Just a few months into teacher training, we were asked to do a personal skills presentation. We had to identify an area that was of concern to us in our teaching and look at ways to approach it. I decided to go with impostor phenomenon. If you’re interested, the talk I gave was later reproduced in the video below. I initially delivered it to my audience with this whiteboard animation playing in the background and thanked my lucky stars that I got my timings right!
However, the talk itself isn’t really relevant. What it taught me is.
Impostor phenomenon: AKA waiting to be “found out”
It takes a fair amount of courage to stand in front of a group of people you respect and admire and admit you have spent a lifetime feeling like a fraud. After all, I’ve spent years waiting to be called out and here I was calling myself out. Even as I walked home that night from the talk, wonderful, heartwarming feedback slips in hand, I was questioning myself.
1) The world didn’t end. I still went to work the next morning. I still went to class the following week. Nothing bad happened.
2) I started to be a little kinder to myself. I had laid myself bare and nobody had thrown rotten tomatoes at me, so maybe I could stop putting myself in metaphorical stocks so often.
3) I realised that sometimes this stuff really doesn’t matter as much as we think it matters. Those couple of words you missed out of your presentation? Nobody noticed because nobody knew they were supposed to be there! That definition you fumbled over when someone asked for an explanation? It only really became evident when you pointed it out. That time you had to ask a colleague for help because there was just too darn much to do? They didn’t condemn you! More likely, they appreciated the chance to support a colleague!
I’m not going to say that reading a few articles and papers and one incredible book (Presence by Amy Cuddy) changed my whole approach overnight. Over the course of the next few months, however, I noticed a lot did change. I started putting myself forward more and more as I became less and less worried about being ‘found out’. I enjoyed those experiences more, too, because my preparation was married with excitement and not marred by dread. Mostly, I accepted that the only person in the world who seemed to expect perfection from me was… you guessed it: me. Everyone else was more than happy with the very real, very human me who isn’t perfect.
6 proactive ways to approach impostor phenomenon
So here are 6 things I would recommend you do today to face your impostor phenomenon head on before your next big call, meeting, event or any important day:
2) Ask yourself whether the ‘preparation’ you’re doing for an event, presentation, meeting etc. is helping or simply leaving you more overwhelmed and, worse, too exhausted to put on your best performance. Accept what you know. Appreciate how good you really are.
3) Before you apologise for that fluff you just made over a statement or question, pause for a second and see if anyone really noticed. The chances are, nobody spotted it and you’ll only break your own flow if you break off to apologise. Continue as planned and let it go.
4) Trust yourself. You got this far. If you’re a con artist, you’re a darn good one and that in itself would quash the ‘you can’t do anything myth’. But you’re not. You’re here and you’re amazing. You’re not a fraud and you’re not an impostor. Trust yourself.
5) Don’t expect perfection. Nobody is expecting it from you – except you. Be as kind to yourself as you would to anyone else. That 98% you achieved on a test? That’s amazing. Forget the 2%. That client who loved 49 of your ideas and asked you to change 1? You were spot on 49 times and had 1 great opportunity to learn.
6) Tell yourself you’re a swan, not a fraud. I once spoke to one of the students from one of the classes I was a trainee teacher in. She told me: they never spotted a thing. She said they were amazed at how much I knew and how I always seemed to have the answers. We’re swans. The elegance and poise we show belie the work we’re doing below the surface.Don't expect perfection. Nobody is expecting it from you - except you. Be kind to yourself. Click To Tweet
I won’t claim it will be easy. It may be a long time until you feel you’ve really “become it”. But isn’t that what we aim for anyway? Being a little better every day? May you continue to be brilliant and embrace the not-quite-perfect that makes you so beautifully human. And always, always trust yourself.