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Imposter Within

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“Sure, I’ve successfully run a couple of large businesses, but I still worry I don’t quite measure up to my peers.”

“I often feel like people are going to discover that my degrees don’t really mean I actually know what I’m talking about.”

“The accolades are great, but I’m not sure I really deserve them. Surely there’s someone more deserving than me.”

Ask any high achiever and she/he/they will tell you about their encounter with Imposter Syndrome. For those most gripped by the feeling that they’re somehow not all they may appear to be, it doesn’t really matter how many degrees, accomplishments, or accolades they rack up. The experience of imposter syndrome may be fleeting, situation specific, or more of a constant sense of dread of being “found out.” No matter how it shows up for any particular individual, Imposter Syndrome crosses gender, age, and sociocultural barriers.

The impact can be acute — perhaps leading one to actively avoid situations where it might be triggered — or more chronic where one doesn’t even realize how self limiting these feelings are. Some hide their insecurity behind their accomplishments, outwardly appearing confident while inwardly insecure. Others may joke about their insecurities as though it isn’t that big a deal.

Rather than suffer in silence or dismiss the Imposter Syndrome through humor, why not embrace it collectively and use it to humanize ourselves as we grow and develop the talent pool within our organizations? Consider the opportunities we miss by concealing our vulnerability rather than giving voice to those deeper insecurities that can plague and limit our impact as successful CEO’s, C-Suite Executives, and world leaders.

Think of harnessing that performance anxiety as a motivator rather than a threat. It’s common that imposter-like symptoms appear after we get a big promotion or take on a new endeavor that forces us out of our comfort zone. Ironically, it’s not when we perceive failure that we feel most like imposters, the self-limiting feelings arise after accomplishing something extraordinary, and even after we receive external validation for our efforts.

The curse of the high achiever is that we are never fully satisfied. That harsh inner critic can be relentless, even causing us to succumb to a false mindset where we attribute our success to luck, knowing the right people, or just being in the right place at the right time. We tend to project our worst fears of judgement on to others in moments of significant stress, allowing our own enemy within to quickly become our harshest external critic, self-identifying as being a fraud and having deceived ourselves and others.

In reality, when we pay full attention to when and in what contexts we experience that anxiety, perhaps even terror, we can accurately perceive our emotional brains are simply confused. We can identify that inner terror as actually being more akin to feelings of excitement and exhilaration. After all, isn’t that the real power of the high achiever – mastering our own internal drama – that inspires us to constantly push ourselves out of our comfort zones to reach those highest goals and achievements?