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Out Over My Skis: Imposter Syndrome Strikes

Looking out over groomed ski hill with skiis in the foreground.

When I was in graduate school, a guest speaker (also a nurse) gave a talk about imposter syndrome. She helped me to realize that I wasn’t alone in my fear. I feared that I wasn’t as competent as the rest of the world thought I was. 

Many years later, I read Michael Hyatt’s book, The Vision Driven Leader. I marked page 186, and I’ve returned to it many times. There, Hyatt says that when he asks business owners if they feel like they’re out over their skis, 75% raise their hands.

Did he make it up? No.

Shortly after I became one of Hyatt’s clients, he asked a bunch of us that same question. Sure enough, about 75% of us raised our hands. We admitted that we felt out over our skis, or in over our head.

Are his clients different from other business owners? Apparently not.

“Imposter Syndrome” strikes many

Whatever you call this feeling, it’s not uncommon. Dr. Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women says she’s spoken to over 500,000 people who have the same feelings. During those talks, she gives attendees 10 steps to overcome Imposter Syndrome.

I thought maybe I could try the first two steps myself: Admitting and reflecting.

Step 1: I admit that I have had this feeling for most of my life.

Step 2: I agree that just because I feel stupid doesn’t mean I am.

So, here are some of my reflections.

Imposter syndrome has struck me many times

I felt out over my skis during my rookie year as a registered nurse. It struck me again when I was appointed to a faculty position at a big university before I was 30. And later, when I accepted a position as a clinical nurse specialist at a huge medical center. And again, when I was appointed to a high-level administrative job. When I got a contract for my first book with a big publisher … you guessed it ― imposter syndrome struck again. Big time!

Again and again. The list goes on.

Fast forward, I think I’ve had imposter syndrome for ― well, probably for my whole life.   Especially as a leader and a business owner.

How many of us have imposter syndrome?

Dr. Young has an insightful and entertaining 6-minute TED talk. There, she said that 70% of us feel like imposters; that we are sure it will be only a matter of time until others discover that we don’t know what we’re doing. Hmm … sounds very familiar.

I posit that mastering Young’s Step 7 will get me ― and probably you ― out of that statistic. Her Step 7 talks about “reframing.” Many experts talk about limiting beliefs.

Who can get unstuck from Imposter Syndrome?

You. Me. Everyone. I don’t have to stay stuck. Neither do you. 

Yet, I am the only one who can get myself out of that statistic. (But accepting a little help is okay!) 

Getting rid of the limiting beliefs is a major key in getting unstuck.

Moving forward

Imposter Syndrome (sometimes called imposter phenomenon) was first described by psychologists Suzanne Imes PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance PhD. (And later, Dr. Clance wrote the book The Impostor Phenomenon: Overcoming the Fear That Haunts Your Success.) Imposter syndrome occurs most commonly in high achievers, and in women. But it can and does occur in others, too.

If you want to overcome imposter syndrome, take those 10 steps that Dr. Young describes and be sure to check in with yourself often. Self-awareness ― and including your awareness of your own limiting beliefs ― is truly the first step toward moving past imposter syndrome. 

Which of those 10 steps do you think will be most difficult to tackle?

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