The Tragedy of Imposter Syndrome
Virtually every woman I coach tells me that at some point in her career, she’s experienced self-doubt, inadequacy, and anxiety at work. Despite past successes, these clients believe they are not enough, no matter how qualified, how talented, and how driven they are.
Psychologist, author and meditation teacher Tara Brach calls this phenomenon “the trance of unworthiness”. And it’s a terrible feeling because it sets off an internal battle – the desire to grow and take on bigger, more challenging roles and make a tangible impact on the world vs. the belief that we aren’t good enough or even deserving of such a life and career.
This battle is mentally and emotionally exhausting. And it can have a devastating effect on our careers and our personal lives.
Most women don’t come right out and say, “I feel like an imposter” or “I’m a massive fraud”. But they do say, “I just got lucky” or “It worked this time, but I doubt I could do it again”, “I was in the right place at the right time”, “They didn’t notice all the mistakes”, or my personal favorite, “It wasn’t a big deal because it was so easy”.
Sound familiar? Yeah, me too.
And the question remains, why does this happen? How do we become imposters in the first place?
Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, has identified seven conditions that can lead to Imposter Syndrome.
1. You were raised by humans. It’s a sad fact that our parents, for better or worse, set us off on a path in life. And it’s our job to find our way back to our true selves.
2. You work in an organization that feeds self-doubt.
3. You work alone.
4. You work in a creative field.
5. You’re a student.
6. You’re a stranger in a strange land.
7. You represent your entire social group.
There’s a lot of stuff going on here, but in my experience working with hundreds of women (and men) I think all of these reasons can be boiled down to one simple statement – You have forgotten who you are. Or at least, you’ve forgotten some of the best stuff about yourself. The kind of stuff you knew when you were little, but somehow lost sight of.
When you were two, you were your whole, remarkable self. You were full of love. You were fascinated by everything. You were dedicated to growth. But as you grew older, you began to forget all the good stuff, and began focussing on the multitude of little lessons about who and what you should be to be good enough as a woman.
And this is where the trouble begins because when we focus on who and what we think we should be over who and what we know we could be, we are essentially betraying ourselves.
And we know it.
And it feels terrible.
We begin to beat ourselves up. And from this place of shame, we become entrenched in a small identity. We’re in what I call a contractive state.
And in our contractive state, we don’t apply for that job, or start that business. We don’t call out someone’s negative behavior. We don’t speak up in meetings, or if we do, we worry about interrupting or not expressing ourselves well enough. We make ourselves small.
When we’re small and contractive, we deny our own brilliance and talents. And we deprive the rest of the world of those things too.
I say enough is enough.
Because imposter syndrome isn’t just a personal tragedy, it’s a global one. It causes too many of us to sit down and shut up. And the world is in the state it is because time and time again, the wrong people stand up. Angry people. Greedy people. Careless people. Malignant people.
We need the right people to stand up. And for them to do it with confidence, clarity, and determination.
And I think the right people are women. Things work better when women are involved. Governments work better. Businesses work better. NPOs work better. Hospitals work better. Research labs work better. Universities work better. You get the idea.
It’s time we said goodbye to Imposter Syndrome and the contractive state it thrives within. It’s time we made ourselves big and expansive. Because nothing is more powerful than a grown-assed woman in her full expansiveness.
Women who are in an expansive state are grounded in solid core values and purpose, yet open to new ideas, people and situations. From this place, they become hopeful, excited and passionate about their lives.
These women stand up.
I call them expansive women.
So, let’s do the work. Let’s leave imposter syndrome in the dust. Each of us is here to make a contribution, and that’s a lot easier to do when we’re not beating ourselves up.
I’m here to help you do that. Here are two things you can do right now to begin to address your Imposter Syndrome.
1. Join The Expansive Woman Project. It's free and always will be. Join a community of like-minded, supportive women. Attend free workshops, receive a monthly newsletter dedicated to female expansiveness, gain access to videos, blog posts, etc.
2. Check out our self-paced Overcoming Imposter Syndrome course.
3. Consider the 6-Week Expansive Transformation - a live online cohort based course.
You already have everything you need to be an expansive woman. Together, we’ll help you remember, rediscover, and reclaim her – women supporting women.
This is how we’re going to change the world.
One expansive woman at a time.