As I begin to daydream about the next five to ten years as an empty nester, a few concepts and ideas re-enter my consciousness. One of those concepts is imposter syndrome.
What is imposter syndrome?
My writing friend, Andy Mort, covers this topic in depth, starting years ago. Andy mentions how many of us feel this in our work worlds, particularly in those areas where we are beginners. We feel like we are in over our heads and any day we will be exposed.
As a budding writer, website creator and personal coach in 2011, I definitely felt like I was faking it, until I made it. Someone said if you write, you are a writer. I wanted to believe that but did not. I did not call myself a writer (with confidence) until after I wrote my book. I had written hundreds of posts and several published articles before that.
Before, during and after coaching clients, I felt like an imposter posing as an expert. The more people asked me what degree I had to qualify me for coaching, the more I doubted my credibility. I had years of research into temperament and attachment theory. I was trained in family mediation. I spent years working in the juvenile justice system, foster care and the school system, but I felt at any moment someone was going to call me out as not good enough.
Eventually, we feel less fraudulent
Only last year, did I notice myself feeling at ease while counseling and coaching. I had answers and questions for each client and their unique situation. I had enough experience, finally. Could I improve? Absolutely! But I felt solid in my ability to help people.
Why do accomplished people feel this way?
Just today, I heard organizational psychologist and author, Adam Grant, talk about imposter syndrome in a positive light. He said most accomplished people feel some version of imposter syndrome. He said that feeling of not belonging or not being good enough benefits us by keeping us off a pedestal, stoking our curiosity and making us hard workers.
When we feel like we are out of our element, our humility heightens. We acknowledge we do not know everything. This makes us more open to collaboration and learning. It also makes us more likable.
If we want to get better at something, say our career for instance, we have to ask for help. This requires humility and curiosity. Curiosity drives us to learn more, try new things and take action in areas that our new or uncomfortable.
To relieve ourselves of the imposter feeling, we dig in and work hard. No one can say we are lazy. Even if we are not an expert or do not have a lot of experience, we work hard. Putting in a lot of effort pushes us forward and no one can take that effort and what it accomplishes away from us. It becomes part of our true identity.
In my mind, anyone who takes initiative risks feeling like an imposter. It makes sense that if we leave our comfort zone, we will be uncomfortable. The new role may not fit us right away.
How imposter syndrome benefits us
In writing and coaching, I felt like a fake or a pretender for many years. Much of that feeling came from lack of validation from others in my inner circle, but much of it came simply from lack of experience.
I realize now that the lack of confidence and imposter feeling, kept me humble. I was so grateful for any help or offer to collaborate with others in the field. I was open to learning from them.
My curiosity got me to the place where I wanted to become more multidimensional. I read and read and read. I reached out to people I found fascinating. Satisfying my curiosity put me in situations where I felt out of place. My curiosity also kept me looking for information that would help me feel more comfortable in that situation.
For me, hard work seems the easiest way to relieve the feeling of not being genuinely deserving of accomplishments or titles. Putting in time and effort gives us clout. It gives us credibility and respect. No one can deny our blood, sweat and tears.
The drive to feel like an imposter again
With my children soon gone and ten years of writing under my belt, I ponder new worlds out of my comfort zone. Where will I next feel like an imposter? Although, occasionally the thought of having open leisure time appeals to me, I am fairly certain I won’t be satisfied sitting around waiting for grandkids to arrive.
When and where do you feel like an imposter? Can you see how that benefits you?