Have you ever felt like a fraud?
Do you feel uncomfortable receiving praise for something you are good at?
Do you feel ‘guilty’ for getting well paid for your service?
For those of you who are in the profession of helping others (eg. professional coach, public speaker, teacher, consultant, therapist, trainer, author, leader, clergyman etc.), do you sometimes feel that you aren’t worthy or good enough to carry that role?
Or you may feel like you got to where you are now by luck or mistake, not by merit.
There are times you feel you don’t deserve the recognition. In your mind, you’re not good enough and you are afraid that at any minute someone will find you out! So you work harder and get busier, using all that as a mask to hide under, hoping no one would discover that you’re a fraud.
Well, you are not alone. Welcome to the world of ‘The Impostor Syndrome’, at least that’s what the psychologists called it.
The Impostor Syndrome is a situation whereby one feels like a fraud – he thinks that he has duped the people around him into believing that his accomplishments are of a much higher calibre than it really is. He is afraid that one day the truth will be revealed.
Psychological research done in the early 1980s estimated that two out of five successful people consider themselves frauds and other studies have found that 70 percent of all people feel like impostors at one time or another. So take heart, your experience is not unique.
I have had these feelings of being a fraud many times before.
Back in the school when I did exceptionally well for certain exams, I thought the grades I got did not match with the low amount of work I put in. How could I have done better than all the others that worked so hard for it? What if my teachers found out I was actually a lazy boy?
I felt the ‘impostor syndrome’ too when I was a leader at a local church. I was certainly no better than the people I led. My personal-spiritual life was a wreck at times. Besides, I didn’t have some of the big answers I was seeking myself.
At the beginning of my professional coaching career, those voices of ‘fraud thinking’ kept taunting me, planting doubts into my head. They asked, “Who are you to coach someone who already has a long track record of success?” and along similar lines.
Even after gaining some experience as a coach, those voices would sometime return and say that my clients achieved whatever they have achieved by their own hard work and brilliance, not by my coaching.
I’m sharing this to say that this is quite common. I’ve talked to clients, sales professionals and peer coaches who at one time or another, suffered from ‘the impostor syndrome’.
How To Deal With The Impostor Syndrome
Instead of coping strategies, I’d invite you to look within. This is especially for coaches and people of similar profession.
1. Start with your sweet spot
What do you love to do?
What are you particularly good at?
How can you serve the world?
I explored these questions and more in one of my previous posts on ‘finding your sweet spot’. What you can bring to the table and offer to the world is unique.
Be connected to your authentic self – what makes you strong and come alive. Sometimes we measure ourselves with the false standard we made up by comparing with others. Rediscover and be reminded of what makes your gifts so unique, and there is no need for comparison.
Focus on creating the biggest impact that only you can bring.
2. There Is No On/Off Switch
Recently, I have been immersing myself into the Vocal Awareness course by Arthur Joseph. I’m intrigued by one of his main concepts that there is no on/off switch when it comes to communication and voice mastery.
The same person shows up everywhere. Who we are in private is the same person that shows up in the public – the same voice.
“How you do anything is how you do everything.” ~ T. Harv Eker.
Personally, it was a profound insight for me. It pointed me in the direction of a more integral self, even as a coach. There are no dual roles, no separate self. When the coach in me shows up everywhere, there is no incongruity – there is no place for the ‘impostor syndrome’.
I don’t need to strive to be the perfect coach all the time, I just need to be true to myself even when no one’s looking. I have a choice.
3. They are just ‘thoughts’
Recognize that the ‘impostor syndrome’ is a thought-generated situation. They are stories you tell yourself about yourself. If you can insightfully grasp the nature of thought, than you would not take them too seriously.
Just because we have thoughts doesn’t mean they are true. We have tens of thousands of them every day and most of them are random, beyond our control.
For example, when I have thoughts that I’m not a good husband, it doesn’t mean I am that. On days when I’m in a low mood, I feel very much like a failure. Although those thoughts may appear so real at that time, I know I’m feeling my thinking.
Once I understand that my feelings are shadows of my thoughts, I would see past them. I know I’m going to be okay no matter what. My psychological immune system kicks in and my inner well-being is restored. Clarity is regained.
4. Have a beginner’s mind
When you have a beginner’s mind, you can be free of your ego, learn anything you want and become fearless. You have nothing to lose and would dare take risks. You let go of the illusion of insecurity with ease.
The opposite is true. When you are afraid to look bad, you become insecure. You would take the voices of the impostor syndrome seriously.
We would never be able to live up to the ideal standards we set for ourselves – simply put, we will never be ‘good enough’ anyway. Why not just adopt the beginner’s mind?
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” ~ Shunryu Suzuki.
5. Focus on serving the person in front of you
You don’t need to save the world. You don’t need to be the best in the business. You only need to focus on serving ONE person at a time. Give it everything you’ve got for that one person.
The weight we put on ourselves is unnecessary and gets in the way of serving. We put our thoughts on worries and fears, of things that have yet to happen. It’s far more useful to put all that energy into paying attention on serving that one person.
At the end of the session, get his feedback on the value you have provided to him. Ask how he has been positively impacted by what you did. Gather those ‘evidences’.
Remember, even many of the world’s most successful people experience the ‘Impostor Syndrome’. Just because you think you are a fraud doesn’t mean you are.
Focus on taking small actions that have the biggest impact. There is no on/off switch – the same person appears everywhere. Pay attention on serving the person in front of you.
How do you deal with the ‘impostor syndrome’? I would love to hear you share.