Am I Good Enough to Succeed? Imposter Syndrome in the Workplace

In: BlogDate: Apr 08, 2021By: Nicky Stone

People with Imposter Syndrome doubt their skills and abilities — putting their accomplishments down to 'luck'. They have a persistent, internalised fear of being exposed as a 'fraud', and that others will catch them out one day. This generally manifests itself in the workplace, and can affect anyone, regardless of job role or social status.

For those who struggle with it, Imposter Syndrome can be crippling. In this blog, Nicky Stone discusses how you can combat it and create your own definition of success.

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How many of us start an important day with the feeling that today might be the day 'they' figure out that we aren't really good enough? That thought still crosses my mind, and yesterday the irony was particularly acute as I welcomed my participants to a Confidence for Women workshop by sharing just that. 

When asked to complete the sentence "Imposter syndrome is..." The chat answers came thick and fast. One of my favourites was "… believing you are not capable or got the job by mistake". Isn't it amazing the things we tell ourselves? It's pretty hard to see how you could get a job by mistake!

I asked the group what their imposter syndrome (or inner critic) told them and you can see the deluge of disabling comments in the picture above. Things like:

  • "I am going to fail"
  • "I am not good enough"
  • "I shouldn't be there"
  • "Someone else would do it better"
  • "Someone is going to call me out"

Would you ever talk to a friend like that, or even a stranger? Reading those yellow sticky notes could leave you rather depressed.

Now scan down to the blue ones. These are the reappraised versions, the more enabling thoughts that the group chose to reframe their imposter syndrome:

  • "If I fail then I will learn"
  • "I am good enough"
  • "I've worked hard for this"
  • "I know what I'm talking about - it's my area of expertise"
  • "I was chosen for this, I am competent"

Aren't they more like the kind of self-talk that we need?

We also explored the idea that as a woman, despite what you might have been conditioned to believe, you do not have to choose between being 'nice and likeable' or 'competent and strong'. One woman shared: "I've been told many times over the years I'm 'too nice' to succeed". 

I guess it all depends on what you think success is. If it is about getting to the top, competition and winning then maybe being nice could be a barrier in certain situations. But ask yourself, 'what does success look like to me?' For me, it is doing work I find fulfilling, knowing I am making a difference (however small), having wonderful family and friends, giving my children a secure and loving home. 

If we are going to judge ourselves let's make sure we use the right criteria. It can be a trap of our society to feel inferior against a standard that doesn't even match our values.

Working with those 50 amazing women yesterday, completely whet my appetite for the year-long Brave Leadership programme for women that I am going to be co-facilitating with Cathy Busani from May. I can't wait to have lots more conversations about how as a group of female leaders we can bring out the best in each other, challenge our thinking, develop our skills and reach our own measures of success.

Will my imposter syndrome put in an appearance leading the Brave programme? You bet! But, following inspiration from Monica Lewinski as she prepared for her TED talk, I will choose to tune into 5 words instead: "This matters" and "I got this!"

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Nicky Stone

Nicky has been a senior facilitator for over 16 years. Her leadership purpose is to support people to reach their full potential, and this has driven her internally as part of Happy’s senior leadership team. It has enabled her, through her work every day with clients, to facilitate senior leadership programmes and personal development events. Nicky also has a proven track record at leading on large projects and inspiring others as a speaker at conferences.

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