Sharing inspiration, insight and interesting ideas

Confidence, Resilience & Mindset - 08-10-2023 - - 0 comments
Imposter Syndrome Insights


Imposter Syndrome - it sounds like a disease, doesn't it? And maybe it is. An epidemic of limiting beliefs, fear, and uncertainty.

 In my view, self-diagnosing ‘imposter syndrome’ is dangerous - why? Because what we think is true becomes our truth.

“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right“ - Henry Ford

I've noticed something interesting about Imposter Syndrome in the 8 years I've been coaching. Women tend to label self-doubt as imposter syndrome more frequently than men. I don’t mean to overgeneralise here, this is just a casual observation having coached hundreds of people, and of course, there have been exceptions along the way. I’ve observed that men use this label too but will typically begin questioning the meaning of those words early on in our work together.

I hear things like... "What is imposter syndrome anyway" or “Actually, I don’t think it is imposter syndrome”. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to reinforce the I have imposter syndrome and grip it tightly when challenged. It often seems to be a lot deeper for women, a part of them, and it’s heavier somehow.

Why? I wonder. Maybe it's because there are not as many female role models around them. Perhaps there are more questions about whether they can reach certain heights or be OK outside of their comfort zone in an environment that wasn’t designed with equality in mind. Maybe it’s actually about belonging and feeling welcome in certain arenas. What do you think?

I don’t mean to invalidate anyone’s experience here, but I do wonder if lots of people would be better off if we deleted the term Imposter syndrome from our language. Acknowledging that we are all uniquely brilliant and on a unique growth journey. And we ALL experience feelings of self-doubt. You can feel nervous/anxious/unsure/be on a learning journey in your role AND COMPLETELY DESERVE TO BE IN THE ROOM sharing your opinions and asking your questions.


Let’s talk about ‘beliefs and limiting beliefs’ instead. There will be a part 2 blog with strategies that you can start using right away to challenge the beliefs that are limiting you in your life and career.

I have also learned from my clients that gender difference is just the tip of the iceberg. When we become aware of the very real barriers intersectionality creates for people, it’s easy to see why it can be even harder for people to believe in themselves. If this is you THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT! People from underrepresented and marginalised communities are often told from a young age that they need to work harder than the rest. They don't or won’t have the opportunities others have. They will not be successful/safe/accepted unless they (insert limiting belief). Limiting beliefs are embedded, such as – I am not allowed to make mistakes - I have to be perfect – I’m not good enough. These thought processes can wreak havoc on a person’s confidence.

People from underrepresented communities can and often do experience very real barriers to their success and happiness, and there’s often a lot of unresolved pain hidden inside that makes it much harder to build their confidence levels and to source self-belief internally. As a coach, I sit beside people and witness their very real pain as they do the work to become more confident and step up in their careers. WE as a society have got some work to do.

The work we need to do is to help everyone rise, and I'm not talking about rising to power. It’s not a power thing - it's not about who's here and who’s there and who’s at the top and who’s at the bottom – that’s not what I’m talking about right now. It's helping everybody become internally resourced …

When I talk about being internally resourced, I mean the external factors are not leading you – YOU are leading you.

It's helping and encouraging everyone to bring their full, unique, and brilliant selves to all arenas – including the workplace. Celebrating each individual and helping them to believe in themselves.

Albert Bandura at Stanford University studied how learning takes place and created the Bandura Curve. He found that learning is a process of moving through crisis points that require that we believe we can change or improve. As we believe in our capabilities, our performance rises to meet the belief. As we question our ability, our performance falters.

Self-doubt is not the same thing as truly believing that you are not good enough. Labelling self-doubt as imposter syndrome is very unhelpful and can prevent you from moving through what is a very normal and human reaction to change, learning, and growth. Why? Because in doing so you are creating a new identity for yourself as an 'imposter' and instead of focusing on positive beliefs you over-focus on the limiting beliefs and entrench them.

We are constantly hypnotising ourselves with our self-talk.

Beliefs are thought processes we hold to be true, that are not necessarily true. I often refer to them as the filters or glasses we look through. We will behave in ways that support our beliefs, even when those beliefs don't support us.

Beliefs are generalisations, the rules we create so we can predict what might happen based on what we have experienced before. Used to good effect generalisation facilitates learning and at worst it’s how we take an idea or event and turn it into a lifetime of unhappiness.

We have the power to grow or shrink ourselves.

Once we have decided something is true, we then tend to distort or delete new information that could contradict our beliefs. We do this because beliefs are extra special thoughts that are integral to who we know ourselves to be. They knit together to form our identity. We commit to these thoughts, sometimes for a lifetime, for better or worse.

Becoming more of who we are at our best requires us to become conscious of these limiting beliefs and do the inner work to change them. And that can be downright scary when they are embedded at the level of identity.

  • Who am I without this belief?
  • If I no longer have this belief, then I’m going to have to do that scary thing!
  • How do I make sense of my world without this belief?

Sometimes we can do this work ourselves and sometimes we need the help of a coach or a therapist to support us to (1) become more conscious and (2) do the deeper work at the root of these beliefs.

It is possible to divorce these beliefs, accept them as part of our life experience, and move forward.

We can all rise together to our rightful places. For some people that will be leadership positions, but that's not the only goal. It's about each of us being able to fully embody the role that is right for us with confidence. We need to help people to do that, and we need to help ourselves to do that. This is the leadership the world needs today. This is what your organisation needs if you're on a culture change journey. This is what we need to do inside ourselves to live our most fulfilled lives.

Let’s start normalising that …

  • Trying something new, or changing roles, or growing ourselves, etc. takes us to an edge. It’s an adaptive challenge & self-doubt is something we all experience.
  • Growth and comfort don't hang out together - and that's OK. We don’t need to pretend it’s easy.

Keep an eye out for my next blog which will include strategies and insights to help you manage imposter feelings and self-doubt.



If you'd like to find out about 1-to-1 career change & development programmes, or coaching for your team/organisation get in touch or click here to book a call. 

 If you enjoyed this blog, you'll love my newsletter where I share monthly insights and inspiration. Sign up HERE. 

Picture credit:  Polina Zimmerman

Add a comment:




Enter the characters in the image shown:

back to top