How To Overcome 'The Imposter Syndrome'

SPECIAL GUEST POST BY TERRIE LUPBERGER, MCC

Terrie Lupberger is a senior executive coach and former CEO who works with leaders and high potentials worldwide. She catalyzes others to take new actions and grow results without sacrificing well being.

Terrie Lupberger is a senior executive coach and former CEO who works with leaders and high potentials worldwide. She catalyzes others to take new actions and grow results without sacrificing well being.

 

One of my very first bosses told me, and I kid you not, "you only got promoted because you’re attractive."  I had just been promoted to a position equal to his in another department and I had gotten to that level much faster than he had.


Looking back now, 20+ years later, I can see what a stupid, careless and inappropriate comment that was coming from a very insecure and bitter person.  At the time, however, that comment planted a seed of doubt in me that I spent the next several years trying to exorcise out.


Maybe it was true.  Maybe I wasn’t promoted based on my skills and talent.  Maybe I was a fake. Maybe it was just a matter of time before I was ‘found out’ that I wasn’t really competent or talented.  That comment fueled the seeds of my own self-doubt which grew into a pretty big pile of weeds over time.


I went about trying to prove to everyone around me that I was to be taken seriously.  On the outside I was tough and decisive and driven.  Actually, I wasn’t much fun to be around.  On the inside I felt like an imposter, more like Betty Boop than an aspiring or inspiring leader.  (For those of you too young to recognize the name, Betty Boop was a cartoon character developed in the 1930’s that was known for her looks, body and ditzy-ness.  I was sure it was just a matter of time before everyone found out that I really was like her.)

Funny thing is I kept getting promoted and I remember, like it was yesterday, the moment I decided that maybe there was nothing to prove.  I reached a point in my career where it just didn’t make any sense that I’d continue to move up the proverbial corporate ladder if I didn’t have the talent.  It would have been too risky and costly for the organization to promote me if I couldn’t do the job.  


There were many lessons in that experience for me but the most important was in finally recognizing the personal and professional costs of not believing in me but rather believing someone else’s opinion of me.  In short, I can see that I played it a little safer, took fewer career risks and made choices more to be approved of and liked than because those choices were aligned with what I cared about most.  

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Since those days, I’ve worked with lots of women leaders and high potentials and I’m surprised (and probably shouldn’t be) that the ‘imposter syndrome’ is still alive and well, even with the millennials.  This false belief that we aren’t good enough or talented enough yet or that we’re lacking something important to pursue that goal, dream, new position, etc. leads us to quit, give up, never try in the first place or stop pursuing what matters most to us.  


By the way, the imposter syndrome, also known as the “I’m not enough” syndrome also comes, in large part, from our cultural programming.  Every one of us are bombarded, each day, with the message of ‘not enough’.  Every commercial advertisement is a message telling you that you need something else.  Your happiness depends on having that car, that house, that‘look’, that job, that relationship…and, by the way, there’s not enough to go around so you better make sure you get it right away and get your share!  


So, what do you do if you’ve heard the ‘not enough’ voice in your head? 

The good news is that you’re aware of it, of that small voice of doubt inside you.  It’s good news because unless you become aware of that limiting belief, your choices – personal and professional – will be based more on what other’s want for and from you than on your own desires and sense of worth.


Once you have awareness and the desire to change you can start asking yourself some tough questions: 

  • Are you in that job, career, relationship, company, friendship because it lights you up? Brings you satisfaction? Brings you, what I call, aliveness? 
  • Or is there a ‘should’ in there that if you don’t do or have ‘it’ other people will judge/condemn/reject/laugh at you. 
  • Do you have the courage to stop listening to what other’s want for you and go after what you really want?  Do you have the self-compassion to be OK if you try and fail?  


Only YOU know the answers.  But know that you aren’t alone.  Lots of women listen too often and give too much credence to that voice of doubt.  Maybe it’s finally time to stop listening to it!

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