Article: Annette Densham: It is time to tell imposter syndrome where to go

See more from Annette on LinkedIn and through her work at Audacious Agency

It is time to tell imposter syndrome where to go

There are so many talented and incredible people, despite all the hurdles and challenges the world throws, continue to show up, serve, deliver and be the best they can be.

When you look back over your successes and achievements for the year, do you still feel like a loser? 

Or feel that someone will pop out from behind a bush and shout ‘what do you know? ‘Who are you to do what you do?’

These feelings leave you feeling like your web of lies will untangle, revealing you as the imposter you are?

You are not alone. The highest achievers feel like that every day. 

The birth of imposter syndrome

I know. I am recovering imposter. For most of my life, I felt like someone was going to call me out. That all of my accomplishments are meaningless. 

It all started when I was seven.

I was a happy, sunny little kid. Shy, but once you cracked that shell, I was the life of the party, singing, dancing and sharing whatever book was in my hand at the time.

My self doubt and fear was borne from one sentence spoken by the person I knew loved me most in the world. 

I’ll take you back. 1977.

It was a hot summer afternoon as my sister and I walked out of our third primary school in two years. The big black storm clouds followed us home. But we were not racing to get home because of the story. Clutched in my sweaty little hand was my first award. 

Banging through the screen door, I’m already calling out to my Mum. I was so excited to have won the Top Dog Award for Achievement. I loved school so much – my award was for a book report. Bursting into the kitchen, there’s mum, on her hands and knees, raw hands from the hot water, scrubbing the floor by hand.  ‘Mummy mummy mummy, look what I got!’

Her tired eyes looked up from the floor, ‘watch where you are walking, I just cleaned there.’

I persisted.  Flapping the award in her face.  Look what I won, mummy.

She sighed… ‘that’s nice, but no one likes a show off.’ 

Bam. Shut down. 

I didn’t know Mum was exhausted, stressed, and worried about where our next meal was coming from or how to pay the electricity bill. All I knew is I had done something wrong. I slunk to my room and cried.  From that moment, I stepped back into the shadows and never put my hand up for an award or anything that meant I stood out until I was 45.

Without realising it, my mum’s words changed the path of my life.  Her words stole from me the joy of the moment. Her words triggered for the first time in my young life doubt, and the feeling that achieving and excelling were bad.

Words. Have. Power.

I grew up being told not just from my mum, but the world, that little children should be seen and not heard, that people who achieve are show offs and big noters who think they are better than everyone else. Sadly, those notions still pervade our world today.

My mum’s response was due to social conditioning. That squishing of the feminine power starts early for many women. Almost 40 years on, our society talks about empowering women to be all they can be. It is still there and has given rise to a greater evil – imposter syndrome.  While there are unicorns who defy these social norms around women, most women spend a lot of time in self doubt, self loathing, and denial of their abilities… even though they’ve invested years in their education, skills and lives.

We believe what we are told

As women, we are still being told to:

  • Be small
  • Play small
  • Don’t stand out
  • Go under the radar
  • Be humble
  • Smile more
  • Don’t be angry
  • And… to play down our achievements.

If you doubt this, go on social media and look at the negative Nellie comments from people who bag awards or rip into someone achieving. Thanks to another grand Australian tradition – tall poppy syndrome – combined with imposter syndrome, we have a population of incredible women who think they are losers.

Pffft…What does playing small get you?

Yet, every day, women in business believe they are not good enough, not done enough, are not worthy, that everyone else is better than them. 

This is despite decades of developing and investing in their skills and careers, bringing up families, juggling the mental load and household chores still disproportionately carried by women, changing the world with their amazing inventions, products and services, showing up every day with solutions to problems. 

They still doubt themselves. 

A curse that keeps on giving

Imposter syndrome is an insidious curse. It robs the world of people’s amazing gifts and talents. And while we can blame society for perpetuating imposter syndrome. We know enough about the brain now, and have enough personal development education out there to know that imposter syndrome starts and ends with us (you, you, you).  We make shit up in our heads and believe our own bullshit.

We put the roadblocks up to our success.

We are the ones speaking negative things in our heads, stopping us from having a go.

We are the ones who decide not to enter awards or ask for a pay rise.

While we need humility and modesty to prevent us from being a self-absorbed narcissist, there is a line when self doubt becomes a hindrance, stopping you from moving forward. 

The reason we do this is embedded in perfection and perception. Those think they have to be perfect, and if they are not, people will think less.

Perfection – hang on to your seat perfectionists…there is no such a thing. 

Never was. Never will be.

Striving for perfection is really just damaging up your chances of grabbing opportunities and letting people see the deeper you. 

One of the world’s smartest men, Stephen Hawking, said ‘The universe doesn’t allow perfection. One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist…..Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist.’

Why do we think we need to be perfect? There is beauty and lessons in our mistakes, imperfections and flaws. By letting go of perfection, imposter syndrome loses its grip.

How do you overcome imposter syndrome?

Embrace your flaws.

Flaws do not make you less.

Flaws do not mean you can’t excel and achieve.

Flaws and mistakes give you opportunities to grow and learn.

Seeking perfection puts you in a state of less or scarcity.

You will never feel good about yourself.

You will never see your wins as good enough.

You will never move out of your comfort zone and miss so many ops to collaborate and connect.

Mistake are ok

For those flawed people who never do anything perfectly, make mistakes, you could fill a book with, ask yourself, who is stopping who. The answer is probably you; you will never live up to your expectations.
That is a lose/lose for all.

If you don’t believe in yourself, who else will?

When you focus on lack, that’s what you get.

Winning is not just about a trophy and glitzy events, winning is showing up even when you do not want to, because you know you have something that will make a difference in people’s lives.

In this influencer and image driven world, it is easy to not feel like a winner. But the key to winning starts inside your head. The rest is just other humans trying to do the best they can. If you asked any of the women you admire, those you see as winners and high achievers, if they feel worthy of their success and feel like an imposter, their answer would be a big fat yes.

There’s a big difference between being an influencer (IMHO) and being influential.

Influencer – me me me

Influential – giving value and insight

Focus on others

By focusing on what you can do for others, it takes your self doubt and imposter syndrome out of the picture. The focus isn’t on what you are or aren’t, it is what you bring to the table and how you can help others. Focus on that.

The thing missing from your business is your belief that you are good enough. If you have started a business, a venture, created a product or service that solves a problem, and people are buying it, you are a winner.

When you doubt your influence and impact on the world, remember this:

  • The compliment you paid someone just made them smile and believe a little more in themselves.
  • The book you recommended to your friend, she read it and loved it, and is implementing the suggestions to change her life
  • The joke you told over lunch is being told to that person’s family tonight, making them smile
  • Never believe you do not have influence, you influence people every day with your words, actions and emotions.

Don’t spend decades in self doubt and second guessing, trying to be something others want you to be. As long as you go through life doing the best you can, without deliberately hurting others and taking ownership of your actions, just be you. There are people who will love you for it.

Stop trying to be everyone else. Forget this ‘authentic’ bandwagon so many are on. Don’t try to copy anyone else, you are not in competition with anyone.

Be the person you should be. Warts and all.

What people think of you has nothing to do with you. It is none of your business. People will love or hate you all based on their life experiences and perceptions, so why try to please everyone. You never will.

  • Please you first and foremost.
  • Love your family and tribe unconditionally.
  • Believe in your abilities, skills and talents – you worked hard to build them, never diminishing them.
  • Stop believing your own BS – get help sorting out your story.
  • Embrace your flaws.
  • Celebrate your wins
  • Stop playing small
  • Love your mistakes

Doubt is a normal human condition. But you can overcome