Imposter Syndrome

Recently, within earshot and full view, a colleague mocked me and I’d like you all to read about it. 

Because I don’t want to sway your opinion of the incident, I’m not going to share the gender of the mocker; I'll improperly use pronouns throughout (they/their) and give the person a title - aptly, Mocker.

Mocker was sitting right across from me at a banquet table - a table filled with six of my clients. Yes, Mocker was (sort of) keeping their voice down and (sort of) acting covert as they mocked what I do professionally to a couple of other people. As I was attempting to carry on a normal conversation with two of my clients, I endured seeing (in peripheral view) Mocker bobble their head from side to side in an apparent imitation of how I speak (frankly, Mocker looked more like they were having a medical emergency, but that’s just my opinion) and I heard Mocker, in tones only lightly muted by the din of a busy event, imitating my voice in a high-pitched, silly-sounding way, that wasn't much like how I actually sound. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t surprised that Mocker disrespected me, but was surprised that Mocker would do so in a way I could witness and do so to other colleagues. Perhaps Mocker thought I would not notice OR perhaps my noticing was just what Mocker wanted. I really don’t know. Actually, what Mocker wanted isn’t really any of my business - Mocker is free to demean anyone they like at any time. But, being insulted by a professional colleague is not the jist of what I’d like to share. What I want you to read is more about the conclusions I’ve come to since. 

Enter a little something nasty and undermining called ‘The Imposter Syndrome’. 

Perhaps you’ve read about this concept, one New York Times writer, Carl Richards, said was defined as long ago as 1978, citing psychologists, Pauline Clane and Suzanne Imes. “(They) described it as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” While these people “are highly motivated to achieve,” they also “live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds.” (Richards, 2015 https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/26/your-money/learning-to-deal-with-the-impostor-syndrome.html?_r=0.).

Richards brings up another aspect that high achieving people feel at times. "I think part of the impostor syndrome comes from a natural sense of humility about our work. That’s healthy, but it can easily cross the line into paralyzing fear. When we have a skill or talent that has come naturally we tend to discount its value.”  

AHA! Here we go - this topic is getting meaty now because I’ve brought up the ‘humility’! Of course! Good little country girls don’t put themselves out there too much and certainly don’t ever, EVV-VVA speak out of turn when the big boys are around. Yeah, whatever, that’s never been my style. Still, something was plaguing me-what was the big deal?  I had more thinking to do. 

My executive coaching practice has grown exponentially in the last several years and I’m confident about it. I suppose I sometimes feel the Imposter Syndrome Ghoul sneak up and whisper icily: ‘You’re just Sarah Beth and who ARE YOU to do this?’ But, that little monster doesn’t plague me often. In fact, peers frequently describe me as confident and I know that about myself. Yet, Mocker’s little head-bob-silly-voice routine troubled me well into the night. When I woke up, I found myself thinking about it again and late that day I wrote (and deleted) a more scathing version of this blog. So, was I just pissed? Yes, I was. But, was that all? I had to admit to myself, it wasn’t. I was bothered by it. I spent some time in the last week decoding why and my answer was waiting for me in the mirror.  Executive Coach, Tonya Leigh (www.tonyaleigh.com), shares that sometimes what people say that hurts or irks is actually a message we’re ripe to receive. Hmmmm. I’ve been in such a growth mode that I’ve been wondering how I will invest the time to keep getting better at the craft and serving clients to the best of my ability. While I’m not lacking confidence in being able to do the work, I realized the over-achiever in me was yelling at me to do more and more or I wouldn’t be good enough. As difficult as it is to admit, that attitude won’t serve anybody. 

Interestingly, many people suffer boughts of Imposter Syndrome and we seem to have triggers that cause it. According to researcher and author, Valerie Young, (The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women), “Articles about the imposter syndrome invariably cite the fact that numerous studies have found no difference between men and women.” Richards also points out that in working with his executive coach he learned that many famously confident people experience Imposter Syndrome including presidents, actors and authors, and just about any high-achieving person YOU KNOW. Perhaps Mocker had just hit one of my little Impostor Syndrome triggers. Zinger! 

Mocker isn’t the first person to question my work in Executive Coaching. Frankly, more men friends and acquaintances have raised the question about Executive Coaching to me personally than women. These guys would be surprised to know that I have more male than female clients and have since I started. It was actually a male that first said to me, ‘Sarah, you are a coach, this a great and natural profession for you.” Thank you for saying so, Sir, your comment meant a lot. 

Before you think I’m off my rocker and just ranting, I want to point out that Mocker actually did me a fine little favor. I stated in my previous Manifesto Post that I intend 2017 to be my BEST YEAR YET. Doing so will require growing, getting better for my clients, doing better for my husband and family and treating myself better, too. Richards added a point in his Times article that I’d like to impart on all of you. "We know what the feeling is called. We know others suffer from it. We know a little bit about why we feel this way. And we now know how to handle it: Invite it in and remind ourselves why it’s here and what it means.”

For me, apparently it means that when an impolite peer imitates you as you look on, take a moment, analyze what it means (or doesn’t) and LET IT GO. Which leads me back to why I didn’t want to reveal the gender of Mocker; Imposter Syndrome is real for both. Betcha that’s why, Mocker, men and women really need and value having an executive coach. In fact, for many of my clients, I’m proud to say that excellent coach is me. 

Mocker, maybe you should hire a good coach. Sounds like Imposter Syndrome may have affected you this winter, too. 

XOXO, Sarah Beth Aubrey out! (Drops mic, steps off soapbox for today!)  

Posted on January 30, 2017 .