Are You Faking Imposter Syndrome?

Career Blog

Imposter Syndrome describes high-achieving individuals who are plagued by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and thus have a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. It’s a common, understandable, and largely manageable affliction. Of course, if you’re not a high-performer or worse, a relative novice, the worry you feel is likely warranted.

People, Americans specifically, millennials even more so, have been taught that they can do and be anything. There’s nothing wrong with the optimistic sentiment. The trouble comes when people begin to believe that they can achieve this anything immediately, without the education and hard-won experience obtained by those who actually earned their stripes. (Insert obligatory Participation Trophy joke.) While it’s true that you can travel any road, there are no shortcuts.

There’s been a proliferation of managers, coaches, and leadership pundits encouraging people to, “fake it till you make it.” The idea being that if you can project a level of success, expertise or understanding in the early stages of your career or experience with a new endeavor, you will convince others that you have this factor just long enough for you to actually obtain it. This practice is not only disingenuous; it’s harmful to all parties.

  • News flash one: If you are currently practicing a “fake it till you make it” strategy, you’re not experiencing imposter syndrome, you are by definition, an imposter.
  • News flash two: Everyone knows you’re faking.

If you are new to a task, a role, or a company, openly embrace that status. This is especially true for Early Talent professionals and fresh graduates just entering the workforce. Everyone knows you’re a newbie so leverage it as a strength. You bring a new perspective, an opportunity to see old processes through fresh eyes. So ask questions, seek advice, and latch on to a mentor who really knows the ropes and can give you the inside scoop on the company.

How? Keep the interview process going once you have the job. Take time to meet with seasoned colleagues and ask them to walk you through their job and what made them successful. Each day you’ll learn something new, make a fresh contacts, and before long you’ll be the one dispensing advice.

Why This Matters

As a coach, people manager, and CHRO, I’m no stranger to the pep talk. People at all levels need the occasional shot in the arm to boost their self-confidence and give them the courage to chase stretch goals. But there’s a big difference between helping people see strengths that are readily apparent to everyone else and encouraging them to commit to developing those skills in the first place.

The people you surround yourself with should believe in you, but that faith must be validated by your past behavior. Your mom may have unbridled confidence in your abilities, but the rest of us should temper the enthusiasm with a healthy dose of fact checking and for good reason.

Years ago, during the height of the Tae Bo/Karate Aerobics craze, a fitness class instructor I knew declared he was going to start a “karate” school based on graduating a four-week martial arts fitness program. He actually believed his experience was on par with lifetime martial artists. A quick round of friendly sparring changed his perspective.

The fake it till you make it strategy falls apart instantly when you step in the ring with an actual pro. Don’t make that mistake in life or business. Those suffering from imposter syndrome can be coached through it. Actual imposters usually just eat leather and kiss the canvas.

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