Have you ever felt like a "fraud'? Or felt undeserving of your accolades? Have you experienced a nagging fear of being exposed? This my friend is imposter syndrome and over 70% of the population have experienced this feeling at some point in their lives.
On this episode of ExpertsConnect, Founder & CEO at Practical Paradigms LLC & IU Professor Kelley School of Business, Carolyn Goerner, Ph.D., explains the notion of imposter syndrome and how we can overcome it. Dr. Goerner further describes the symptoms and types of imposter syndrome and dives a bit deeper into who it affects. She also shares her own experience with imposter syndrome and discusses coping mechanisms to address the issue.
What exactly is imposter syndrome? [1:32] | Dr. Goerner explains that imposter syndrome is one of those things that many people have felt but are unaware of the phenomenon. It's the feeling that one is a fraud, feeling unqualified, and walking on the edge of being discovered, as somebody who really isn't as competent or qualified as other people think they are.
Who does imposter syndrome affect? [3:30] | Dr. Goerner asserts that the high achievers, people who are already just pushing their talents and their capabilities into exciting new ways. She also explains that every time these high achievers embark on a new task, then that feeling of self-doubt still kicks in. She also mentions that it is slightly more common among women than in men. However, it certainly affects both genders equally, in terms of people feeling the same intensity of their emotions [3:58].
How does imposter syndrome affect the entrepreneur? [9:18] | Dr. Goerner explains that entrepreneurs are not only doubting themselves but also what they create. This strong sense of self-doubt serves as a barrier to seek investment and other funding opportunities as they feel the need to have the perfect pitch or need more knowledge to accomplish their goals. They are sometimes afraid to ask for help or market their business aggressively for fear that people will feel like they shouldn't be running the business or that it's just not good enough to serve their customers' needs.
How does imposter syndrome affect the home environment? [11:11] | Here Dr. Goerner references her friend's battle imposter syndrome as a mother. Dr. Goerner suggests that it's the feeling where one feels like they are failing as a mother and measuring themselves up against other moms especially on social media. She further highlights that many people feel this way especially when they are nervous about being a new parent or nervous about any relationship. She also states that we often find ourselves just setting standards that are impossibly high, and thinking that perhaps the other person will realize or the child will be damaged when they finally figure out that we never knew what we were doing. This she mentions happens quite frequently in the home environment [12:36].
Imposter Syndrome at work [13:58] | Dr. Goerner mentions that people who experience imposter syndrome in the work environment do not push themselves forward to take on new roles, or do not make themselves available for new assignments. It's basically “playing small”, some even try to take on a smaller career, where they can be safe. She also states that many victims of this syndrome are afraid to say no to any assignment because they're afraid that if they say no people will realize that they're not as valuable as they perhaps thought they were. She further highlights another instance of feeling like an imposter, which she deems as a very critical issue and i.e., when someone is in a minority in the workplace. Therefore, if they are the only person of color, the only female or male, whatever that might be, they are being scrutinized. She explains that is their reality, as they do stand out and they are being watched more than anybody else because they're different. Accordingly, the fact that people are actively and overtly watching, can intensify the feelings of imposter syndrome in minority groups [15:14].
Imposter Syndrome in the classroom [16:58] | Dr. Goerner discusses that many students battle feelings of imposter syndrome and echo sentiments of “I don't feel like I belong here.” or “I don't feel like I'm smart enough to be here.” She argues that it's quite typical among high-achieving kids. Referring to the “natural genius” typology, she mentions that she encounters students who say “that if it's hard for me to learn something, it's not because the subject matter is hard. It's because I'm not good enough. And I'm not smart enough." She further implies that this often leads to higher drop-rate rates or students not continuing with their majors.
How to overcome imposter syndrome? [24:50] | Dr. Goerner shares the following tips to deal with imposter syndrome. 1) Naming your inner imposter and calling it out. 2) Sharing your fears. 3) She mentions that the more you talk about it, the more you humanize it, the more you make it normal, the easier it gets to handle it. 4) Finding community support. 5) Celebrating your wins. 6) Becoming self-aware and learning to have your own opinion. 7) Having confidence in your competencies and abilities rather than obsessing about your shortcomings and inabilities.
Notable Quotes from Dr. Carolyn Goerner
“[…] fundamentally, it impacts people who are really go-getters working very hard, very talented. And it's almost an interesting conundrum, […], that these are the very people who are forward-thinking enough to be able to see how things can always get better. But they don't have the patience for that journey. They feel like it all has to be perfect right now..” [6:09]
“[…] entrepreneurs, they're not just doubting themselves, they're doubting what they create. And so they have a sense of doubt around the business being a good idea. They feel like if they have to ask for funding, they need an absolutely perfect pitch or request in order to do that. And so they'll put it off and put it off because they're afraid they don't know enough yet.” [9:36]
“And the thing I think we forget about social media is that people really work hard to put the best possible face out there […]. We see ourselves do a trip over our feet and you know, spill things and so we're comparing ourselves to their very carefully curated pictures to our tripping over feet. That isn't fair!" [13:19]
Her story - “I spent 10 years as a human resource consultant, and there wasn't a single client that I didn't worry about or lose sleep about or panic that I was telling them the wrong thing. I wasn't, but I panicked about it all the time. And that stress led to a really heavy burnout for me. So, went to graduate school, which, of course, you know, is just another way to get imposter syndrome. So that didn't help. But it wasn't until I've been a professor now for 25 years. And it wasn't until maybe 10 years ago, that I realized that I need to get out of my own way. When you are in front of a classroom, and you're interacting with students all the time, they look to you as a model for how to behave. Yeah. And I realized that I was doing them a disservice if I didn't, you know, if I didn't let myself do everything I knew I could, I didn't try to teach hard stuff. I didn't bring new things into the classroom, right? That was part of it. But I also knew that the more I faked it, the more I just sort of went out there and said, I got this all together, I'm all that and a cookie. I wasn't being authentic. And they kept thinking that, well, they're the only ones who didn't get it. So about 10 years ago, I realized that I need to walk my walk, for lack of a better way to put it. And so I'm pretty candid with my students now about what these feelings are, and how you just kind of have to feel the fear and, and do it anyway.” [20:00]
Her advice on dealing with feelings of failure - “It's a journey. You are not supposed to wake up in the morning and suddenly be everything that you wanted to be. The whole point is that we get to earn our accomplishments and earn the places that we get by falling along the way. And so make sure that that you're really taking the time to appreciate that you are an amazing human being with the capacity to learn. And you are an amazing human who can make mistakes and still contribute way more to the world than you're giving yourself credit for. So focusing on that. The other thing is to learn, learn how to take a compliment. And so one of the things I often tell people is to have a friend or two with whom you routinely share compliments and share accomplishments.” [28:13]
CONTACT Dr. Goerner:
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