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Impostor Syndrome: Do you feel like

- You don’t deserve your achievements

- You’re a fraud deceiving others into thinking you are competent

- What you’ve accomplished really isn’t true

This psychological state can lead to anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, job-hopping, career stagnation. Remember though, it's not an accurate reflection of reality.

It’s in your head.

It’s generally not a reflection of fact (unless you’ve gone out of your way to consciously be a fraud). I would offer that it’s people with integrity who want to be truthful who let the question of impostor get into their head.

When I’m hired to create or update a resume for a client, doing the fast math in my head for over a thousand clients in the past 5 years, I estimate that 5%-8% question the Areas of Expertise I enter on their new resume. (More about how I handle this below.)

Not only are you not alone, consider the following:

Impostor Syndrome is common:

• Recognize that Impostor Syndrome is very common. You’re in good company. Studies have shown:

• up to 70% of successful people experience it at least once in their life[1]

• 8 out of 10 people from another report say they experience impostor syndrome[2]

• 75% of executive women say they’ve experienced impostor syndrome[3]

Competent and productive people from all walks of life have felt this. They didn’t feel successful at the time (otherwise they wouldn’t have second-guessed themselves).

It's natural to have doubts about your abilities, especially when you're in a new job, taking on a challenging project, or stepping outside of your comfort zone. Know this: many others have experienced the same feelings.

Still it feels bad—it’s in your head. Reframe your negative thoughts. Instead of focusing on the things you haven't achieved, focus on the progress you have made and the skills you have developed. Celebrate small victories that are fact and are the stark reality: you’re not an impostor.

Prove it to yourself like I do with my clients who question their Areas of Expertise.

My response back to a client questioning their Areas of Expertise is this: tell me what is not true or correct in that list, and I’ll be glad to remove it.

Sometimes there’s a conversation about that list. Clients want to know how did I come up with items like Leadership, Consultative, Collaborative, Problem-Solver. And the big one: Subject Matter Expert (SME). All of the time, it turns out that the items I've brought out are fact.

Just because you may not have a degree in something doesn’t mean you’re not an expert in some area. It’s usually the clients who have a notable accomplishment in demonstrating the expertise that shows innovation resulting in a positive benefit for the employer or themselves, and I’ve seen that repeatedly on their initial resume and capture it.

Think about it this way. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Sir Richard Branson, Kamala Harris, Jacinda Ardern—all people who believed in themselves—bet on the idea they had and stayed with it. Some ideas result in products that change our lives, ideas that change how we communicate, ideas that change how we view competence based on competence itself and not on gender or ethnicity or having exceptional mental ability. Some, like Sir Richard Branson, took their ideas beyond obstacles like dyslexia or other challenges.

From the guys who had an idea working in the garage who began with an idea to build a portable computer (and kept on going with that until that computer incorporated storage, email, access to the Web, a phone, music, etc.) to journalists and thought leaders who taught us to look at our world and communicate our ideas about it—all started with an idea and did something with that idea. No one was good at building portable computers until someone took the idea and created one. When I was growing up, no one saw women as Vice President of the United States or the Prime Minister of New Zealand (or any country for that matter). What these people have in common is that they had an idea they believed in and made it so.

Are there phony people passing themselves off as experts? Oh yes. They’re the ones who put a degree they bought on a wall in their office—a degree they didn’t earn. These people get found out. I have a personal example of working for one and the disastrous impact that person (head of accounting) had on the company’s bottom line because he had no idea of the process in accounting to come to the bottom line and report it accurately. The organization was paralyzed from making informed business decisions because it didn’t have a true summary of its financial position.

Finally, is stretching yourself the same as being an impostor?

I ask clients I’m coaching follow up questions: Could you successfully do [the task]? Could you do it now? Could you do it in a few weeks or a few months if given the chance? And finally I ask How do you know you can do it if you haven’t done it before? Where did you get the idea that you could do [that]? Genuine people have answers that go from already doing something related to the skill to studying how other people do it to studying/researching it so much they’re confident that given the chance, they could not only do it, but do it well.

And I coach clients to ask employers: Are you hiring based on existing competence only or are you hiring for capability? And then that question leads to a discussion about what you would like to do for the organization that you may not currently be in consideration for now.

Believe in yourself. At some point in your life, you already have. You’ve fallen down, you’ve failed at something. And the vast majority of people see that as life daring them to learn from why they fell short and try it again. Trial, error, trial, success. Feeling like an impostor isn’t the same as being an impostor.

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