Why do brilliant, vibrant, charismatic professional women professionals struggle with imposter syndrome?
At a women’s mentoring conference this past weekend, I was paired with a young high-performing sales executive who voiced a litany of doubts about her abilities and accomplishments. She wasn’t alone. Other participants echoed her sentiments, some saying they feel like they don’t deserve their success. Full disclosure: I felt that way for a good portion of my adult life.
Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which individuals doubt their skills, talents, or successes and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. While imposter syndrome can affect anyone, regardless of their gender, research has suggested that women may be more prone to experiencing imposter syndrome than men.
Feelings of inadequacy can be caustic when you are expected to speak to motivate, persuade, inspire, and present the best version of yourself in front of others. When you need to present your ideas, do an interview, speak to the media, and a multitude of other speaking scenarios, it’s important to feel capable and confident as well as to display confidence and competence.
Richard Branson, the billionaire tycoon, said, “confidence breeds confidence and negativity breeds negativity.”
There are several research-based reasons why women are more likely to suffer from imposter syndrome:
Systemic gender stereotypes.
Women are often subjected to stereotypes that suggest that they are less capable than men in certain fields, such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This can lead women to doubt their abilities and feel like they don’t belong.
Lack of significant representation.
Women are often underrepresented in leadership positions, which can make it difficult for them to see themselves as successful or deserving of their accomplishments. As of 2022, women hold 8.8% of leadership positions at Fortune 500 companies, according to the Global Gender Gap Report.
Being held to high standards.
Women are often socialized to be perfectionists, which can lead them to set impossibly high standards for themselves and then feel like failures when they don’t meet those standards.
Women are often expected to balance multiple roles, such as being a mother, a wife, and a career woman. This can create a sense of pressure to excel in all areas of life, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.
Whether the feelings of inadequacy are random, fleeting, or persistent, they rob us of the poise, confidence, and charisma we need to make an impact when we communicate. Let me clarify: a healthy dose of humility is valuable to keep our ego in check, but lingering feelings of inadequacy are harmful.
Many years ago, I took a page from positive psychology and put my imposter syndrome in a jar, a pickle jar to be precise, with a label that reads “imposter no more.” It is a figurative reminder to not let those feelings “out of the jar,” but to acknowledge them, contain them, and not give them any power over my thoughts.
Recognize and acknowledge.
The first step in gaining control over imposter syndrome is to accept that you have these feelings. It’s important to understand that it’s common and that even the most successful people on earth have experienced it.
Concentrate on your strengths.
Focus attention on your strengths instead of dwelling on your weaknesses or mistakes. Accept failure as an opportunity to improve and make room for better things. The presentation you blew should inform what you can do better next time. The interview you flubbed holds lessons for continuous self- improvement.
Share your feelings.
As my mentee did this weekend during our hour of one-on-one conversation, put your false beliefs of inadequacy in the light and their power will start to diminish. Simply talking about your feelings can help you gain a fresh perspective and reduce anxiety. Besides, expressing vulnerability as a public speaker is a tool your can harness to gain trust and credibility and connect better with your audience.
Reframe your thinking.
Instead of thinking negatively, challenge negative self-talk and replace it with positive affirmations. Consciously acknowledge your accomplishments and reframe negative thoughts and beliefs about oneself. Be objective, truthful, and claim what you know and who you are.
Positive visualization is one of the most effective methods for expanding your self-confidence. Imagine a situation beforehand and you can “trick” your mind to think it has already occurred. Science on mental practices shows that when you visualize an action you can perform that same action better.
Choose affirming words.
Think carefully about the words you choose to talk about your expertise. Avoid qualifiers, such as: I only have five years of experience. I could be wrong. I should know more about that. Minimizing words and phrases can reinforce your self-doubts and emit negative vibes of fear and uncertainty to your audience.
Use confident body language.
Your state of mind is shaped by your non-verbal language, as is the way you are perceived by others. This includes your tone of voice, volume, rate of speech, facial expressions, use of hands and posture. A smile triggers the neurons of happiness in your brain. Such a simple technique can dampen any thoughts of inadequacy and enhance your performance. More than half of what you communicate to others has nothing to do with the words you speak.
Maintain a healthylife balance by hydrating, getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, spending time in nature, and engaging in activities that bring you joy and inner comfort. Those good habits will pay dividends to boost your self-esteem and help you think more clearly about your many talents and abilities. Remember, overcoming imposter syndrome is a process that takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself, exercise self-love and others will notice. Celebrate and share your successes along the way and turn them into inspiration you can weave into your next talk.
Remember, overcoming imposter syndrome is a process that takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself, exercise self-love and others will notice. Celebrate and share your successes along the way and turn them into inspiration you can weave into your next talk.