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“A coaching client once asked me if I thought that imposter syndrome was common, and I said that almost every coaching client I’ve ever had has suffered from ‘imposter syndrome’ at one time or another,” says David Maltman, Director of Future Proof Learning.

So, what is ‘imposter syndrome’? Harvard Business Review defines it as:

“…Doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. It disproportionately affects high-achieving people, who find it difficult to accept their accomplishments. Many question their praise and accolades.”

The concept was originally developed by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in their 1978 study which focused on high-achieving women and identified what they called ‘imposter phenomenon’. They reported that…

“…Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the imposter phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.”

At Least Seventy Percent of Us Suffer from Imposter Syndrome

We all experience feelings of self-doubt and unworthiness, but when your achievements are a result of your own knowledge and hard work and you still feel inadequate, you’re probably suffering from imposter syndrome. In fact, research suggests that up to 70% of us suffer from imposter syndrome at some point. It’s such a common trait that perhaps the real figure is even higher?

At any rate, experiencing imposter syndrome is very common, even amongst leaders and celebrities:

“I had to overcome the question ‘am I good enough?’ It’s dogged me for most of my life”. (Michelle Obama)

“When I won the Oscar, I thought it was a fluke. I thought everybody would find out, and they’d take it back. They’d come to my house, knocking on the door, ‘Excuse me, we meant to give that to someone else. That was going to Meryl Streep.’” (Jodie Foster)

“I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.” (John Steinbeck)

There are five basic types of people who suffer from imposter syndrome: the perfectionist, the expert, the natural genius, the soloist and the superperson (

In my experience, imposter syndrome seems to be more prevalent when working online because relationships and business can feel transactional, and people often feel more isolated due to physical separation and lack of peer support.

It needn’t always be this way, however, and we can combat our feelings of imposter syndrome by increasing our efforts to engage with others virtually as well as doing some coaching and personal development.

Signs of Imposter Syndrome

Do any of these statements sound familiar to you?

  • I’m not as intelligent, creative or talented as people think I am.
  • I don’t deserve this success.
  • I feel inadequate.
  • I’m plagued with self-doubt.
  • I have perfectionist tendencies.
  • I can sabotage myself.

Imposter Syndrome_henrikke-due-pVsi_lmyvL8-unsplash 800Shirzad Chamine talks about the ‘gang of nine saboteurs’ in our heads: the Controller, Hyper-Achiever, Restless, Stickler, Pleaser, Hyper-Vigilant, Avoider, Victim, and Hyper-Rational. He also says we need to build our 5 Sage Powers to counter these saboteurs. You can watch his excellent talk at TEDxStanford, Know Your Inner Saboteurs here .

Perfectionism can play a big role in imposter syndrome. You may have trouble asking for help from others and find that your high standards make you indecisive and less productive. You might over-prepare or work much harder than necessary, in your efforts to ensure nobody finds out you are a fraud.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Thankfully, there’s a lot that we can do to manage and overcome imposter syndrome.

Once we’ve acknowledged that imposter syndrome could be affecting us, we can begin combatting it by changing our internal narrative.

Much of imposter syndrome stems from the feeling of not being good enough or not being worthy enough, so start to track and celebrate your successes and ask yourself simple self-coaching questions like:

  • Where are you good enough?
  • What are you good at?
  • Where do you feel most confident?
  • Where is the evidence that this is true? Where is the evidence that the opposite is true?

Yes You Can_brett-jordan-94GiZLiWD8Y-unsplash 800Here are ten tips for coping with imposter syndrome:

  1. Appreciate that many of us suffer from It.
  2. Understand the difference between humility and fear.
  3. Stop being a perfectionist.
  4. Be kind to yourself.
  5. Be aware of negative self-talk. Spot your ‘inner saboteurs’ and slay them. Use positive affirmations.
  6. Stop comparing yourself to others.
  7. Switch off social media. It can be a confidence killer.
  8. Record and measure your successes. Write down and celebrate your achievements.
  9. Work through your self-doubts with a mentor or manager.
  10. Embrace new opportunities. Don’t let fear hold you back. Get outside your comfort zone.

Richard Branson encourages us not to miss out on opportunities:

“If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you are not sure you can do it, say yes. Then learn how to do it later.”

Remember, us humans are fallible. As the Guardian and many others have stated, we often forget that…:

“Everyone is totally just winging it, all the time.”

To learn more and join the discussion, sign up now for our free webinar Overcoming Imposter Syndrome on Tuesday 18th October at 10-11am. You won’t be disappointed.