Written by Jacqui Brauman from Have It All http://www.haveitall.net.au
The majority of you reading this article will be high achievers. You are professionals, career women, business owners, and highly educated. But the more you learn, the more you realise you don’t know. The higher you climb, the more you look over your shoulder.
High Achievers and Imposter Syndrome
Achievers like you and me have a constant need for attainment, and it pushes us to do more and achieve more. We often brush praise off for our achievements, because our motivation lies in striving towards the next goal on the horizon. We don’t stop to celebrate their successes, we are always looking ahead.
High achievers also tend to be competitive, and we will compare themselves to others. Often we are brutal to ourselves in these comparisons, because we won’t compare ourselves to our peers – we will compare ourselves to someone who is years in advance of us, and then we will beat ourselves up about not being good enough.
Imposter syndrome has all of these symptoms. But at the same time, the main symptom is to also have a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.
I am a lawyer and a business owner, and I am constantly thinking that I’m not good enough or qualified enough, and someone is going to discover this about me. This has driven me to doing course after degree after certificate. It also causes me to doubt myself as soon as another solicitor attacks my advice or position on a matter (and unfortunately that’s the nature of this industry).
If you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing sometimes, like I often do, or that you might be called out for faking it, then these tips should help you with ‘imposter syndrome’. I try to remember and practice these things myself, but it is a constant battle, because I am my own worst critic as you probably are to yourself.
Have realistic expectations
When imposter syndrome swamps you, it is because of the negative self talk that is going around and around in your own mind. You have increased your expectations to that of perfection – you want perfection from yourself, from your work, from your life, and from your staff or colleagues. It is fine to have high standards, but you are allowed to make mistakes and be imperfect.
By realising that others have lower expectations of you than you have of yourself, you should be able to be more realistic about what you actually need to achieve. For example, if you expect that you can have a spotless clean house, work 5 days for 10 hours each per week, be the perfect mother, and also go to the gym regularly to have a perfect body, then you are being way too hard on yourself. Your house can’t always be the image from a magazine, and your idea of a perfect body might not be your spouse’s idea of your perfect body. Your kids just need your love and attention, not for you to take them to extra-curricular activities every evening and make homemade cupcakes for the school fete.
Also, when you are trapped in your own self-talk, you are actually being very selfish. This can be a way of breaking you out of the cycle, because as a perfectionist, you don’t want to be selfish! Instead of focusing on yourself, focus on your customers or clients or those you are trying to serve. For example, if you are giving a presentation, instead of focusing on whether you say ‘um’ to much or how you appear, why don’t you focus on giving your audience the valuable information that they need and will appreciate.
Stop comparing yourself
No one has the same combination of education, experience and natural talent that you have. Everyone has come from different backgrounds and circumstances, and has faced different trials to arrive where they are. You cannot make direct comparisons about yourself and others in every aspect of your life, because you do not know what is really going on in their life.
Comparisons are unhealthy for you, your mental health, and your relationships with those around you. If you feel like you’re not living up to your comparisons with your colleagues or mentors, then you may cultivate jealousy and resentment towards them. Instead of making comparisons, you should look within yourself. Work out whether your fear of not being perfect is rational (it usually isn’t), and then acknowledge that you are fearful but that you don’t need to be. No one is perfect.
Be transparent and authentic
When you are transparent about what you know, what experience and education you have, and what your background is, then you are setting the expectations of your clients and audience. Do not try to be someone you’re not, or pretend you know about something you don’t, and then you won’t be found out as a fraud!
If you are honestly providing valuable information that you have experience and education about, then you have nothing to worry about. No one expects you to know everything, unless you make out that you do know everything. You can be confident in what you know without coming across as obnoxious, because you know when to admit ‘I don’t know, but I can help you find out’.
Celebrate your successes
Look at your life and acknowledge how far you have come. You have achieved a lot, and there are many people who would consider that you are a success. But also make sure to celebrate the small successes.
When you get those top 5 things done on your to-do list, why don’t you stop and celebrate instead of just filling up those spots on your list with new things? After you celebrate, you can refill your list, but at least acknowledge that you’ve just achieved a great deal by doing what you’ve already done.
Allow yourself to accept some praise occasionally for what you have achieved, and don’t just put your achievements down to having ‘gotten lucky’. You create your own luck by what you do, so accept that it is your achievement and celebrate it!
Live with it
Having imposter syndrome at times is something that you can acknowledge and deal with. Know that a lot of people deal with it from time to time (up to 75% according to Harold Hillman). Do not let it paralyse you and stop your progress. Apply these principles to continue achieving, because when you push yourself out of your comfort zone, this is when you have your greatest progress.
As a high achiever, you won’t like being wrong or making mistakes, and this can increase your imposter syndrome if you begin to think that you’re always wrong and don’t know what you’re doing. In fact, everyone makes mistakes occasionally, and you should focus on all the things that have gone well. Being wrong occasionally doesn’t make you a fake.
Finally, understand that what you’re suffering from is actually because you’re a high achiever. It is a positive thing to be a high achiever, because you are equipped to work harder and longer than others. You can celebrate this! But you need to know yourself, take regular breaks, take time to celebrate successes, and limit your commitments to tasks that are aligned with your highest priorities. Also remember that nobody really knows everything, and most people are faking it at least some of the time.
About Jacqui Brauman
Jacqui Brauman is the principal solicitor of TBA Law, and has owned the firm for nearly 4 years. She has a Bachelor of Laws, Bachelor of Accounting, Advanced Diploma in Taxation Law, and a Masters in Applied Law (Wills and Estates).
Practicing mainly in wills and estates, and property law, Jacqui’s career of 10 years has taken her from Central Victoria to rural New South Wales, to Sydney, and back to the outskirts of Melbourne (www.tbalaw.com.au). She is the author of In Case of Emergency, and Death and Social Media.
Jacqui is now beginning her transition out of law and toward becoming a full time writer of both fiction and non-fiction. Her diary of this process can be found at HaveItAll.net.au and she can be contacted at [email protected] . She is the author of Acres of Diamonds, Steps to Success for Women, and Graduate the School of Hard Knocks. Her message to other professional women: it is OK to want to do something that makes you happy.
Public school educated and raised in Wangaratta, Jacqui is married to Daniel Brauman who is a serving member in the Royal Australian Army. This live together with their blue-heeler at their property just south of Seymour. Together they do plenty of adventurous sports, including motorcycling, kayaking, camping, 4×4 and fishing. Jacqui also enjoys distance running and generally keeping fit.