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Getting over imposter syndrome

Janine Garner, author of Be Brilliant, shows us how to use times of uncertainty to focus inwards and accelerate our potential.

Are we ever good enough? Like, really? It’s like we have a pet gremlin living inside our heads, feeding on our inner dialogue: ‘Are you sure you can do this?’ ‘Do you think you’re good enough?’ ‘What if you fail?’

‘What’s everyone else doing?’

Even after the immediate rush of achieving that promotion, winning that sale or finally making that decision, it doesn’t take long for imposter syndrome to kick in. The worry of whether you can do it. The concern around whether you can make it. The question around whether you made the right decision. Self-doubt is exhausting, and it gets in the way of real progress.

Imposter syndrome stops your progress

These feelings of self-doubt are also often referred to as ‘imposter syndrome’, a term first coined in 1978 by two American psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. They described it as a feeling of ‘phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement’. They added that these people ‘live in fear of being “found out” or exposed as frauds’.

In the Harvard Business Review article ‘Overcoming Imposter Syndrome’, author Gill Corkindale shares that ‘imposters suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.’  You know exactly what I’m talking about! Sir Edmund Hillary, the first confirmed climber to reach the summit of Mount Everest, said, ‘It’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves’. Absolutely!

Quit the voices in your head

You are the key to getting over your imposter syndrome. Ultimately, you have to quit listening to the voices in your head – the ones telling you you’re not good enough, smart enough, savvy enough.

Professor Ron Heifetz from Harvard Kennedy Business School describes these inner voices as our ‘internal coding’ between the perceived role of how we think we should be and the self or the who we’re challenging ourselves to become. He suggests that these lines of code are developed through time. Some are hard coded and cemented, often associated with social and cultural norms. Others, he suggests, are flexible and can be renegotiated or even forgiven should we choose.

Ron invites us to identify the voices that no longer serve us and to choose to let them go or find ways to renegotiate the contract.

I acknowledge that even now as a mother of three, wife, sister, daughter, friend, these inner voices continue to raise their ugly heads. I’m not brilliant. I have flaws and imperfections—too many to list here.

Surrender and accept your imperfections and rise above limitations

But what I have learned is to accept who I am and be pretty gentle and forgiving of myself. I’ve learned that I have certain strengths where I can add a lot of value, and equally, I have a hell of a lot of weaknesses that are hard to change. I’ve learned to accept all of this about myself, and I’ve learned to get curious about my behaviours, and about how and why some people get under my skin. I’ve learned to continually lead from a place of courage and acceptance of others, of loving unconditionally and teaching always.

It’s not easy though—after all I’ve got many years of listening to my inner voices and struggling with feelings of not being good enough. But when we give in to the inner demons and negative voices, we can’t do our best work. We can’t bring the best of ourselves to what we do, and we can’t do what it is we want to do and achieve with our life.

Only when we accept all of our imperfections and rise above our limitations, only when we unleash our own inner brilliance can we truly create the space for others to do the same.

So why not identify the inner voices that are restricting your growth or putting out your dreams: how could you renegotiate your contract with these voices or reframe your thinking on them? Quit the negative self-talk. Stop focusing on what others are doing and achieving. It’s time to let go and move forward. This is your race to run.

Janine Garner

Janine Garner is the author of Be Brilliant – how to lead a life of influence (Wiley) and is a global thought leader on powerful networking, collaboration and transformational leadership. A highly sought-after keynote speaker, educator and best-selling author, Janine works with high-profile global leaders, and helps many of Australia’s top 50 ASX companies and multinationals. Visit bebrilliantbook.com.

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