certified coach focused on helping people to deepen their resources to adapt and bounce back - and go on to thrive. She helps clients build confidence and self-belief, recover from burnout, develop self-assurance, intuitive connection and move beyond limiting beliefs. Clients achieve tangible change in 6-9 sessions.

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