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You are experiencing imposter syndrome.
If you’ve ever had these thoughts, you aren’t alone; it is estimated that over 70% of us will experience imposter syndrome at some point in our lives. No one is immune, although it affects women nearly twice as often as men. Emma Watson, Sheryl Sandberg and Natalie Portman have all spoken publicly about their struggles with imposter syndrome. Maya Angelou once said, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find [me] out now.’”
Imposter syndrome is a term first coined by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in their 1978 article “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention.” They studied approximately 150 high-achieving women and found that the women in large part did not feel any sense of accomplishment. “Women who experience the impostor phenomenon maintain a strong belief that they are not intelligent; in fact, they are convinced that they have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.”
What Causes It?
Imposter syndrome is born of a vicious cycle of gender inequality; stereotypes cause young girls to stop believing they are smart as young as six years old. This leads them to stop pursuing careers thought to be typically reserved for men, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics. With fewer women represented in a field, new generations of women are further deterred.
Adding to this cycle is the fact that our workplaces are still very masculine and cater to the success of men. As Shelley Zalis reminds us, “The rules of work were written 100 years ago for men and by men, because women simply weren’t in the workplace.” We continue to reward traditionally masculine traits (dominance, control and reason) over feminine ones (decision-making, empathy and intuition). All of this combined creates the perfect environment for women to doubt their worth and question their success.
How Can Employers Help?
Many employers are aware of the negative effects imposter syndrome can have on their employees and are working to reduce its prevalence. One of the most helpful things an employer can do is provide women with strong female role models and mentors. Implementing a mentoring program with regular check-ins between women in leadership and female employees is a great way to encourage women to pursue positions of leadership and feel comfortable and confident in their ability to achieve that goal. Companies can also work to create a culture that discourages imposter syndrome. This culture should encourage creativity and innovation. Failure should be celebrated as having had the courage to try something new and learning valuable lessons from the experience. Finally, an employer should always admit their uncertainty. By admitting nervousness and being open about their own doubts, company leaders will have an incredible impact on their employees, making it possible for them to step out of their own comfort zones and move beyond the feelings of imposter syndrome.
What Can You Do?
Are you struggling with imposter syndrome? Here are some easy ways to lessen or even prevent these feelings.
• Write it down. Journaling may seem juvenile, but writing down your concerns has been proven to lessen worry and increase your ability to concentrate. It’s also a great way to release the emotional stress that often accompanies imposter syndrome.
• Remind yourself of your success and value. Come up with a mantra, and repeat it to yourself whenever you feel doubts trying to creep in. It can be something as simple as “I can do this,” or “I was made for this.” Say it until you believe it.
• Pause. There is no shame in pausing for a moment, taking some deep breaths and refocusing yourself. Take five minutes to breathe and relax. You’ll often find that you’re more productive after you take a break.
• Dress for success. Put on an outfit that makes you feel successful and powerful. Research supports dressing for success as a way of increasing self-confidence and productivity.
• Strike a power pose. Amy Cuddy delivered a powerful TEDtalk on this subject. Body language is important. Stand like a leader even when you don’t feel confident.
Most of us will experience imposter syndrome during our careers, but it doesn’t have to be something you live with. You deserve that leadership job just as much as anybody else.
June 5, 2019 at 08:00AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs