For the bigger part of my life I have suffered from the so-called Imposter Syndrome. Sadly, I know I’m not the only one. But is it possibe to overcome the Imposter Syndrome?
What happens to us when we believe we are imposters? Why do we think we are people who are faking it and never truly making it? No matter how high an education you have, not matter how much experience, there is something within that tells you – you are not good enough, and soon they will find out.
Is Imposter Syndrome lack of authenticity?
Mostly this syndrome takes place in the office, or in the working life. For me it became the modus operandi within my career, and I got so used to it I didn’t think it could be any other way. I simply didn’t belong, I was faking it, and needed to spend most of my energy keeping up appearances. Faking that I loved it, that I was interested in the topics discussed or somehow passionate about the typical career trajectory laid ahead of me.
In my case it had everything to do with authenticity, or the lack thereof. But what are we afraid of when we feel the need to fake it?
I was afraid to be myself, because I didn’t think I was good enough as I was. I was afraid to show my true colors because I thought everyone needed to be gray. Somehow I didn’t think I could be successful and authentic, so I did what I thought was neccessary.
During every job interview I would sense what the other party would want me to say, and I would say that. I would sense what kind of person they wanted me to be, and I would play along. I would get hired, and then spend the rest of my time looking over my shoulder afraid that someone will catch me in the act – of being myself.
Sorry but you are too nice
When I returned from the Philippines and went through some job interviews here in Amsterdam, I had a defining moment. During one interview I had this thought – what if I were to lay all of my cards on the table, right here, right now?
All of a sudden I was so tired of faking it, and I had had enough of hiding myself. I was not a corporate shark, a tough bitch ready to slice throats. I am a kindhearted person with a fierce soul, but I’m not a competitive person who enjoys rough and tough environments.
We had a great talk, and I left the building quite excited about the job. I thought we had a great click with the interviewers. My vision was shattered the very next day, when I got a call from the recruiter.
I was not selected for the job because –get this– I was too nice. And mind you, this was a function with HR responsibility, something where BEING NICE would kind of be an advantage.
I was flabbergasted, but learned something valuable. The entire process felt so liberating and I felt so incredibly authentic for the first time, that I knew there was no going back. People were going to have to take me as I was, colors and all, and if I didn’t fit, I would not have liked it anyway. Not that it was always easy to practice, but I was well on my way.
Drop the ego and lead with your strengths
Few years ago I participated in a training through a coaching company called Talent First. Their approach was just that – lead with your talents and stop putting all of your efforts into your weaknesses. Meaning, you will never reach your full, glorious potential by tweeking your weaknesses. Instead, focus on your strengths, focus on your talents and lead with them. Great remedy to overcome the Imposter Syndrome once and for all.
For me this meant something even scarier than showing my true colors. It meant dropping the ego and allowing myself do what I loved. Because –behold– there is something within the corporate world that I absolutely love to do, and I am the best at it, too! And I have no fear in saying that, I have no fear that someone will find out otherwise, because in that particular role I am being authentically me, doing what I do best.
So what’s the issue? In my case it was my ego. I know it’s usually up to no good, but it still was able to whisper denigrating thoughts into my ear, making me doubt if I should keep faking instead. Somehow, according to my ego, this role is not high enough, ambitious enough or prestigious enough. In other words, I should be able to do more, I should be able to be more.
My ego thought – you are not enough.
Whose permission are we waiting for?
But I don’t need anyone’s permission to feel enough. After a long period of soul-searching and ego crushing, I decided the hell with it. Let’s just continue showing all the colors, and let’s be proud of the passion I feel for the things I love to do. I was simply too tired to fake it.
Sadly, it often takes a total breakdown for us to see and appreciate our true colors. We try and try, achieve and push, until something cracks and there is no way back. I could have realized this lesson years ago, but stubborn as I am I needed to fake it until my 40th before was able to overcome the Imposter Syndrome and decide that life should be more fun than this.
So I stopped faking. And was rejected for another job because I’m too nice.
Luckily I have realized by now that if I am too nice, the fault is not in me, but in the corporate environment. What kind of world are we living in where being nice, respectful and kind is considered a weakness?? I refuse to live in this world, and decided to emphasize these qualities as my strengths instead of hiding them.
So I got up again, and showed up authentically in the next interview as well. I went on and on about my passions, my character and my view of cooperations, not faking one single word of it.
It turned out, they had never seen someone talk so passionately about this kind of role, and I got the job. Bonus points for me, because I know I don’t have to spend one single moment looking over my shoulder worrying someone will rat me out. They know exactly what they will get, and I know I will fit in.
Imposter Syndrome zero, authenticity one.