Easily Diagnose and Treat Impostor Syndrome

Easily Diagnose and Treat Impostor Syndrome
Image credit: Shutterstock
  • ---Shares
Reader Resource

Join us Dec 20. for our free webinar on attracting top talent, fueling productivity and building a brag-worthy culture. Register Now »

You are not meant to be here. 

That is what I said -- to myself. 

Then I said it again -- except it had four letter words in it the second time. 

Then my temperature rose, my jacket seemingly got tighter and I started to look for the washroom (apparently the only safe place to hide out at big events). 

Impostor -- that's what I was, an impostor. 

“How did she get in here?”

“What does she know about global policy?”

“You can tell by her shoes that she’s never been to one of these before.”

Actually all these things -- no one said to me, ever. 

Related: Fake It Until You Make It: How to Believe in Yourself When You Don't Feel Worthy

But they were all things I made up in my head as I walked toward safety. The W on the door stood for "weak" in my mind at that very moment. 

Last March at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Moscow in March, I was scheduled to speak about women in entrepreneurship to a host of people from around the globe. No big deal, right? 

But even though I have years of experience, a track record and gained recognition for my ability to start and grow businesses, I felt like I did not belong there.

It was just luck or a fluke that had led me to this global stage to address some of my idols of global entrepreneurship. Surely someone would find me out. 

Have you ever felt this way? 

I'm no doctor but I can diagnose this one. It is called impostor syndrome and doesn't always have a cure. But I think I know how to successfully treat it. 

Related: How to Deal With the Fear of Being Unqualified

I travel the world speaking to and consulting for entrepreneurs whose sales range from zero to tens of millions. These people are my colleagues, friends and clients. Without fail whenever I bring up the topic of this menace to the entrepreneurial mind, far more than half of those assembled say that at one time or another they feel like someone will find them out -- that they had no right to be in the corner office and any minute the house of cards will fall. 

The syndrome, that feeling, this psychological deviation from a person's generally confident self, the inability to internalize achievements or accomplishments, the crediting them to luck, timing or unintended swindling has been around for sometime. Indeed Albert Einstein cited "the exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindle to have been struck by it." 

In my own entirely unscientific way I propose this -- that the impostor syndrome happens to those who are focused the most on the outcome apart from their ego. When success happens either swiftly or quite the opposite after many trials, these entrepreneurs do not identify with the accolades bestowed on them because they have not had time to internalize them or disassociated their personal self-worth from outcomes all together.  

They did what they did in selfless pursuit of great work. 

I've seen that once the entrepreneurs become acclimatized to accepting that the successful outcome is at least in part a direct result of their efforts, the syndrome dematerializes. For some people who remain entirely fixed on the venture’s outcome regardless of the personal implications of success (or failure), the syndrome may never fully subside. 

If you wish to seek a cure, the most straightforward answer I have is to achieve self-acceptance. For many, this is not so simple. In my experience, the antidote simply involved examining empirical data and asking, What does the record show? 

Too often people take positive outcomes and subtract failures from the success scoreboard.

In a sick twist, somehow failures serve as merit points to everyone aside from the entrepreneur who may be doing a culmulative tally of worth. 

(Some even discount the validity of it all  if there was no suffering or failure.) 

The truth is, most people care very little about how often you failed or how long it took you to arrive at success but rather only care about what you succeeded at -- period.

In my opinion, impostor syndrome is not such a bad diagnosis, whether treated or not, as it implies success. Well it's not a bad diagnosis so long as you don’t mind occasionally hiding out in washrooms as a result of your accomplishments. They are, after all, usually very well-appointed washrooms. 

Related: 7 Steps to Launch Your Freelancing Career Full-Time