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The Imposter Syndrome

Posted June 26, 2018

I’m sure you must have heard of Imposter’s Syndrome. You may have even experienced it at some point in your past, though maybe not for quite some time if your experience was at all like mine. When I was in my very first professional role, I often felt like I was posing in that role rather than embracing it or actually owning it. I would get kind of a kick out of answering the phone with my own name and title and having the person on the other end of the line just accept me for who I said I was, rather than questioning my authenticity.

New York Times Reporter’s Experience
In an article in the Business Section of the Sunday, June 17, 2018 New York Times, reporter Kristin Wong found herself feeling a bit like a fraud herself at a gathering of a group of professionals, even though she was on assignment by the Times to interview a person who was attending the event about Impostor Syndrome.

Term Coined in 1978
The term was coined in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes as “the internal experience of intellectual phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” In other words, “It’s that sinking sense that you are a fraud in your industry, role, or position, regardless of your credibility, authority or accomplishments.” For further information on the topic, Google the term and you will find several books on the subject at your fingertips.

Impact on Minorities
Researchers on imposterism have found that this feeling is not uncommon or unique; it hits many of us at some point in our lives. Some researchers believe that it hits minority groups even harder. A lack of representation in a particular field can make minorities feel like outsiders, and discrimination creates even more stress and anxiety when coupled with imposterism, according to Dr. Kevin Cokley, a professor of education, psychology and African diaspora studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He was inspired to study the syndrome after he experienced it himself in his own field, where he was in the ethnic minority. “I felt like an impostor, I felt like people were looking at me and that I was going to be found out as not belonging there”, he said.

It’s Not Uncommon!
In addition to having my own experience of imposterism when I was a young professional, I have had many coaching clients over the years who are not members of a minority group, but who have also struggled with the syndrome. It often occurs when someone is new to their particular career or job or profession, but he or she finds that the longer they hold the role, the more the feeling of imposterism dissipates.

What to Do About It
If the feeling of Imposterism does not dissipate over time, here are some suggestions from Dr. Cokely and Rosanna Durruthy, the head of global diversity, inclusion and belonging at Linked-In, that may help to fight Imposter Syndrome.

  • Join an Affinity Group.
    Don’t suffer alone. Join or create an affinity network, “a group of people who are similar to you, based on gender or ethnicity, and you can talk about your vulnerabilities and insecurities.”
  • Recruit a Mentor.
    A mentor is especially helpful for those dealing with imposterism because he or she can serve as a professional anchor. Your mentor will ideally have experiences similar to your own and will be willing to share advice on how to deal with those experiences.
  • Document Accomplishments.
    Keep a diary and record every instance in which you receive positive feedback, Dr.Cokley advises. . . When your impostor feelings take over, this daily diary can serve as a reminder that you’ve earned your way to this position. . . Another benefit to keeping a work diary: you can use it to keep track of your own progress and accomplishments. That way when it’s time to negotiate your next raise, you’ll have evidence to make the case for a pay increase.

It is most important to remember that we are all evolving all of the time. Lives evolve, careers evolve, the marketplace evolves. If we feel like we’re alone, stuck or unhappy in our work, it’s time to get some help, not to simply accept the misery.

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