imposter syndrome

When the words we use to ‘help’ do more harm than good

Take ‘Imposter Syndrome’…if you read my recent diatribe against getting out of your comfort zone – you’ll know I promised I’d take this one on next. 

I feel like there’s this moment in time when something turns from useful concept to insidious suggestion. And ‘Imposter Syndrome’ – your time is now. We hear the term so much that every other person I meet thinks they are suffering from it.  

So, the term was identified, coined, described back in 1978: 

The term impostor phenomenon is used to designate an internal experience of intellectual phonies, which appears to be particularly prevalent and intense among a select sample of high achieving women. Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the impostor phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise. – Pauline Rose Clance & Suzanne Imes, The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women

1978 that was, and still it persists. Articles proclaim that you have it, apparently 70% of people do. And yet, I’ve just come out of a group session with 15 people and one curious person asked has anyone ever actually been ‘found out’? Did even one of those people identify themselves as an imposter who had been found out for tricking someone into overestimating their skills. NO!!!

Does it help to encourage people to think they have ‘a syndrome’ – NOOOOOO!! Language matters, so if you insist on keeping the concept at least change the language – I’m a fan of Amanda Palmer’s alternative ‘The Fraud Squad’ – and you know what, if you can change the language, you can change the image too. If you can change the image (I give you Mario in his teeny tiny fraud squad car). you can change the feeling. 

So yes – seek evidence of your achievements, grow your confidence, but also why not keep a healthy dose of humility and call yourself a human being not an arse!  We are not the finished article, we are not arrived, we are still becoming (thanks for that one Michelle Obama). 

And if you’re curious about how you change your images then get in touch, if you’re a coach wondering how you can help your clients change their images – Ben Wolff and I will be tackling that on our Breath for Coaches course.