Coaching the Impostor

So far in my blogs I’ve spoken a lot about the concept of coaching: what it does, how it does it, and why it works. Which is all very interesting. But I can almost hear you say: “Great, but what might I want a coach for?” In the next series of blogs I’m going to look at the types of challenges that coaching can help you to address and the sense of possibility it can foster. We’re going to start with a common habit that none of us can admit, which is ironic because it’s the cause of why we can’t admit it. Impostor syndrome.


Not suffering from impostor syndrome is a total gift: an inherent belief in yourself that you are as good as everyone thinks, that you do deserve that promotion, and more importantly, when you get into the new role, you’re entirely confident that you are nailing it with total authority. It’s a belief that in fact you made your own luck, that you don’t worry that you’re going to be found out to be a fraud, that you believe that you are in fact as competent as others think you are.


But for many of us, this doesn’t come naturally. The need to find an ‘explanation’ for our success is all too common. And the consequences can have a significant impact on your ability to reach your potential. Whether you don’t speak up for fear of exposing your falsely-identified impostor status, or whether you actually procrastinated and put in less effort than required to ensure that any failure can be put down to not really having tried as opposed to facing the fear of failing through playing all-out, the consequences fall into a vicious circle of reinforcing the feelings of being an impostor.

When will they find me out for the fraud that I am? Credit: Foundr

In her book “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women”, Valerie Young describes 7 habits impostors use to try to stay ahead. Which in itself is crazy; as you’ll see, they’re all habits which absolutely do the opposite. See if you identify with any of them:


- Overpreparing and grafting in order to cover up your impression that you just aren’t that good at what you’re doing.


- Holding back. Better to fail through laziness than be exposed as just not being up to the job.


- Maintaining a low or ever-changing profile. You can avoid scrutiny and the risk of people finding out that you really don’t know what you’re doing.


- Use of charm and social skills to win approval. To distract their attention from your falsely held belief that you’re not cutting it professionally, you get people to like you.


- Procrastination. Avoid doing something until the last minute and you can put off the fearful task as long as possible and blame any failure on just how little effort you gave it.


- Never finishing. 'Still in progress’ means you can avoid judgement of whatever it is.


- Self-sabotage. Actually taking actions which undermine the chance of success. Giving yourself an excuse for failure which at the time seems less painful than the potential of failing whilst trying your best.


Practising these all come at a huge cost. Extraordinary amounts of effort applied in the quest for hiding an ineptness that doesn’t actually exist; missed opportunity: to progress, to really succeed at something through commitment and daring to be vulnerable; having to practice inauthenticity; and restricting personal growth. All of which is a terrible waste.


There is a way out. And a coach is well placed to provide the framework. Coaching really challenges both the validity and source of your beliefs about being an impostor as well as being able to open your mind to the possibility which exists when you can wholeheartedly stand up feeling deserving about where you’ve managed to get to. Reframing how you perceive your successes and failures can give you a strong platform from which to ensure that you can start to explore where your talent (and trust me, it's talent, not bluff, that's got you this far) can get you to.


The ability to release the belief that you’re an impostor significantly enhances your ability to lean into possibility, to achieve and even exceed what you believe is your potential. And allows you to feel good about it. Imagine that for a moment.


If you feel that luck is what has gotten you to where you are, think about this: it’s what you do with that luck that matters. You’re unlikely to judge someone else as less competent because they’re lucky, so why do this to yourself? Luck meets effort half way. Wouldn’t it be great if by putting in the effort to vanquish those feelings of being an impostor you in fact changed your stars?

All right, I admit it, one of my favourite films... 'change your stars' says William's Dad as he sends him off on the journey of a lifetime... Credit: Medium

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