Overcoming imposter syndrome

Here we go again. Take a nice deep breath. You have done this thousands of times before.

For over 25 years, I have made a career out of standing up in front of large crowds of people to deliver coaching sessions, and yet it’s happening to me all over again.

Those annoying and nagging doubts, coupled with that familiar negative voice inside my head, which is growing louder and louder by the second.

‘Sit down Mark!’, ‘You don’t deserve to be here!’, ‘What on earth are you doing?’. ‘Do you even know what you are talking about?’.

Imposter syndrome.

My challenge with imposter syndrome began many years ago and it has always been accompanied with feelings of dread — those irrational fears and struggles.

I’m not alone.

Recent statistics show that 62% of people in the UK have experienced imposter syndrome in the workplace during the past 12 months.

Yet, as I have become older, I’m learning to embrace these occasional feelings of insecurity, adopting an alternative perspective and flipping the negatives around into positives — accepting them with a sense of excitement.

For some, public speaking, or speaking up during meetings, can be a fearful situation and self-doubt can easily take over — sabotaging people’s confidence and performance.

Despite delivering training to thousands of aspiring leaders over the years, often as part of workshops and presentations, my self-doubt is always there bubbling away under the surface.

I have been fortunate enough to receive some lovely comments from leaders over the years, about my coaching sessions, but these positive testimonials can all too quickly be forgotten when I take the stage or stand at that lectern.

A psychologist or therapist might suggest my imposter syndrome stems from my childhood or adolescence, when our insecurities are often at their peak, but that remains a debate for another time.

Over the years, as I have grown older, I have learned to distance myself from those insecurities I experienced as a boy, and through my personal and professional experiences, I have developed strong coping mechanisms to confront my imposter syndrome head on.

That said, I still sometimes need ten trips to the toilet before public speaking. To my audience, I may appear confident, outgoing, and knowledgeable, but inside those negative thoughts rage on.

Over the years, I have tried to reduce my anxieties by thoroughly researching my subject matter before delivering it to a live audience, and always ensuring I treat my audience respectfully.

It still doesn’t stop me from expecting a tap on my shoulder and hearing ‘sit down’.

In 2020, I completed my second master’s degree in Coaching, but imposter syndrome struck once again, and I didn’t attend the graduation ceremony.

The young boy with no confidence returned and I decided not to go, considering myself unworthy, and using the COVID pandemic as the perfect excuse not to attend.

It was a moment that I regretted, but during the intervening years something changed for me.

The support of good people in my life.

Those closest to me, including my wife, family, and friends, encouraged me, building up my confidence, and ultimately convincing me that I was worthy of the graduation ceremony. That my sacrifices were worth it. That I was worth it.

So, where am I going with this?

Well, the reason I’m sharing my own personal struggles with imposter syndrome is to show you that it can affect anybody, irrespective of your age, gender, background, or the amount of work experience you have.

It took me many years to realise it, but I was always worthy of donning my graduation robes and picking up my certificate. I used those intervening years of self-doubt to work on myself, building up my confidence, talking to the people I trusted, and realising I do know what I’m talking about, and I do have the skills to help nurture people’s careers.

Later this month, I will be talking through the challenges of imposter syndrome and asking people from across all our leaderships courses, at Accipio, to consider reflecting on their own experiences with imposter syndrome. It will be a valuable exercise and use of time.

As part of my sessions, I will be encouraging people to consider the following questions:

  • When do you most often feel like an imposter?
  • Are there specific triggers or situations that heighten these feelings?
  • How do you usually cope with these feelings?
  • What evidence can you find that contradicts your imposter feelings?

By exploring these questions, you can also develop a deeper understanding of your own imposter syndrome and begin to address it more effectively.

Remember, many high-achieving individuals experience imposter syndrome, and it bears no reflection on your actual capabilities or potential.

So, I’m just about to walk out on stage again and, yes, my nerves and imposter syndrome are still never too far away, but I’ve been on this journey before, I know I’m good enough, and I’m excited and relishing the opportunity to speak to these people and help them to grow their careers. This is what I do. I’m enough.

By Mark Ellis, Leadership Coach, Accipio

Mark Ellis specialises in coaching and leadership. He has Masters degrees in both areas, plus, a Level 8 CMI certification in Strategic Leadership. Mark has worked in the education, business, charity, and training sectors for over 25 years.

Check out more of Mark’s leadership blogs.