How to Keep Impostor Syndrome from Being a Barrier to Your Success

Impostor syndrome is “a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.” Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve all they have achieved,” according to Wikipedia.

While early research focused on the prevalence of this syndrome among high- achieving women, Impostor Syndrome has been recognized to affect both men and women equally. Impostor Syndrome is NOT about being successful; it’s about owning your own success!

Everyone experiences Impostor Syndrome at some time in their career and in their lives. Please answer the questions below honestly and if you answer “yes” to any of them, you will want to continue reading!

  • Do you always feel that you could have done better, and are you critical of yourself?
  • Do you feel like your success is based on luck, timing or just “plain hard work”?
  • Do you feel that everything you do must be “perfect”?

Shawn’s Story

Shawn Talbot, IOM, CAE Executive Director

National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors-Texas

“My experience with Impostor Syndrome began 10 years ago. After a career in association management that spanned 10 years, I wanted to be an executive director. I was hesitant to put my plan in motion, however. Why? Because I was afraid of failure, and I doubted my abilities. I thought I needed to know everything about being an executive director before I could be one. If I had thought about it more logically, I would have asked, “How does anyone know everything about something they have never done before?” Despite having my CAE certification and experience that prepared me for that role, it felt like too much of a stretch. What could I possibly bring to the table? What was so special about my skills that an organization would want to hire me? What if I failed in a huge way?

Shawn Talbot

“After postponing my plans for several years, I eventually made the leap. When I landed my first executive director position, I genuinely thought the only way I had gotten the job was because the organization had not utilized a search committee to select me. I figured they didn’t know what they were doing. When I was offered the position, I didn’t want them to change their mind, so I settled for a salary well below market rate. Two executive director positions and several years later, I discovered something very important. I didn’t know everything … but then again, neither did anyone else. When something didn’t go as planned, the sky didn’t fall. I learned that obstacles could be valuable, and I could use them to my advantage, learning from them when they happened. What I also discovered was that you don’t need to know all the answers. You do need to know what questions to ask and how/where to find the answers. What a huge revelation!

“As an executive director, I have worked for two organizations that have undergone tremendous change. When I was preparing both organizations for those changes, I told both boards, ‘We are going to try new things. As we navigate through change, we’ll discover what works and what doesn’t, and we’ll make adjustments that will ultimately strengthen our organization. There will be hiccups and course corrections along the way, but that is a vital – and valuable – part of change.’ I learned to set the expectation not for perfection, but rather for taking calculated risks and being nimble and adaptable along the way. We didn’t want to be so afraid of failure that we didn’t allow our organization to change. We didn’t purposely set out to make mistakes, but when they happened, we utilized them in the most optimal way we could to help pave the way for whatever came next.”

Darlene’s Story

CEO and founder, Templeton & Associates, Amazing Women Alliance and Amazing Women Leaders

Darlene Templeton

“I worked for IBM for 36 years and I didn’t, and still don’t, have a college degree. In the early days of my career at IBM, I felt like I couldn’t compete because I didn’t have a degree. I soon realized that others were getting promoted around me, and I was working so much harder and delivering more. I had to take a hard look at myself to see what was wrong. Then I got a new manager who was an amazing mentor who helped me see that I was holding myself back. I realized that I had felt like an ‘impostor’ because I didn’t have ‘B.A.’ or ‘B.S.’ behind my name and I was not ‘smart enough’ to be working at IBM. Once I recognized this, I became more aware of when I was doing things to sabotage my success. This gave me the awareness to change my behavior and become more confident. Soon I was able to recognize when I had slipped back into that behavior. This was truly a HUGE milestone in my career and my life!

“Many times, we feel that we must be 100 percent perfect in all areas of our lives. If we are not perfect, then we feel incompetent, like a failure, etc. I learned that perfect is the enemy of GREAT and that none of us are perfect. I am a ‘recovering perfectionist’ and by giving myself permission to be less than perfect has truly helped me celebrate my accomplishments and be more successful both personally and professionally.

“As we have both demonstrated, there are ways to overcome Impostor Syndrome and keep it from being a barrier to your success. Here are some of the proven tips, techniques and strategies to help you build your confidence and own your own success! Please pick the ones that will work for you and start your journey!”

Steps to Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

  1. Understand what it is and the fact that many people experience it. You are not alone in feeling this way. You might be surprised to know that many famous and successful people have considered themselves “impostors.” Maya Angelou once said, “I have written 11 books but each time I think … uh oh, they’re going to find me out now.” Meryl Streep once said, “You think, why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?” It’s incredible to think that these two accomplished women could ever have felt this way!
  2. Cultivate a strong network of friends and colleagues who can help you keep a realistic perspective. Relationships bring balance to our lives. Building and cultivating these relationships provides you with a wealth of knowledge and a support group that is critical to building your confidence.
  3. A sense of humor is important! Being able to laugh when things don’t go exactly as planned is healthy and vital to your well-being.
  4. Acknowledge your accomplishments! Too often, we dwell on things that don’t go well, and we forget to take time to celebrate our accomplishments. Learn to enjoy, share and celebrate not only the big things, but the small things that you do every day!
  5. Give yourself permission to fail. The fear of failing can keep us from growing and trying new things. Nelson Mandela said, “I never lose. I either win or I learn.” In his book, Failing Up, Leslie Odom Jr. talks about freeing ourselves to fail spectacularly. The book is full of wonderful nuggets of wisdom. Often, we are our own barrier to success and keep ourselves from achieving our full potential. Get out of your own way!
  6. Do the best you can do every day. As you try new things, take stock of your strengths and areas needing improvement, but be realistic and fair. The goal of taking inventory is to be constructive so you can learn and improve. Don’t use this inventory to berate or belittle yourself. If you can’t objectively evaluate yourself, ask a close friend to weigh in.
  7. Perfection is an unattainable goal. As Confucius said, “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” Be realistic with your expectations of yourself. Learn to embrace things that don’t go well as learning opportunities. Strive for continuous improvement rather than perfection. Don’t let fear keep you from taking calculated risks – applying for a new job, changing careers, asking for a raise, etc. If you allow your desire for perfection to keep you from going after what you want, then you are cheating yourself.
  8. Be aware of how you “show up” every day and own your success. As you go through your day, be aware of your body language and whether your actions convey confidence and help you build credibility. You deserve your place at the table … take it!

Remember that Impostor Syndrome is not about being successful, but about owning your accomplishments and being more confident in everything you do! We have given you some key tips and strategies to help you overcome the feeling of not being worthy and truly living your dreams. We applaud you as you start your “impostor-free” association career and life. YOU DESERVE IT!!!

Shawn Talbot, IOM, CAE has twenty years of experience in the association management industry and has worked for national, state, and regional associations in Washington, D.C., California and Texas. Working with associations is her passion! Shawn previously served on the Board of Directors for CalSAE and is currently a member of TSAE. She currently serves as the executive director for a state association of insurance and financial advisors headquartered in Austin.

Darlene Templeton is a dynamic professional speaker, CEO and founder of Templeton & Associates, Amazing Women Alliance and Amazing Women Leaders. These groups include high-achieving women who inspire, motivate and support each other to achieve their goals in person and virtually through the Amazing Women Alliance Member Circle. Darlene’s unique combination of extensive corporate experience and her personal career journey have given her the ability to work with professional women, individuals, businesses and Fortune 100 companies to help define their goals, enhance performance and achieve outstanding results.

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