Wednesday 19 September 2018

Got Impostor Syndrome? You're in good company

The communicator: Gina London
The communicator: Gina London

Gina London

We can be too judgemental. Not of others. Let's save that topic for another column. But of ourselves. We are often our own worst critic. What do you do when, despite your university degrees, credentials or experience, you still don't believe you have what it takes? Do any of these statements sound like you?

"I don't feel like I'm a real CEO."

"I don't feel like I'm a real influencer."

"I don't feel like I'm a real PhD."

"I don't feel like I'm a real fill-in-the blank."

This feeling of self-doubt was first described as "Impostor Syndrome" or "Impostor Phenomenon" by Atlanta psychologist Dr Pauline Clance in the 1970s and it was initially considered to be limited to women. But it can happen to anyone.

More recent research suggests a full 70pc of us - who may seem successful by external measures - will go through a period of feeling internally like we don't really measure up.

Impostor syndrome usually strikes high achievers when they're already at the close to the top of their game and are presented with opportunities to stretch to go to the next level.

For instance, take one of my multi-national clients. When we first began working together, he was a global vice-president who knew he wanted more but wasn't sure where to begin.

I encouraged him to expand his profile to position himself as an industry thought leader by writing regular opinion articles in his area - on management, sales and motivation.

I also encouraged him to improve his current presentation content creation and delivery skills to better connect with audiences. His immediate response was to compare himself to others.

"There are plenty of other people out there who have more compelling stories than I do."

"So what?" I answered.

"They're not you and every person's story has captivating moments in it."

To help encourage you to push through limiting times of doubt, here are my top four ways to break through.

1 Remember you're not alone

Two separate quotes demonstrate this. Comedian Tina Fey writes in her book, Bossypants, "The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: 'I'm a fraud! Oh God, they're on to me! I'm a fraud!'

"So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud."

Or try this quote: "The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler." That one was from a certain Albert Einstein. So, lighten up, folks. You're in great company.

2 Say yes to that something you're afraid of

Just stepping up and saying yes may be half the battle. Set the whatever-it-is event date and start working backward. What do you need to do to prepare?

Many people who experience Impostor Syndrome are perfectionists. Don't let that thing you're not perfect at stop you from even trying.

It's a little like what they say about having a baby, "If you wait until everything is perfect, you'll never have one."

3 Get support

It's been over two years since I began working with that client I told you about. During that time, he has written a significant body of content and he regularly and effectively weaves relative personal stories into presentations to make his points better stick with target audiences.

Within the first year, he was promoted to senior vice president and given a seat at the organization's advisory board.

His CEO personally emailed me to thank me.

But I only supported him. My client made the professional growth.

He was anxious, but he was also brave. He took that first step and then the next and the next. And it paid off.

4 Think about the other people you may encourage

Sometimes it's less about how you feel and more how you can make others feel.

I am reminded of that oft-told starfish fable I happen to love and never get tired of. The version I tell goes like this:

It's sunrise and a small child walks out to the oceanfront to find hundreds of starfish beached themselves over night.

Without a word, she bends down, picks up a starfish and tosses it back into the water. She then leans over and does it again. And again. Slowly. One by one.

A grown-up who has been watching her calls out, "You're wasting your time. You can't possibly help all those hundreds of starfish!"

The little girl bends over and picks up another one from the sand. Tossing it into the water, she finally speaks, "I made a difference for that one, didn't I?"

If you put yourself out there, you might not become a super successful rockstar impacting the lives of millions of people. But if you stay safe and do nothing, I guarantee you won't impact anyone.

Take a chance and take that step.

Whatever it is. Despite your doubts, you may make the difference for even one person. They're worth it.

Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie

Gina London is a former CNN anchor and international campaign strategist who is now a director with Fuzion Communications. She serves as media commentator, emcee and corporate consultant. @TheGinaLondon

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