Do you suffer from (Curious) Imposter Syndrome?

‘Imposter Syndrome’ is a term coined by psychologists in the 1970s to describe people who feel that they don’t deserve their success; either the success they have achieved or the success they could achieve.

They constantly feel like frauds, inadequate – like they will be ‘found out’.

If you do suffer from Imposter Syndrome, you’re not alone. Researchers suggest that up to 70% of people have suffered from it at some stage. I certainly have.

High achievers suffer from it: all those people you think have their shit together, all those people you aspire to be like – professionals, sport stars, film stars. EVERYONE.

High achievers agree with researchers though when they say this affliction can be managed and overcome – and that they’re both happier and more effective after dealing with it.

Courage for Curiosity

The reason I’m writing about imposter syndrome is because I see it as one of the key obstacles to positive curious behaviours in both leaders and anyone who cares about their career. For sufferers of Imposter Syndrome, demonstrating positive curious behaviours takes real courage because their curiosity is an admission that they don’t know everything.  This shouldn’t be a problem – but it is and can be crippling.

Sufferers have the following symptoms in common:

  • They’re both resistant to criticism as well as overly defensive to it. They’re not probing about what people think of them because they can’t cope with the risk of criticism.
  • They may be sensitive to alternative ideas – often seeing them as criticism or assaults rather than opportunities.
  • They diminish their success, self-harming their reputations and making others less interested about their contribution.
  • They might avoid asking questions because they think they ought to know the answers.
  • They seek approval or affirmations rather than ideas or insights.
  • They develop limiting beliefs and don’t take risks because of fear of failure.

“In extreme cases, Imposter Syndrome can lead to conscious or unconscious self-sabotage where people will pass up or incapacitate opportunities they do not feel worthy of.”

Overcoming Your Imposter Syndrome:  RECOVER

If you do suffer from Imposter Syndrome, there are steps you can take to ‘RECOVER’ your confidence and help you engage in positive curious communications without such intense feelings of discomfort:

Try googling ‘Imposter Syndrome’ and read about all the symptoms. Sounds like someone you know, right?
“Reading up should help you recognise that you are not alone.”
All sorts of people with impeccable credentials and wild success feel exactly like you. Their success is real and justified – just like yours.

Talking about how you feel will help you make peace with yourself; realise that you’re not alone and that what you’re feeling is absolutely natural.

We all compare ourselves to others, but some comparisons are healthier than others though.
“Don’t compare yourself to impossible ideals like celebrities and rock-star professionals whose reputations have been airbrushed to remove their imperfections.”
Instead, compare yourself to real people you actually know; colleagues and competitors. Here, it’s much easier to see your strengths and their weaknesses. Are they better than you? Are you any less deserving of success than them? Of course not…

Convince yourself that your success is real, justified and attributed to your personal qualities rather than luck or external factors.
“List 3 of your accomplishments, and identify how you personally contributed to this success.”
You made a real difference, didn’t you?

Nobody’s perfect. There are things that you don’t know and in some instances there are people that know more or can do better than you. None of this negates your value.
“You are unique and make your own, highly valued contribution. Focus on setting goals to a realistic level.”
You don’t have to be the best, but you can aspire to be better.

E           END THE NEGATIVITY              
Never diminish your success. Without bragging, be honest and objective about what you’ve achieved and how you achieved it.
“False modesty suggests a strange mixture of arrogance and insecurity so just be straight.”

R          REFLECT
Imposter Syndrome is an emotional challenge.
“Once you reflect on your abilities, your value and success – it becomes increasingly difficult to accept the proposition that you do not deserve your success.”
Once you rationally accept your value it can help you feel it too.
On an emotional level, asking for help and ideas feels like admitting you are inadequate. It feels like you are surrendering control and inviting the challenges that make you uncomfortable.
On a rational level though, nobody can be expected to know everything and asking for ideas and feedback only really indicates positive social and communication skills – positive curious behaviour.


Workshop InformationDue to the popularity of her corporate events, Julie is running some session open to the public. To learn how to manage smart people, lead with curiosity, and meet your goals in a hands-on, facilitated environment, attend one of Julie’s workshops.