About 25 years ago a major global airline conducted a light-hearted survey amongst its First and Business Class passengers. They wanted to discover what type of people travelled in the front cabins of their airplanes. The most surprising discovery they made, was that 80% of these outwardly successful and confident travelers, when asked anonymously, confessed that they thought they did not really deserve to be there. Sooner or later, they thought, somebody was going to realize that far from being responsible, confident, executives (as they appeared to the outside world), they believed they were actually faking it!
A quarter century on and nothing much has changed it seems. I still travel the World assisting senior business people to communicate effectively and I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that most of the people I meet are playing a very unhelpful tape-loop, over and over again inside their heads.
The message on the tape is still: “What will they do when they discover I’m only me?”
For all their bluster, success and outward confidence most people are as full of self doubt as well…me.
This condition actually has a name: ‘Imposter Syndrome’. A constant feeling that, despite (in my case) 40 successful years in business, at any moment we may be revealed as corporate frauds or business fakes.
Every time we succeed we count it as a fluke or an error. Whenever we (occasionally) get awards or hearty thanks from clients we feel we should almost apologise. Either we have done the trick again and fooled them all or we are once again dealing with this company’s village idiot. Quite soon somebody is bound to take any one of us to one side and say, “My friend all is discovered… You haven’t got a clue have you?”
‘Imposters’, find that each new obstacle [ a seminar, a promotion, a contract, an air fare ] only increases the anxiety that next time we WILL be discovered.
But there is help out there. In her 1988 book “The Imposter Syndrome: Overcome the Fear that Haunts Success”, the American psychologist Pauline Rose Clance says that 70% of us (men and women) professional people, share this anxiety. The second thing is, she says, that it mainly affects high achieving, very intelligent and highly motivated people. The ones who appear to ‘have it all’. Wah-hay!!
But that doesn’t make us feel any better does it?
So what can we self taught ‘imposters’ do about this unworthy feeling? The book by Pauline Clance, has some home-learning exercises any one of us can use.
She tells us: Keep a record for a week on how you respond to compliments and jot down how you feel And what you said to the other person, especially if you changed the subject. Do a reality check: count up the supervisors, teachers, bosses who say you are talented and have given you praise or promotions in the past. Is it possible for so many people to misjudge you consistently? ” (What? You’re a real imposter? Don’t answer that!)
We imposters require a lot of back-up and encouragement. We need to accept that other people are not just sucking up to ‘make us feel good’….These others genuinely see our talents in a way that we do not.
Our daily affirmation might be the last words spoken by AA Milne’s Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh: “Promise me you’ll always remember you’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem and smarter than you think”
I’ll do that Christopher Robin- thank you.