Tips to Beating Imposter Syndrome… Stop feeling like a fraud.

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By John Veitch
CEO of The Travel Corporation

CEO of The Travel Corporation Australia – John Veitch’s Tips to beating Imposter Syndrome

International Women’s Day last month cemented to me that we need to get serious about equality for women in the work place.

In 1972 Georgia University identified the “Imposter Syndrome”.  It’s when you’re sitting in a meeting and you feel like you don’t deserve to be there, that everybody knows more than you and how could your opinion matter.  Your inner voice says – I’m a fraud and everyone is going to find out!  It’s that feeling in the bottom of your stomach – you know the one, it happens to the best of us.

Now fear and uncertainty at some stages of your life and career is natural.  It impacts everyone from graduate to CEO, men and women, and without it, you’re straying scarily close to narcissism and Trump territory. Imposter Syndrome becomes a real problem when we give that fear, the power to keep us from taking the actions needed to achieve our goals and aspirations.

Every year, Caroline my wife and I, each have a word as our mantra.  It’s not a New Year’s resolution, more a way of being and a change we feel we need to make.  In the past we have each had a different word, but this year we have the same word – BRAVE. Firstly, only people who have experienced imposter syndrome would choose a word like brave.  Secondly, I am about to be very brave and talk to you all about the need for you to beat Imposter Syndrome.  Or it’s going to hold us back on our road to equality.

While both women and men experience it, research suggests that men tend to deal with it better.  When I sit in a meeting and I’ve worked out that the smartest person in the room is the woman opposite me, that woman is the person I want to listen to, but too often I see imposter syndrome descend and I don’t get to hear her opinion or input. And then WE ALL lose.

As we know, generally, women have more empathy, a quality which holds great positives within relationships and the workplace.  But one unfortunate side effect is sometimes women care too much about what people think or say about them and are therefore, more susceptible to Imposter Syndrome. Research shows that women are more likely than men to mull over tiny mistakes and chalk accomplishment up to luck rather than skill.  This can make women more risk averse and less self-promoting, which in turn can hurt chances of success against male peers.

I’ve spoken with a number of women I greatly admire about this, who opened up to me with such honesty and candour about overcoming Imposter Syndrome.

Being Your Best Vs being The Best

– you can achieve the first 100% of the time – you can never sustain the latter. You will never be the expert on all topics – if someone asks you a question you’re unsure of, let them know you’ll get back to them and give yourself time to figure it out.

Own your success

– reflect on the small successes as well as the big ones and the role you played – own it!   You can also write down your accomplishments – to give a tangible boost to your self-belief.

Cease comparisons

– it’s great to look for inspiration in others, but stop comparing yourself. Almost all will have learned their craft over time, they will have had moments of self-doubt and likely had to quell Imposter Syndrome time and again.

Which brings me to the next tip: Be prepared.

This is especially important for the main Imposter Syndrome battle zone – that Big Important Meeting. Preparation builds confidence. If you’ve prepared for the meeting, thought about the issues, maybe have a pre- chat with somebody to see if you are aligned – you are set up to Be Your Best.

Remember a smart question early is more valuable than an opinion later on. But please don’t preface with – “this might be a silly question”.  Self-deprecation has its place, but this is more self-sabotage. It’s very unlikely to be a silly question if you prepared it in advance. Don’t belittle it – give it oxygen and respect. And remember it’s about the idea – not you.

But there is also a clear message to all Leaders and future leaders – your role is to create a culture and meeting environment where people are at ease and confident to express their view.  There’s no point employing them, or having them in the meeting, if you don’t hear their voice and utilise their talent.

In reality –  business, the sport field, and life can be tough.  There are people out there that want to bring you down, beat your sales number, tackle you on the game line and beat you to the next promotion. You are not imagining it – it is true. You have to get tough.

With Leilani my daughter – “If not you, then who?” – is a phrase that we use. – it comes from a place of care and love, but recognises that if you beat yourself before the race starts – you will never succeed. So, have confidence in your abilities, draw on your inner BRAVE self, remember all your great achievements and strengths. Ask Why NOT rather than WHY.   

Remember there is a lot of power in a word or phrase that can shut down Imposter Syndrome as it starts to build.  It can help you get some distance and perspective – this is not me, it’s Imposter Syndrome. A colleague of mine has named it ‘Peter”, after an undermining colleague from early in her career, and as the inner voice starts – it’s “Shut Up Peter” time. So find your own ‘kill switch’ to shut down these doubts – ‘Be Brave, I am worthy, Toughen Up’ – whatever works for you!

The underlying response from all the inspirational women I spoke to was that they win that battle within themselves.  They recognise the Imposter Syndrome and then find ways to shelve it. And You have to win that battle yourself, you have to find your way, because when we silence that inner voice telling us “we shouldn’t be here”, or “we can’t do this” – we are brave enough to share our ideas that can drive change – just like Celine Cousteau, TreadRight ambassador; or Petra Nemcova Co-founder of All Hands & Hearts, who continue to make a difference each day.

The aim is really to be Your Best, not The Best;

Own your success;

Stop comparisons;

Get prepared;

Don’t self-sabotage; and Tough it out.

Be brave.

We will only make a difference and achieve equality together,  when “Imposter Syndrome” is not in our DNA and no longer holds the power to diminish us. Whether it’s your first job or you’re a CEO – if we can beat it, what a great start. Then, imagine if we all mentor two women in 2018 to identify and beat it. A drop becomes a ripple. Imagine if as leaders, we all create a culture and environment where it is safe to speak up. Another drop becomes a bigger ripple. Imagine if when we see Imposter Syndrome hit a colleague we talk to them and help them to overcome it in the future. Eventually a ripple becomes a wave.

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By John Veitch, CEO of The Travel Corporation

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