Unmasking the Imposter

Unmasking the Imposter

You’re successful. Everyone says so. That’s great, right? But do you take pride in your achievements? Or do you rush straight off to the next one without taking time to congratulate yourself, and does it never feel like it’s enough?

If you said “yes” to the second statement, you’re working for a purpose beyond the obvious one of making your business successful. What makes you feel better is to achieve. So you work harder and longer. You push yourself, because you feel under pressure to perform. Maybe you take bigger risks. And maybe you win – in fact, maybe feeling and behaving like this, and driving yourself with it, has got you to where you are now. But the problem is, you can’t enjoy it, and it doesn’t make you feel better about yourself. And there’s a reason for this.

No matter how successful you are, you can’t internalise it. This is the root of Imposter Syndrome.

No matter how many wins you get, that underlying feeling is still there – the one that says you’re a huge fake, and people are going to find that out. So you move on to your next project, idea or product – and you’ll push yourself just as hard in that. Because what you’re dealing with is an internal belief that you have to keep producing the big wins to stop people seeing who you really are. And who you really are isn’t someone you’re fond of.

You’re not alone. A surprising number of intelligent, successful people are also fighting the imposter. And many don’t even realise it.

The foundations of Imposter Syndrome are usually laid in childhood, and form around family attitudes to achievement, and around perceptions of us by significant adults – usually, but not always, our parents. They involve excesses of criticism and praise, comparison to siblings and unrealistic expectations. The end result is a young person or adult who ties up self-esteem in success. Their underlying belief is that they’re a fake, and that every success they get will stop others finding that out. As a route to self-worth, it’s an eternal exercise in futility.

People with imposter syndrome, especially women, often look for external validation from some sort of authority figure. But that doesn’t help with the internal negative beliefs, because they rationalise that the person is being good to them for some other reason, or feel that if they really were worthy, they wouldn’t need that external validation.

The good news is, you can defeat the imposter. By understanding the underlying source of the beliefs and feelings, and choosing better ways to define yourself, you can get to a place where the success becomes something you can celebrate, and feel pride in.

You are much more than the sum of your wins.