Do you feel like a fraud?

Do you sometimes feel like a fraud?  Maybe you just need to find your own inner superhero! 

I’m often astounded by the amount of successful people I meet who doubt themselves and their abilities, secretly feeling like con artists, paranoid that someone will uncover their fraudulent rise to success.

Both men and women often feel this way, particularly when stepping in to an executive-level role.  Externally, they may present as confident, capable and highly regarded by their colleagues; after all, there is a reason they have risen through the ranks.  Internally however, they feel they are deceiving others into believing they are good at their jobs and live in constant anxiety of being exposed.  Psychologists call this Imposter Syndrome.

It’s a dangerous mindset to have and can result in a slump in performance, resistance when it comes to applying for promotions and ‘treading water’ instead of furthering a career.

Our language can contribute to this inadvertently.  When someone is going for a job interview or a promotion, we say “good luck,” as though luck is what will secure them a new role, rather than their qualifications, experience or suitability for the role and company.

The bad thing about Imposter Syndrome is its capacity to get worse quickly.  The more pats on the back, the more accolades or acknowledgement a person gets, the more reason they have to feel fraudulent.  They start to fear that as they learn more skills, become open to promotions or new projects and expand their knowledge, they will be exposed for the things they don’t know.

There are things that can help.

Managers can help by sharing their own insecurities. By admitting that they don’t always have the answer, that they too make mistakes, it becomes easier for their teams to have realistic views about their own jobs.  An open environment of honest communication gives people who have Imposter Syndrome a chance to break away from it. 

The other part of the solution falls on the person feeling like a fraud.  It is important to remember that we all feel insecure sometimes, but if the feeling is ongoing and you experience the fear of being unworthy of your position or accolades, you need to take measures to ensure this feeling abates. 

While mentors and executive coaching have been proven to help people in times of self-doubt, Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy explains that the solution can be something as simple as a ‘power pose’. She advocates standing in a powerful pose for two minutes in private; your hands on your hips, standing tall like Superman.  This causes your body to produce more testosterone and makes you feel empowered – even if it is fake.  The way Cuddy puts it is “fake it till you become it.”

In her 2012 TED talk, she explained, "You're not changing who you are. You're not inflating yourself; you're actually getting rid of the things that are kind of pushing you down.” 

It’s also important to change your internal script.  When you start a new project and that internal voice starts saying “Wait until everyone finds out I have no idea what I’m doing,” change it to “I don’t have all the answers, but I’m smart enough to find them.”

Check out Amy Cuddy’s TED talk for some inspiration.