Have you ever felt you were an impostor in your position? Join the club. Many talented people in all walks of life are victims of the impostor complex. King George (in The King’s Speech) felt he didn't deserve to be King of England. It's estimated that 70% of high achievers feel like impostors, certain their present level of achievement does not result from true ability and others will soon discover the frauds they really are.
Deep inside most of us is the belief we are not good enough. And when we get promoted or elected or given more prestige, money, titles or power, the impostor complex rears its ugly head. It is particularly prevalent when we have to stand up and speak in front of a large group as there are more audience members to challenge our expertise.
Even though we have received objective, verifiable evidence that we are capable and confident, we are haunted by fears. Senator Ted Kennedy recalled, “The first time Jack and Bobby and I walked into the White House’s Oval office after Jack’s inaugural, we were sure someone would come round the corner and say, ‘You boys get out of here!’”
Many people are looking for jobs, switching jobs or switching careers more so than at any other time in history. It's common for them to successfully or unsuccessfully assume a persona, bluff their way until they pick up skills and gradually settle into a job until a couple of years later they are promoted or switch to another profession and are faced with another set of impostor fears.
Here are some suggestions:
1. Keep tabs on when impostor feelings are likely to occur. Have you been getting a lot of good or bad attention lately? How does that make you feel? Do these feelings occur when you take on a new assignment or have additional demands in your job? Are you uncomfortable because you imagine you're out of your "social class?" Have you been coping with a personal emergency and feel overwhelmed? It's helpful to keep a journal and jot down when negative feelings start to emerge.
2. Thorough preparation will give you security. If you need to present a proposal or critical information during a meeting, rehearse mentally and on-site, if possible. Develop a routine to use before every presentation.
3. Avoid people who undercut you or deliberately add to your insecurity. A man was working on a project with me and said things such as, "I'd be overwhelmed with all the things you have to do to make this a success." Or, "How much experience do you have pulling a project like this together?" I began to wonder if I could pull it together until I realized his game. The next time I smiled and replied, "No problem. It will all get done. I'm sure everyone including yourself will make a big contribution."
4. Approval from everyone isn't necessary. You don't have to please your older brother, your mother, your 3rd grade teacher, or a relative you haven't seen in years. Sometimes when we come from a high-achieving family, we feel we have to live up to expectations even when we are an adult.
5. Find a mentor. They have probably been through many of the demands of your job and can discuss realistically what you're going through. Or find a trusted coach, like the King did. Just talking with them about your fears can change your perception and give you new confidence.
Cut yourself some slack. Say to yourself, "I deserve to be here because of my intelligence and abilities. I will do the best job that I can possibly do."