The Power of Y.O.U. and the Imposter Syndrome

This article is the first in a 3 part series of articles. These articles will guide you to eliminate bad habits that stop you from claiming the Power of Y.O.U. 

What factors may cause you to deny or minimize your own uniqueness? In what ways may you be stifling or burying your unlimited potential?  As a result of analyzing thousands of clients’ life stories, I’ve identified three recurring self-defeating culprits that have blocked an individual from fully utilizing their gifts.  These three culprits include the imposter syndrome, a limited definition of intelligence and social comparison. 

Let’s illuminate each one and set you on a path to new possibilities and greater freedom.   

The Imposter Syndrome – Culprit #1 

The imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite your education, experience, and accomplishments.  Imposters suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.  To counter these feelings, you might end up working harder and holding yourself to higher standards. This complex can become triggered by one key defining moment in your life story or an accumulated series of moments that caused you to feel your most vulnerable. An estimated 70% of people experience these impostor feelings at some point in their lives which I found to be a surprisingly high statistic. What about you? Do these feelings sound familiar? If so, let’s focus your attention on identifying clues as to WHY you may suffer from it and WHAT you can do to stop feeding this counterproductive belief. 

During my teens and through my late 20’s, I battled with the “imposter syndrome.”  I hope that a spark, idea, or connection about the defining moment(s) in your own life story may arise by sharing my personal story. The defining moment in my life stems from losing my father in the blink of an eye due to a sudden heart attack. That morning, as always, we had our special daddy/daughter breakfast before I left for school. I cherished these moments more than anything. Unfortunately, by 9:00 AM that same day, he was gone. I was in sixth grade in junior high school when I learned my father had passed away in the guidance counselor’s office in the high school. My brother was with my dad finalizing his college admissions plan for the coming fall. This was the high school I would later attend. 

This defining moment forever changed my view and feelings about everything in life – and I mean everything. I gained a drastically new perspective about resilience, taking positive actions, and the benefits of belonging to a community for giving and receiving support.  These attributes shaped me into the person I’ve become today. As I sought to stuff the unbearable feelings of grief, my purpose led me to gravitate towards situations and support groups where I could uplift, inspire and honor others that I observed struggling as well. Making a positive difference in ways I could never have imagined truly kept me going. This purpose helped alleviate some of my own suffering and kept me focused on being of service to others.  

While continuing my studies at school following the aftermath of this crisis and trauma, my ability to be fully present and concentrate on learning was inconsistent at best. Although I did reasonably well in my classes, all things considered, I immediately felt at a disadvantage compared to my close friends who performed at high levels academically and had what had seemed at the time “their same normal lives.”  My intense sadness, anxiety and grief continued to make my learning experience feel arduous.  This is when my imposter came alive. Through junior high and high school, I fell into the common trap of using test scores and academic grades as the marker of my intelligence. My closest friends got straight A’s. I didn’t. I was beginning to believe I didn’t have the “right stuff” to succeed. 

In contrast to my school environment, I realized that I thrived when applying my innate gifts outside the classroom, both in after-school activities and summers away at sleepaway camp. I felt empowered and exhilarated as a young teenager when I excelled in various leadership roles at camp. As a lead volunteer, I inspired other teens who had similar life challenges to me to move forward. I realized the greatest gifts I possessed included leadership and motivational skills, mentoring others, a competitive spirit, creative self-expression and humor, relationship building and planning and organizing. I felt passionate about encouraging others and modeling resilience. I enjoyed identifying and promoting other people’s gifts and seeing what I could learn from them. As a young girl, these environments enabled me to feel competent, accomplished and happy. My imposter had temporarily disappeared. 

When I entered the 10th grade, I had a good year academically. Fast forward to 11th grade, and the pressure mounted again. I had bought into the limiting belief that I just wasn’t smart enough and I finally had the evidence to prove it. After sitting for my first and only SAT exam, I was very unhappy with my test results. My friends’ higher SAT scores confirmed my limiting beliefs and validated my assumptions that they were, in fact, smarter than me. I concluded I didn’t measure up. My imposter led me to doubt and devalue my strengths. Lost and confused, I wanted to flee. By the 11th grade, I gave up on graduating high school the traditional way with my peers. Instead, I chose to accelerate based on a tip my brother’s guidance counselor gave me. With my grade report average of 89.5, all I had to do was double up on senior English and I was free to start college at 17. I skipped my senior year of high school, including graduation and off I went. I took action, and I felt empowered. 

My imposter complex continued to invade my thoughts and plagued me for quite some time. Against my better judgment and the seemingly practical advice of others, I selected business as my major instead of what I truly desired, psychology. During my sophomore year, I was hit with real depression. I had zero motivation to study, especially after the blow of receiving a C in both accounting and computer programming. I didn’t enjoy these courses or feel engaged in the subject matter. I felt like a total failure. This wake-up call forced me to reflect deeply. After gaining clarity, I transferred to George Washington University in my junior year and finally switched my major to psychology.  My passion, boldness and connection to the subject matter favored my future success instead of focusing on my grades. Courage and action became my antidote to self-doubt. 

Within a short time, my happiness and motivation increased significantly, as did my grades. I secured two valuable internships in my junior and senior years, respectively. These work experiences enabled me to explore and confirm my targeted career path in Human Resources Management. I performed well and felt satisfied during these early work experiences while adding value as a young intern. I decided to apply for my master’s in industrial/organizational psychology at Columbia University with my increased confidence. I recall how much grit and perseverance this process took and how much I wanted to prove to myself that “I can do this!” The day I was accepted to Columbia University, I smiled from ear to ear and realized that my limiting belief of “not being smart enough” was masquerading as the truth! 

I’m hopeful my POWER OF Y.O.U. newsletter will inspire you to focus daily on using a few or all of the power tools below:

Your 30 Day Power Challenge 

  1. So what about you? Can you relate to feeling like an imposter in certain situations? If your answer is yes, reflect on your own personal story and identify how your imposter has negatively impacted your personal and/or professional development. Be specific. 
  2. Identify a crisis, disappointment or defining moment in your life that may have created your own personal imposter syndrome. How has self–doubt led to you invalidate or stifle the use of your innate gifts?  
  3. For the next 30 days, become very aware of the toxic thoughts your imposter instills in you. Keep track of how your confidence and motivation is affected by these thoughts. At the end of the 30 days, document what these toxic imposter thoughts have cost you.  
  4. List the benefits you will gain by killing off your imposter and magnifying your innate gifts. 

Power Resources and Tools

  1. For more information about how you may be affected by the imposter syndrome, take this brief quiz for free and self score for your results.
  2. Read “Disrupt Yourself” by Whitney Johnson 
  3. Check out Whitney Johnson’s podcast and listen to episode 120 “play to your distinctive strengths”. 

You will learn the secrets of how some of the world’s top thought leaders make a positive difference owning their uniqueness. 

I want to hear from you. Send me an email and please let me know how you did with this month’s challenge and the power resources and tools. You can also connect with me via my website: nancy@careerleverage.net to learn about how my services can benefit you and set up a complimentary discovery call with me.

Stayed tuned for article #2 in this series which reveals my perspective about how the limited definition of intelligence and your imposter may stop you from owning the full power of your unique kind of smarts. 

Are you ready to take action and be accountable for your desired results?

Do you want challenge yourself to grow professionally and personally? If your answer is YES to both for creating sustainable change, then contact Nancy to learn more about the steps for getting there.

Nancy Friedberg

Nancy Friedberg, M.A.

Master Coach and President, Career Leverage, Inc.
Marshall Goldsmith Certified Stakeholder Centered Coach
Certified Now What? Facilitator

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