While researching for this article I came across the story of a fascinating man named Ferdinand Waldo Demara Jr. Also known as the Great Imposter who spent his life impersonating others. One of his most remarkable guises was his stint as a navy Dr. Having a photographic memory, he read a medical book about surgery and saved the lives of many Koreans.
Then of course there is the much loved and infamous ‘Mike Ross’ of the popular Netflix series Suits, who poses as a law associate without having a degree. These are examples of two individuals who were imposters.
What I’d like to bring your attention to is the phenomenon known as the imposter phenomenon, coined by Dr. Pauline Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes in the 1970’s who studied why so many of their students, educated, successful and accomplished struggled to take credit for their successes.
Indeed, there are many of us walking around with this very same feeling, that we will be caught out as a fraud any minute now and all will be exposed. That our successes are purely a stroke of chance. That others’ views and thoughts of us are highly inflated. The feelings that I myself am not exempt from.
There are several theories about what causes this. Clance argued that the imposter phenomenon was caused by parents valuing particular aspects of a child over others. Other researchers from Britain to Australia have discovered that ‘impostorism’ is found in professionals who were raised by controlling parents. Research has also found that while this was something known to be experienced by women, many men have been found to feel it too.
I’ve been staggered at meeting clients, successful women in leadership positions in FTSE 100 companies who have struggled with occasional bouts of the imposter syndrome.
Fernando and Mike Ross did not let the small matter of not having a degree stop them from performing major surgery, or fighting a big case. What they had was the belief that they could learn what they needed when they needed.
Here are a few pointers I have on how to deal with that imposter voice. When working with clients I have found that bringing to the surface their beliefs about, and relationships to, failure and success are a great place to begin.
Some psychologists suggest adopting a beginner’s mindset. Admittedly, I know how hard that can be, to let go of wanting to be perfect. Though I invite you to try it, it’s surprisingly freeing.
Try and accept that what you have accomplished is all down to you. Whether that promotion seemed too easy, or you feel you didn’t deserve the award. The truth of the matter is you got it. The rest will come because you will learn it as you go along. None of us were born knowing it all.
There are so many who struggle with this, you are not alone. From Mark Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks to Seth Godin, the successful blogger and writer. My favourite quote comes from someone I admire, Maya Angelou who won the Pulitzer prize and numerous other awards and accolades said, “ I have written 11 books but each time I think Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now.”
The imposter syndrome is something that can be overcome. So many successful, high profile people struggle with it. Learn to recognise it and not be hindered by it. Create a timeline of your achievements on paper. Your accomplishments to date. Have this on hand to refer back to when you need a little extra encouragement.
Do you feel like sooner or later you will be ‘found out’? You can get in touch with me now to discuss this further by emailing me Suparna@suparnaway.com.
* This article was first published by Business Studio London: The One Stop Career Destination for Women. Join them today.