Have you ever stopped yourself from asking a question for fear that you’d expose your own perceived lack of knowledge? You’re not alone.
The MassTLC Professional Women’s Community meeting recently hosted a discussion on imposter syndrome, featuring Kim Meninger, executive coach at Executive Career Success, and Sara Faatz, director of developer relations at Progress. It was an important and vulnerable discussion highlighting all the ways imposter syndrome shows up in our lives and how to combat that nagging voice of fear and doubt.
First of all, how can we define what imposter syndrome is? It’s “the feeling of self-doubt and inadequacy despite contradictory evidence,” Meninger said. You may feel like a fraud, as if all the success you’ve obtained is attributed to luck or timing instead of your own talents, and you worry that you’ll be exposed as not qualified for your role. Imposter syndrome shows up for roughly 70% of the U.S. population, affecting both men and women, and it’s most common among high achieving people.
Some signs of imposter syndrome are anxiety, perfectionism, unwillingness to internalize positive feedback, fear of failure, and even fear of success.
When we experience self-doubt or fear, we keep those negative emotions bottled up in a steel container of shame and we hold it so tightly that it can do as much damage as it pleases. But the truth is, when you express that feeling of self-doubt or uncertainty, by simply sharing with one person, you find freedom from everything holding you back in that dark shadow of unworthiness.
Because of Sara and Kim’s open conversation, all 100 attendees received the most refreshing message: You are not the only one experiencing imposter syndrome and there are ways you can combat it.
Sara shared her own experiences of imposter syndrome and how all it took was one person to change her perception. When she was working at a technical PR agency during the dot-com boom, she sat through meetings with clients without saying a word and then would unload on her boss after the meeting with a list of numerous great ideas that could help the client.
Her boss questioned her, “Why don’t you open your mouth in meetings?” To which Sara asked, “Well, what if I’m wrong?” And her boss said, “If you’re wrong, you’re wrong. If you don’t ever open your mouth, you’re never gonna be right either.”
Because of one moment of tough love with someone she felt comfortable feeling vulnerable with, Sara immediately began to put herself in the conversation.
How many times have you held back from saying something in a meeting because of the question, “What if I’m wrong?” If that question leaves you muted and anxious in your seat, open up to someone you feel close with who can give you honest, supportive guidance.
Kim also shared her own experiences of imposter syndrome. Earlier in her career, she admitted, “I was so focused on what I didn’t know … that I didn’t see my own strengths.”
When it comes to imposter syndrome, Kim assures, “it’s a voice of fear … and our brain sees that as danger…to get us back into your comfort zone. That voice is designed to be as harsh and as attention getting as possible. We have a choice: We can interpret it as reality and give it creditability, or we can call it for what it is: our overactive bodyguard.”
What was so incredible to hear was the vulnerability and authenticity from attendees who were brave enough to share their own struggles with imposter syndrome. It’s important, and refreshing, to know that many people have experienced the same feelings of self-doubt, and it’s not a battle you have to win alone.
Next time your “overactive bodyguard” shows up, remember all of your successes, all of your talents, and what you can contribute to the group. You won’t be an expert in everything, but you have a lot of unique skills and perspectives to offer because there is only one you. And your team needs you.
Watch their complete discussion here.
Danielle is a Senior Communications Specialist at Progress, where she is also on the leadership team of the employee resource group, Progress for Her, and an Advisory Committee member on Progress’ Inclusion & Diversity Committee. When she’s not at work, you can find her writing, reading, or acting like a tourist in her own city.
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