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Have you felt like an imposter? Learn what the feeling means and how to move forward productively.

  • Have you ever felt like you were the fraud in the room and about to be found out?

  • Does it seem your colleagues do their work easily while you struggle or second-guess yourself?

  • Have you wondered how you managed to get where you are and how long it will be before you are exposed as being incompetent?

Believe it or not, you are not alone! Seventy percent of professionals experience the feeling of "imposter syndrome" at some point. Why is it so common? Where does it come from, and what can be done to constructively deal with it? Feeling like one is an imposter, or not competent or qualified to be in the room, on the job, or at the table, affects many high-performing, well-trained, and educated individuals, especially those who are high-achieving and driven. Having a perfectionism trait also increases the likelihood of experiencing the sense of being an imposter. In other words, the imposter feeling is common and often comes with being a high achiever. In January, I listened to a webinar with the guest speaker, Kim Meninger, a coach with extensive experience helping people navigate imposter syndrome. Her perspective on effectively managing imposter feelings was new for me and presented new tools for dealing with it. Instead of focusing on disproving the imposter feeling, she suggests reframing it as a sign of discomfort or fear. Imposter syndrome occurs when we feel unsure, uncomfortable, or fearful of a situation, often one that is new, unexpected, or requires stretching beyond our comfort zone. Instead of questioning your ability to do something, Ms. Meninger suggests asking yourself, "What am I uncomfortable with or afraid of right now?" She says the imposter syndrome feeling is, at its core, a fear response, one of many fear responses we experience, and it is particularly common to people who are high-achievers or those starting something new. Changing our perspective about what the feeling means can change our approach to it when it occurs. Instead of buying into the feeling and questioning our abilities, we can identify and focus on what is causing our fear or discomfort. Then the questions become:

  • What am I fearful of?

  • What am I feeling uncomfortable about?

  • What have I done in past situations when I was fearful like this?

  • What skills and tools do I have to take on this new experience?

  • How do I want to proceed now?

  • What resources do I have for talking it through and formulating a way to deal with this new situation or challenge?

Addressing these questions can lead us to intentional action and forward progress. The feeling may not leave, and we can proceed forward anyway. Acknowledging, planning, and persevering through the fear and discomfort are productive ways to move forward. For more ideas and discussion of this concept, Kim Meninger's imposter syndrome podcast is a useful resource. As always, I am eager to discuss your ideas and thoughts with you at anytime, about this and any other topics. Sending my best, Marti

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