Gilda is the founder and CEO of technology solutions and compliance advisory services PQE group.
Whether you are trying to become successful in life or in business, there are always several obstacles to overcome along the way. When you factor in aspects such as background, ethnicity, gender, or education level, certain tasks can seem even more daunting. Some people start to get a little voice in their head that makes them doubt themselves and their abilities, regardless of their status. This feeling is called the ‘impostor syndrome’. It is when highly motivated individuals fail to acknowledge their achievements and instead have relentless self-doubt and fear that they will be exposed as an impostor in their role or position.
According to an overview of studies on imposter syndrome published by the Journal of General Internal Medicine“The prevalence rates of impostor syndrome ranged widely from 9 to 82%…and were particularly high among minority ethnic groups.” The syndrome was found to be common in men and women, ranging in age from adolescents to experienced professionals.
Women in executive positions appear to be particularly prone to imposter syndrome. A study by KPMG found that “75% of female executives in various industries have experienced imposter syndrome in their careers.”
Being able to recognize the symptoms and causes of imposter syndrome can make it easier to restore your confidence and clarity. I have worked with many intelligent and capable colleagues who have experienced this syndrome and helped them coach through their fears and doubts to overcome obstacles and reach their full potential in a space where they ultimately belong. It is important to me to help others, especially women, thrive in their work-life balance and find solutions that work for them.
Identify what type of ‘impostor’ you are
According to Valerie Young in her book Successful women’s secret thoughts: why capable people suffer from impostor syndrome and how to thrive in spite of itthere are five different types of “impostors”: the perfectionist, the natural genius, the soloist, the expert and the superhero.
Determining what kind of “impostor” you might be can be the first step in deconstructing negative ideologies and building a healthier mindset. If you see yourself as the perfectionist, you may have an obsession with doing everything perfectly and feel deeply ashamed of all the failures you experience. The natural genius expects them to pick up new tasks and knowledge with little practice, but if they can’t, the syndrome starts to set in. The soloist is a kind of maverick who thinks that success is essentially only achieved when it is done alone. The expert is filled with so much self-acquired knowledge that when they don’t answer something correctly, they feel like an impostor. Finally, the superhero challenges themselves to do everything they do, but feels inadequate when not everything is balanced and successful.
One thing each of these types has in common is performance anxiety. To overcome imposter syndrome, you must embrace failure as a stepping stone to success. The best way to learn and grow is through experience, and making mistakes just shows you’re making progress.
Prioritizing Mental Health
Imposter syndrome can be caused by a variety of underlying issues, such as depression and anxiety, and it can also exacerbate existing mental health issues, so making your mental health a top priority is imperative.
According to the Center for Disease Control and PreventionMental and physical health are equally important elements of overall health. Try to find a healthy balance in your life amid all the intersectional roles you play. For me, spending time in nature to decompress and recharge is one of the most useful tools for resting and re-evaluating. After taking some time for myself and doing things I love, I always feel more motivated, inspired and ready to tackle whatever obstacles life throws my way. Determining which activities bring you joy has lasting positive effects on your health and can help prevent imposter syndrome before it starts.
Celebrating your achievements
One of the best ways to beat imposter syndrome is to silence that little voice in your head before it even thinks of whispering. While it’s normal to feel discouraged from time to time, don’t let that become part of your everyday thinking process, as it can even lead to a harmful self-fulfilling prophecy.
A key to muting this voice is recognizing your skills, qualities, and achievements that got you where you are. So take the time to appreciate how far you’ve come and recognize and celebrate your achievements. This is important for your mental health and the maintenance of personal ambition.
Creating a culture of comfort and safety for others
I’ve found that one of the best ways to calm the chaos and false ideas in my colleagues’ minds is to cultivate a culture of inclusion, diversity, and safety. Whether you’re a leader or part of a team, strive to make all your colleagues feel comfortable and valued so they’re less likely to feel stressed and afraid of failing. Facilitating a safe and diverse atmosphere can encourage individuals to express themselves and pave the way for future progress.
While it’s normal to experience feelings of inadequacy over and over, it’s crucial to recognize that a fleeting emotion doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. As humans on this planet, we always have room to grow, learn and elevate ourselves. To be the best version of ourselves, both in and out of the office, we must strive to be lifelong learners who lift each other up and have faith in our abilities and potential.