Are You an Impostor?

Legendary Nerves
November 10, 2014
In praise of big women
November 12, 2014

A LinkedIn group I belong to recently posted a question about the best advice to give a group of professional women about making public speaking.

Naturally much such advice applies to both women and men: make a connection with your audience, make eye contact, and so on. But some issues are more gendered.

Here’s a version of what I posted:

I’d address the issue of anxiety with attention to specific, gender-related concerns many women experience.

Even today, many women have been brought up to be shy and retiring–we aren’t always comfortable being in the spotlight, showing our intelligence and leadership skills, or taking credit for things we’ve accomplished. (Hence the apologies we sometimes note when a woman starts a presentation with “sorry I didn’t get a chance to spend more time on this” or prefaces her remarks in a meeting with “I might be wrong about this, but….”)

I often ask female clients if they’ve heard of “impostor syndrome” in which an individual feels she’s living a lie. Everyone else may THINK she’s smart and accomplished, but if anyone found out her REAL self, they’d know she was a sham. (You may already know the term impostor syndrome; it was first coined in relation to women in academia. Since then researchers have found it’s common in women across a range of professions, and also in many men.)

Making presentations makes this form of anxiety worse, since the chance of “outing herself” and saying something simplistic or even wrong seems greater when in the spotlight.

Almost every time I mention the term impostor syndrome, my client has an “aha” moment–“wow, that’s exactly what I feel!” What a comfort to find out that this feeling is so common there’s a name for it … and that many other strong, capable, smart women out there secretly feel the same thing.

It’s just a small step to realizing that, if it’s a widespread anxiety shared by others we admire, we’re probably NOT terrible frauds waiting to be discovered, but strong, capable, smart women ourselves.

A couple good resources on impostor syndrome:

http://paulineroseclance.com/impostor_phenomenon.html

Psychologist Pauline Clance’s website on impostor phenomenon, with a range of added articles and a test you can take to see if you too feel like an impostor!

http://www.inc.com/magazine/20060901/handson-leadership.html

Inc. Magazine article about impostor syndrome, focusing on how it affects entrepreneurs.

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