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Taming the Imposter by Embracing Authenticity

You do not have Impostor Syndrome.

There, we got that out of the way. Yes, you may feel like a fraud, you may have doubts, you may even think you were hired by mistake, but you are not suffering from a mysterious illness.

At some point in their lives, everyone feels they won’t live up to expectations. The difference is in how we tame the impostor's feelings of inadequacy and push back against the work environments that promote these feelings. The key is embracing authenticity.

Why is it Called Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor Syndrome, while named with good intentions, needs a rebranding.

Initially, psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes considered it an 'Impostor Phenomenon'. They set out to study high-achieving women in the late 70s who, while successful, still felt as though they fooled everyone.

Over time, it morphed into a ‘syndrome’ that people, mostly women, suffered from. The initial study didn’t consider socio-economic statuses, people of color, or the conditions (biases, racism) that fostered the feelings of incompetence. Labeling it a syndrome, the problem was with the individual alone, not the system as a whole.

Why Do So Many People Relate to Impostor Syndrome?

Ask anyone if they’ve ever felt like they suffered from Impostor Syndrome and they will say ‘yes’. Throughout my career, I’ve achieved various accomplishments and received multiple accreditations, yet I have felt like a ‘phony’ at many points in my career.

Impostor Syndrome is relatable because it’s describing a very human feeling of uneasiness in the workplace. When we enter a new job or endeavor, it’s healthy to have some anxiety- ‘can I learn what I need?’, ‘will I fit in with the team?’. The anxiety becomes problematic when it holds you back or causes you to crumble under pressure.

The truth is, traditionally, the workplace has not been set up for women and people of color to succeed. If you combine those 2 (very) broad categories, the struggle to be your authentic self becomes even harder.

Embracing Authenticity

This is why ‘Impostor Syndrome’ needs rebranding. When employees feel like impostors, it should signal an unhealthy working environment. This is especially true when there is a dramatic, noticeable shift in how an employee’s personality changes from when they started the job.

Many people of color, especially women, find it difficult to voice their opinions or give direction over time. An employee who starts strong and ‘shows potential’ may find that microaggressions feed into their self-doubt, and eventually reinforce them. When your authentic leadership style isn’t traditional, your work environment may contribute to feelings of inadequacy.

But this is exactly why it’s the right time for embracing authenticity in the workplace. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) programs are growing in the corporate world. On the large, companies are looking to embrace systemic changes. The way to do that is by staying authentic and navigating the marginalization and stereotypes as they come up.

How to Embrace Authenticity

While we now know we aren’t sick from Impostor Syndrome, we still have these anxieties that can hold us back. Letting ourselves, or others, foster these feelings is not going to set us up for success. Here are my tips for embracing authenticity to tame the impostor.

1. Acknowledge Your Feelings

They’re there and they’re real. If you are part of an underrepresented group, acknowledge that you are bringing something different to the team. Standing out will make you feel like an impostor, it isn’t an illusion. But, this doesn’t mean you should dwell on these feelings. Instead, it’s time to embrace the differences you are bringing to the organization. This leads us to point 2.

2. Challenge the Story & Rewrite the Message

When these feelings pop up, look for the facts. Do you really not have enough experience? Are you faking your abilities? Change the message you tell yourself by stating that you have the tools and experience you need to succeed.

3. Reflect on Your Wins and Mistakes

Reflecting on your past experiences will help you change the message. Look at what has gotten you to this point in your career, both the good and bad moments. Your past has helped you learn what works and how to avoid certain mistakes.

4. Embrace Who You Are

Avoid comparing yourself to others. It is time to work on your unique leadership voice and bringing your most authentic self to work every day. Be true to who you are; strengths, fears, and all.

Moving beyond Imposter Syndrome

Authenticity is the key to changing the systems we work in and acknowledging the impostor feelings. While many of us can relate to and understand Imposter Syndrome, today I want to help you move beyond that. First, reflect on who you are, your core values, and draw from your experience to conquer self-doubt – in other words, acknowledge your feelings. By doing so, you can then reframe the message and embrace both your accomplishments and mistakes.

Working with a coach can help you work through this process and reposition your career for continued growth and success. You can contact me here if you wish to begin.


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