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Imposter Syndrome: what’s yours called?

‘You don’t know what you’re doing and they are going to find out’
‘Who do you think you are? There’s no way you can do that!’
‘You are nowhere near as good as the others at this’
‘Who’s going to listen to you when everyone else has so much more experience’
‘Well if you can do it, that means that anyone can do it’.

Imagine if someone whispered these comments in your ear every day? It’s hard to see how this wouldn’t have a massive impact on your self confidence, right? Now imagine if the person telling you these awful stories was you?

Of course, most of us now know that this is ‘imposter syndrome’, so what is it and how do we deal with it?

If you type imposter syndrome into any search engine and you will find a huge amount of reading on the subject. I really like Dr. Valerie Young's work on imposter syndrome and how there are 5 different subgroups; the Perfectionist, the Superwoman/man, the Natural Genius, the Soloist, and the Expert and sad but true, it's completely possible to have more than one type!

Dr. Young provides some great methods to help you deal with each type and I'd really recommend you have a look at the further reading section for some fab resources but I also thought it might be useful to share one way I manage mine too.

Let me introduce you to Cedric…

So Cedric, was someone I encountered about 10 years ago. At the time, I would imagine, people would have described me as pretty confident but the situation under the surface was very different. For lots of reasons, I was already feeling very weighed down by imposter syndrome, although I didn't know that was what is was called at that time.

I had been tasked to lead a big change at work affecting a number of different sections. The head of one of those sections; Cedric, was really unhappy and didn't want the change to happen but couldn't stop it, so he channelled his frustrations and decided to make it as difficult as possible for me to do what I needed to do. He surreptitiously (and occasionally publicly) challenged my credibility to be leading the change and worked hard to undermine what I was trying to achieve.

Now of course, I can clearly see that his actions actually had very little do with me and was almost certainly about him and how the change would affect his position and authority at work, but like they say hindsight is always 20:20 right?

Anyway, we managed to make the change happen but I am pretty sure you can imagine what this did to my already low levels of self confidence. The whole experience just fed the beast that was my imposter syndrome!

Over time the whole situation worsened and no matter what I did I couldn't stop my imposter syndrome undermining me; stopping me trying new things, stopping me grabbing opportunities, stopping me from asking for what I wanted but also making me push myself harder and harder to attain some perceived level of unachievable perfection. I needed to do something about my toxic inner critic.

It was a couple of years later that I had a sudden realisation that whilst it's impossible to tell that inner critic to be quiet, what might work is if I could give my imposter syndrome it's own very specific personality and voice. For me, the obvious choice was Cedric.

This works for me on so many levels, when I hear that voice saying those things to me that you can see at the top of this post, I say to myself (often out loud) 'Shut up Cedric!' this does two things; 1. it nearly always makes me laugh, which definitely lightens my mood and 2. it reminds me that it's not me telling me I can't do it, it's Cedric and Cedric was wrong I could do it and did do it, so ....shut up Cedric!

There are lots of really great things you can do to help yourself if you have your own little voice of self destruction but maybe figuring out who your Cedric is and practising saying shut up might help you too or if that's too much for you, you could try 'not now Cedric'.

So whether it's being able to speak up for yourself, go for that promotion, ask for a pay rise or make a small or a big change in your life, what would you do if you could silence your Cedric?

Further reading

Dr. Valerie Young's website and her TED talk is here:

Here is a lovely, simple explanation of what imposter syndrome is

FYI, I have had to tell Cedric 'not now' several times during the writing of this blog post!


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