Feel like a fraud? You are not alone.
Experienced coach, Keri Phillips, seemed to ‘get’ the concept of outsiders straight away. He had had a client, he told me, whose story seemed to reflect the experience of many outsiders – of feeling unworthy, before realising that the things which made her different were actually strengths.
Keri has kindly shared the story of ‘Jennifer’ with us. Her details have been disguised to protect client-coach confidentiality. But what Keri shows is that feeling like an outsider, or in Jennifer’s own words ‘an imposter’ is common, even amongst people who many of us would consider to ‘fit’ social norms.
In fact, imposter syndrome (also sometimes called ‘imposter phenomenon’ or ‘’fraud syndrome’) is a surprisingly common way of reacting to success, especially amongst women.
People with the syndrome are convinced that they are a fraud and do not deserve the success they have had. If you believe that your success is due to luck, being in the right place at the right time or that anyone could do what you do, you may be experiencing imposter syndrome.
Here is what Keri said about Jennifer:
“I was coaching ‘Jennifer’, a senior leader at a university. She frequently saw herself as an outsider; as, in her words, ‘an impostor.’
“Jennifer saw her modest, rural, strongly religious Scottish background as something that set her apart from many of her colleagues. In not feeling she truly belonged, she also believed that one day she would ‘be found out’ and that her limitations would suddenly be obvious to all.
“Her concerns were in sharp contrast to her many major achievements, stretching over many years.
“In response to her concern I invited her to consider the possibility that her sense of not quite belonging, indeed being a sufferer of impostor syndrome, might indeed be one of her strengths. For example, perhaps it gave her great clarity in being an observer sometimes and seeing things clearly. Also, perhaps it strengthened her ability to be a ‘truth teller’.
“Jennifer was intrigued at this possibility and undertook to experiment with ‘trying this perspective on for size’.
“Over the ensuing weeks Jennifer became more and more excited to discover that this was indeed the case. Rather than putting energy into trying to be less of an outsider, she more fully and consciously took on, in fact embodied, that role.
“She, her colleagues and the university as a whole reaped the benefit. In Jennifer’s own words, ‘many of the things I believed to be my inadequacies were actually my strengths.’”
Keri Phillips is an author, coach and coaching supervisor. You can find out more about him and his work at http://www.keri-phillips.co.uk/