The other day I was talking to a good friend about what bothered her most about being in her 40s now. I was met with two words that used to be my own nemesis: Imposter Syndrome. You will either know very well what these two words mean having struggled with it yourself, or will be thinking Lord woman what on earth are you on about!
In case you fall into the latter, let me break it down for you. Very Well Mind has the perfect explanation of Imposter Syndrome, and it goes something like this:
Imposter syndrome (IS) refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. While this definition is usually narrowly applied to intelligence and achievement, it has links to perfectionism and the social context.
To put it simply, imposter syndrome is the experience of feeling like a phony—you feel as though at any moment you are going to be found out as a fraud—like you don’t belong where you are, and you only got there through dumb luck. It can affect anyone no matter their social status, work background, skill level, or degree of expertise.
So how many of you now know what I’m talking about? Well, probably 6 in 10 of you, seeing as that’s how many women experience imposter syndrome at some stage of their lives. For years, I found myself looking over my shoulder, feeling like I was spinning the world’s greatest lie like I was going to be caught. I skulked around with this nagging feeling that I was not really who I said I was, or doing what I said I was. Even as I write those words, I realise just how completely bonkers that sounds, like I have a major personality disorder of some kind. Even after my career had taken me on TV and radio numerous times over, I had this horrid little voice in my head whispering at me, “you’re a fake!”. The thought alone makes me shudder!
So why is it so many of us women feel like a fraud and that we’ve somehow oversold ourselves when the reality is we’re shit hot and have totally earned it? And why can’t we stop comparing ourselves to others, constantly beating ourselves over the head with other people’s successes when we should in fact be celebrating our own? And more poignantly, why can all of this feel so much worse in our 40s when we should instead be reveling in the so-called confidence we should be enjoying in life and our careers by now?
Hold the phone caller! Because in this deep dive on Imposter Syndrome, we’ve lined up some of the most well-versed professionals on Imposter Syndrome to help us understand why we’ve fallen under the IS spell and how we can break it.
How do you know you have imposter syndrome?
Faye Cox, Mindset & Confidence Coach believes women in their 40’s are still experiencing Imposter Syndrome despite their success, as the sheer act of comparing ourselves to others tends to arise when we step out of our comfort zone.
The more successful we become the more we step into unknown territory which is where we feel uncomfortable and our self-doubt kicks in. Each time we do this, we have to re-adjust and use the techniques we’ve learnt to overcome it. More on that down below!
So is imposter syndrome just a female thing?
According to Intuitive Business Coach Sam Evans, it’s present in everyone, but women tend to suffer more, due to the emotional connection of their goals and dreams and the difference in upbringing between men and women.
With the increase of female entrepreneurs online, it can be difficult to believe in yourself when you are constantly comparing yourself to other women causing disbelief that anything is possible for you.
Imposter Syndrome attacks the human psyche based on the programming of the subconscious mind which is where all your beliefs, and memories are stored. Somewhere in your lifetime, you experienced a significant event that caused you to feel the way that you do which in affect triggers the feelings of inadequacy.
Does imposter syndrome becomes worse in your 40s?
Unfortunately, Sarah Pittendrigh, Breakthrough Coach believes that Imposter syndrome can strike at any age, it can become particularly prevalent among women over forty. For many years, a woman’s focus has been on everyone and everything else; she’s the strong woman, the glue that keeps it all together and makes sure everyone else’s life is running smoothly. She supports her partner, she brings up her family, she nurtures her business – the focus is on everyone but her.
However, in her forties, a number of things can knock her off-kilter. Her children are growing up and she doesn’t need to be so hands-on. Her relationship with her partner may have changed over the years, whilst their energy shifted to their joint responsibilities and it can be challenging to bring the focus back to just the two of them.
When the time comes to refocus on your future, you can feel lost and lose sight of your direction and of your goals. The goals you had in your twenties may feel like a distant memory. It is when you lose this purpose and sense of self that Imposter Syndrome can set in.
This is echoed by Monika Mateja of Live Well Coaching who points to the fact that all of the above adds to insecurities and contributes to second-guessing ourselves. We doubt our abilities even if we have a successful career because there is so much going on in our life. In particular, in our 40s we begin to experience more health issues including unexplained weight gain and brain fog that can make us feel like we failed ourselves and this can contribute to low self-esteem and feeling like a fraud.
Does this sound familiar?
Jo Swann, a successful Director at a PR firm knows first hand that the Imposter Syndrom struggle is real, “As an ambitious high achiever I set up my business in my 20s and was full steam ahead, and built a successful business for 10 years working with large brands like banks and building societies and brands like Whistles and Yo! Sushi. No imposter syndrome there!
But then I had some personal circumstances that made me wake up and realise – just as I turned 40 that I wanted to change track. Practically burnt out with a young son I decided I wanted to use my skill in another way and put the soul back into my PR work – so I started to work with female entrepreneurs with a new business – helping them use the power of PR to get their stories out there. Working locally I LOVED this but then came the introduction to the online world.
Oh my God – I freaked out and this is when my imposter syndrome hit. It was full of glamorous women rocking the online space, who looked so comfortable chatting on video, sharing their lives and successes (and I couldn’t even take a selfie). I was overwhelmed and didn’t see where I fit in despite having nearly 20 years PR experience and being networked to some of the most successful online entrepreneurs of the time, who readily accepted me into their circles.
It’s taken me two, nearly three years to find my true guts again and retrieve that ballsy 20-year-old as this new world spawned limiting beliefs, lack of self-worth and huge comparison-itus. This led to me playing small, undercharging and over-delivering until I finally took the bull by the horns, to tackle my blocks head-on and with the help of a fabulous coach I came out the other side. I now love helping other women fight the battle too, helping them use PR and the confidence it brings to fight their imposter off!”
Some tips for overcoming imposter syndrome…
So you’ve got Imposter Syndrome and it’s eating away at you one bitter little bite at a time. What to do? Follow these tips from Joanna Howes, Leadership and Performance Coach.
Women in their 40s still experience Imposter Syndrome as the inner work hasn’t been done to find out the reason why they have it in the first place. Imposter syndrome doesn’t stop you from being successful, for some, it is actually a driver to prove themselves. It can however stop you from owning, celebrating and being proud of what you have achieved, as you do not connect your success with how great you are. You do not stand in your true power and you can find yourself hiding from what you could be.
My top tips for overcoming Imposter Syndrome:
- You need to look inside yourself to get to know who you are. We are all born with self-leadership yet along the way, through school, parents, and friends we adopt roles to survive, to fit in and belong and these roles can squash our true self. When you find out which roles you’ve adopted you can then work to be back in charge of them, instead of them being in charge of you.
- Notice whether the thoughts you have about yourself are beliefs that are limiting you. If you say ‘I’m not good enough’ is there any evidence to support this or is it a belief you have created or a story you have been telling yourself?
- Start affirmations in the morning. It took me a while to believe these affirmations work, and I can tell you after doing them myself they really do. Look in the mirror and say ‘I am enough’, ‘I am worthy’ and ‘I belong’, and ‘I can handle whatever comes my way’. You can write your own but if you need something to get started with, these are powerful ones to use.
Are you currently struggling with Imposter Syndrome? Or perhaps you have beaten and moved on from crushing self-doubt and feeling like a fraud? Leave a comment below and follow us on Instagram here where we’ll be keeping the conversation going.