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What is this thing called 'Imposter Syndrome'?

In my counseling with female employees from industries as varied as technology and consumer goods, financial services, law, and biotechnology, women have discussed feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy with me.

Despite good performance reviews, praise, raises, promotions up the ladder, internships, scholarships, degrees and pedigrees, some women nevertheless tell me of ‘feeling as if they aren’t working to capacity,’ ‘not being good enough,’ ‘feeling deficient,’ ‘feeling like a failure,’ and even worse, ‘feeling an inner compulsion to push themselves ever harder and harder’ in order to succeed.

When I ask these women what they are thinking when they get caught up in that demanding feeling of a relentless pursuit of a goal (or goals that are yet to be identified), they often tell me they believe that 'until they reach what they deem success, they won’t feel safe’ from the inner terror of their self-inadequacy.

That they "feel like a fraud" if they allow themselves to enjoy little successes along the way.

That only reaching the grandest notion of success will satisfy.

What are we to make of this outright obsessive need to demand more and more of oneself, setting higher and higher goals in order to feel successful in life?

How do women let go of thinking they must live up to others’ perceptions of them?

How can women let go of this phenomenon now called the Imposter Syndrome?

Most importantly, how do we, as women, train ourselves to affirm our own abilities and hold our inner confidence to be self-evident in all the things we do, both large and small?

Whether working on the big prize of curing cancer or small goals along the way to a breakthrough, the major milestone for your startup or your self-actualization on a day-to-day basis, the steps in moving from self-doubt to self-confidence include the following:

  1. GIVE UP perfectionism. Or, in other words, give up preparing yourself to the point of exhaustion. In my line of work as a Behavioral Consultant, we call this having “Unrelenting Standards” for yourself. This behavior not only brings your own energy level to an all-time low, but causes you to be impatient with everyone in your life as you see them moving too slowly, or not measuring up to your high standards. You may put your work first in everything you say and do, but you may end up being the bore at the office happy hour. More likely, you succeed at losing the precious time you need and desire to accomplish your goals from reworking your writing, proposal, emails, whitepaper, or project ad-infinitum when once or twice-written and edited may have sufficed.

  2. LEARN TO ASSERT yourself at those morning meetings where you fear to tread, in the places you are holding yourself back, where you are staying to the sidelines, or worrying about appearing “too bold.” If you won’t speak your mind for fear of looking foolish, it’s time to rework your communication skills, and use them. A big part of my work as a Behavioral Consultant is to train on Interpersonal Relationship skills, which are desperately lacking in our homes, schools, and workplaces. Learn how best to introduce your topic, calm the angry waves, then set sail with your ideas. Nothing builds confidence like taking action - especially when the action involves risking the fear you feel of looking foolish, of your ideas being rejected or the failure of reaching your goal. You will never know if your ideas may have been on-a-right ‘tack’ with the wind if you don’t set them loose into it and ACT.

  3. LET GO of comparing yourself to anyone whom you think, suspect or experience as smarter, quicker, more literate, more eloquent, more verbose, more conversant, or more anything than you. Everyone I have ever worked with over the years of doing Behavioral Counseling and Coaching in the Northwest has had the bad habit of comparing themselves to others who appear to have it more together than they do. It’s a wicked, self-defeating habit that can destroy anyone’s best intentions. In my mind, the cognitive trick of overestimating others, mentally filtering out the negative and disqualifying the positive are behind issues with failure and a sense of inadequacy, all of which impede a strong sense of self-esteem.

  4. SILENCE the Self-Critic. This is probably the hardest lesson to learn for those women who see me on a weekly basis until their problem is corrected. Our critical, inner Self-Talk hurls its ugly self at us throughout the day in every way – on buses, cars, and trains – in subliminal, conscious and pre-conscious form – when the alarm goes off, in the shower in the morning, on the drive to work, during our meetings, at our coffee breaks, during daydreams and flights of fancy, from dinner time and while asleep. 99.9% of our Self-Talk is our own Worst Enemy! Negative Self-Talk is the Number 1 reason women are sabotaged in their wish for advancement and success in life.

With my help, women have confronted beliefs that don’t serve them, and adjusted their attitudes. They’ve faced-down culturally imposed stereotypes, clichés, and roles that they’ve mentally adopted and that never fit them.

They’ve freed themselves, and become poised to not be taken-in by them in the future.

They no longer let themselves buy-into standards that expect them to ‘behave helplessly, follow orders, keep quiet, hide their talents, be or feel less-than’ or be anything other than who they are.

They declare Emotional Independence.

Self-confidence requires a Growth Mindset that helps us reframe our failures as Learning Experiences.

The secret to overcoming a sense of failure may, in reality, be some slips and falls along the way, or what you may call failure, but by failing we prepare ourselves for the bold risks that ultimately build our sense of Self-Esteem.

Interested in dropping the anchor on self-doubt and reaching personal success?

Ready to tackle the solutions to each of the steps outlined above?

Give me a call.

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