But Surely I Need Imposter Syndrome To Succeed? [Episode 040]

Surely everyone should have Imposter Syndrome, because if you don't, it means you're not pushing yourself hard enough?

This falls under one of the super-common Imposter Syndrome myths: that you need Imposter Syndrome to succeed.

In this episode we're going to explore why that's wrong, and how it can actually hold you back and cause you to trash your success. And I'll share practical things you can do instead to boost your confidence, and to succeed, without pushing on through the fear.

What You'll Discover Today

  • Why do we feel we have to push ourselves?
  • The subconscious lie that 'gurus' are telling us when they say they only got to where they are because of Imposter Syndrome
  • The little-known mistake that means people think 'everyone has Imposter Syndrome
  • How Imposter Syndrome can motivate us - but also limit us
  • The secret reason why I got the degree grade I did (and how this triggered Imposter Syndrome)
  • Debunking the myth that Imposter Syndrome is a sign of being a high-achiever
  • Why success can make Imposter Syndrome worse
  • The two types of stress, and the one we really need to succeed
  • The 3 pillars of Imposter Syndrome and why this makes Imposter Syndrome context-dependent

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Note: this is an AI-generated transcript, so please forgive typos.

Welcome to Episode 40 of the Ditching Imposter Syndrome podcast, with me, your host, Clare Josa. And today we are talking about a question I was asked recently before a keynote. Somebody was asking me, surely everyone should have Imposter syndrome, because if you don't, it means you're not pushing yourself hard enough. This falls under one of the super common Imposter syndrome myths that you need Imposter syndrome to succeed. In this episode today, we're going to explain why.

That is a little bit of a fib, okay? And it can actually hold you back and cause you to trash your success. But we're going to unpick this bit by bit with some neuroscience, the latest from my ongoing research study. And I'll share practical things you can do instead to really boost your confidence without using Imposter syndrome to push on through the fear. So what was behind this question is the belief that unless you're experiencing Imposter Syndrome, you're not pushing yourself hard enough.

Here's what we're going to cover in today's episode. Why do we feel we have to push ourselves? The subconscious lie that gurus are telling us when they say they only got to where they are because of their Imposter syndrome. The little known mistake that means people think everyone has Imposter syndrome, how Imposter syndrome can motivate us but also hold us back. The secret reason why I got the degree I did and how that triggered Imposter syndrome debunking the myth that it's actually a sign of being a high achiever.

Why success can make Imposter syndrome worse. The two types of stress you really need to know this bit and which one we really need to succeed, and the role of the three pillars of Imposter syndrome. So here's what happens is people feel they have to push themselves really hard to succeed. If you're not pushing yourself, you're not achieving your potential. So it means they go to war with their fears, their limiting beliefs, their comfort zones.

If you're interested in comfort zones, by the way, it's something I teach on my stepping up to lead programme from the last 20 years of research. I've got a very different way, a different model for looking at comfort zones that actually talks about the fear zone that surrounds our comfort zone and how to clear that out. But this mantra of we have to try hard to succeed, I know that was certainly drummed into me as a kid. If something felt easy, then we weren't trying hard enough. Now, here's a problem with that.

One of the things people say to themselves when they're running Imposter syndrome and beating themselves up despite outward success is, but that felt too easy, so I can't be good enough, or, that felt too easy, so surely anyone can do this. So that whole thing about if it's easy, if it flows, if it's fun, then I'm not trying hard enough or anyone could achieve it, or I'm just not good enough. Actually makes Imposter syndrome worse. So what people do is they push themselves as an Imposter Syndrome coping strategy. When we push ourselves and I'm talking about that kind of forcing, that, you know, that feeling is pushing yourself hard to the point where it's hurting and judging yourself.

If you're not trying hard enough, here's what happens. It triggers the fight flight freeze response. We end up stuck in this long term stress response, chronic stress that impacts our performance, our well being. It creates burnout, anxiety, depression, and worse. It trashes our performance due to the way blood flow works in the brain.

It means we can't answer questions, we're working super long hours. We end up with the four P's of Imposter Syndrome from my research study, that's perfectionism, procrastination project paralysis and people pleasing. And it makes it so much harder to succeed. And we end up with this inner conflict of deep down knowing that we actually achieve our best results when we're in the zone, when we're in flow, where we lose track of everything else apart from us and whatever it is we're doing, that's when our inner genius comes out to play. But when things feel fun and easy and flow, we've conditioned ourselves to think we have to work hard to succeed, so we're not supposed to enjoy it.

Now, there's a subconscious lie that gurus and experts are telling us. You see them all over social media, all over the internet, when they say they only got to where they are because of their Imposter Syndrome. These articles and interviews actually perpetuate the myth that you need Imposter Syndrome to succeed. The thing is, these people tend to be those that were driven anyway, with or without Imposter Syndrome, they would have worked super hard. Now, I've got an Imposter Syndrome scorecard, based on our research studies, that gives you your Imposter Syndrome score and lets you know which of the three hidden drivers is the one you need to work with first, which ones are having the biggest influence, and you get a personalised action plan.

You can go and take that now as my gift ditchingimpostersyndrome.com/quiz link is in the show notes. And there's something that I notice when people talk about how they've self sabotaged, what they would do if they no longer had Imposter Syndrome, how it's held them back in the past year. There's a very direct link between their Imposter Syndrome severity and how hard they're self sabotaging, as you might expect. And here's how that's connected with what these gurus are talking about. I can absolutely promise you that these people who are saying they need their Imposter Syndrome to succeed have never experienced it at the crippling level.

So people who get an Imposter Syndrome score of, say, up to about 50%, they tend to be able to rely on their coping strategies to get on through to succeed despite Imposter Syndrome. You tend to notice in our research they are less likely to be lying awake at 03:00 a.m. Worrying that today is the day they'll be found out as not good enough and that suddenly their luck will run out and people will realise they made a mistake hiring them. All of that kind of cascade of self talk, they're not struggling with it at that level. It's inconvenient, it's holding them back a bit.

But the coping strategies they've got are generally working. Once somebody hits about 65% upwards, you start to notice they're really holding back. They are the ones most likely to be not speaking up with their ideas in meetings, to be toning down their message, to be changing how they show up wearing masks and armour, pretending to be someone else. One of my pet hates taking on an alter ego. Fake it till you make it.

I've got podcast episodes that cover both of those. Go and have a listen. Links in the show notes. They are the ones where Imposter Syndrome is starting to really impact their work, their success, their mental, emotional and physical health on a daily basis. And then we get the respondents scoring about 75% or above.

And for them, the sirens are blaring, they're holding back. They are really aware of Imposter syndrome. This negative self talk is a constant running commentary for them. They are second guessing and overthinking trying to people please. They are on their knees, they're fast tracking towards burnout.

So my research study link in the show notes into Imposter Syndrome and burnout showed there is a direct causal link between the two. You increase Imposter Syndrome, you increase the likelihood and severity of burnout. You decrease one, you decrease the other. By the time somebody's scoring that high on the scorecard, remember, you can do yours and get your personalised action plan at ditchingimpostersyndrome.com/quiz. They are likely to be one of the one in nine people every single day who is considering quitting their job due to Imposter Syndrome or burnout.

So the people saying I'm only a success because of my Imposter Syndrome have patently not been experiencing at that level. And if they did, they've managed to find someone to work with to clear it out once and for all. Severe Imposter Syndrome, which really is above about the 70% mark on the scorecard, depending. It's a rough guide there. Severe Imposter Syndrome holds us back from succeeding.

It stops us taking the opportunities to shine. It means that we have to push on through the fear. The thing is, there's a little known mistake. That means that people think everyone has Imposter Syndrome. And it's underneath the subconscious lie that the gurus are telling us people conflate Imposter Syndrome and self doubt.

From my research studies, we show that Imposter Syndrome and self doubt are different. They're kind of like cousins, okay? You can be generally pretty confident and run Imposter Syndrome. You can really lack confidence but not experience Imposter Syndrome. Or you can have both, which is pretty icky.

I define Imposter Syndrome as the secret fear of being found out as not good enough, despite outside world evidence that you are doing well, or the secret fear of others judging us the way we're judging ourselves. So you can feel like you're not good enough, but unless you have that fear of being found out, it's not Imposter Syndrome. In our research, we looked at the kind of self talk that people use, that inner critic, that negative voice inside when they've got self doubt versus when they're running Imposter syndrome. And for self doubt and confidence, it's about what we can and can't do. Our actions, our skills, our capabilities, our knowledge, our network, our experience.

For Imposter Syndrome, though, it's about who we are. What if they realise they made a mistake hiring me? Who am I to be doing that? So we take the skills and capabilities and make it about who we are as a person. The reason this is really important is you actually need a very different set of tools to deal with Imposter Syndrome compared to self doubt.

So self doubt can be fixed with pep talks, positive thinking, positive affirmations, with some mentoring, with some regular coaching. If it's a skills based self doubt, you can get yourself some skills based training and it will increase your confidence. If it's also Imposter Syndrome, though, those same interventions will ease the pain, but they won't actually fix the problem because deep down inside, you're still running that stuff. But what if? Who am I to be doing this?

So you might gain the skills, experience and knowledge, but you will still be scared of being found out. So I have this theory that most of these people who are out there saying, hey, I'm only success because of my Imposter Syndrome are actually talking about self doubt, which is so much easier to handle and to clear, and it does not have the identity level fear that Imposter Syndrome carries with it. There's a problem in these subconscious lies. I know they don't mean to deceive people, they're just sharing their experiences, which are completely valid. If somebody is running Imposter Syndrome and they are beating themselves up about it and they know secretly they're self sabotaging because we know we're doing it after the event when we've said no and somebody else gets that golden opportunity and we secretly resent it or beat ourselves up.

When you read somebody else saying, I only succeeded because of my Imposter syndrome, then you feel like even more of a fraud and a failure because you're like, well, they used their Imposter Syndrome to succeed. Why doesn't that work with me? Because they weren't running Imposter Syndrome at that level. It was most likely self doubt, not about who they think they are. This is one of the reasons why the person that asked me the question before the keynote was saying, but surely everyone has Imposter Syndrome.

It's because we conflate it with self doubt. So Imposter Syndrome can motivate us if we're clearing it out, it requires a different set of tools. Yeah, that's the absolute essence of what I teach in the Natural resilience Method, is how to clear out the deeper drivers of Imposter Syndrome so you no longer need the surface level coping strategies. It simply melts away. So Imposter Syndrome can motivate us sometimes, if we're sitting there and we have an insight, a self awareness of suddenly, oh, gosh, I'm holding myself back, it's because I don't see myself as the kind of person who's going to achieve that.

Right, I'm going to do the work to close that gap. I call it the Imposter Syndrome gap, the gap between who we see ourselves as being and who we think we need to be, to do or achieve something. And to get over that gap, we build what I call a bridge of coping strategies. So Imposter Syndrome can motivate us if we see that gap and think, do you know what? I'm closing it.

Okay, great. And we go and get the correct support from people who actually have the tools and the strategies. For example, like my Imposter Syndrome First-Aiders and Master Coaches to help us close that gap. But mostly it limits us. The vast majority of people we've spoken to in 20 years of research now find Imposter Syndrome holds them back.

They succeed despite it. But the drive to succeed comes from within them. It's independent of Imposter Syndrome, but you can imagine, if somebody's hardwired in their brain, I need Imposter Syndrome to succeed. They're also then going to think, if I let go of Imposter Syndrome and clear this out, I'm going to become a couch potato, sit there and do nothing but watch daytime TV and completely not fulfil my potential or do what I've been dreaming of doing. So we need to gently debunk the myth.

And if you're curious to find out more about the Imposter Syndrome myths that might be holding you back from truly ditching this, I've actually got a free five part training for you on this on Debunking the Imposter Syndrome Myths. You can find the link to that over in the Show Notes. Go and register and get started on that course today as my gift. It's normally £97, but you get two weeks access as my gift if you use the link that's in the Show Notes. So many years ago, when I was 17, my A-level physics teacher told me I had no natural skill in the subject.

He knew I wanted to study engineering in Germany and he was doing his best to discourage me because he thought there was no way I could be a success in that degree. I managed to get a place at one of the UK's top universities in the subject, and I studied both in the UK and in Germany. And he was right. I found it hard, okay. It was not an easy degree.

It was very, very heavy on the teaching. I've always loved maths, I'm very fortunate on that. But a lot of the physics in it was pretty tricky. But every time I got there and I started doubting myself and my ability and my skills you hear the doubt here? Yeah.

It's not Imposter syndrome, it was self doubt. I would remember this teacher, Mr Stevens, and think, do you know what? I'm going to prove him wrong. And that's what got me through my degree. And I got a first, and I got that first because I wanted to prove to Mr Stevens that he'd been wrong.

So this was not succeeding. Despite Imposter syndrome, this was using some energy from outside of me to keep going when I doubted myself and wasn't in the mood, using then the feedback from my tutorials and my exams to help me see that my skills and my competence were improving, increasing my confidence. Then the day I got my degree grade, Imposter syndrome hit big time. Who am I to get that grade? Because maybe I just pulled the wool over their eyes, maybe they just gave it to me because I'm a girl.

Yeah, maybe I don't really deserve that and they're going to realise they made a mistake. Maybe they got the digits back to front and actually, I failed. All of this self talk came out because I hadn't closed the Imposter syndrome gap, I hadn't dealt with the below the surface stuff. And in fact, ten years later, that Imposter syndrome is what got me leaving the engineering career I loved, because I couldn't handle that self talk and fear anymore. So I didn't succeed.

Despite Imposter syndrome, I succeeded through sheer hard work and determination and wanting to prove dear Mr Stevens wrong. But that then triggered Imposter syndrome. And this is one of the things I see over and over again in clients. If somebody's working with me on one of my one to one programmes, I don't take on many clients now because I train other people to be master coaches. Normally, the trigger for coming to work with me is they've reached a level of success where that Imposter syndrome gap between who they see themselves as being and who they think they need to be to succeed has widened.

They've just been promoted. Usually that bridge of coping strategies is no longer enough and they are really struggling. Success widens the Imposter syndrome gap. If we've not cleared it out to allow ourselves to become the version of us who has that success, then Imposter syndrome means we start to self sabotage. We stop sleeping.

Our constant thoughts are, what if? What if they find me out? We find it hard to make decisions. We're sitting there in a leadership position thinking, how on earth can I lead this team? Because they're all going to realise I'm not good enough.

So success can actually make Imposter Syndrome worse. That's why one of the things I strongly, strongly recommend is if you're about to step up on visibility, on impact, take on a stretch project, get a promotion, work with someone to clear out Imposter Syndrome first, so you can thrive as you step up and grow instead of increasing the fear. And there are two types of stress, and this is really the key to pushing ourselves. Okay, now I talk about them in another episode in much more detail. It's Episode 19 of the Ditching Imposter Syndrome podcast and it's called is it time to forget the field of fear message.

But in essence, the two types of stress as defined by Hans Cellier, are distress, which we're all really familiar with. That is the pushing on through the fear forcing, really pushing ourselves to succeed. That creates all sorts of problems with stress hormones in the body, the mind, the emotions, mental and physical and emotional health. Then the second type of stress he talks about is what actually gets us to succeed. You stress Eu, from the ancient Greek meaning good.

It fires off the stress hormones in the body, but only a little bit, just enough to give us that edge. Now, if I were to go on stage to deliver a keynote, for example, to 500 people, and I don't have a little bit of you stress running, I'm kind of going to stand there and not be very interesting and not have much energy, and the room will sit there and think, well, that's an hour of my life I'm never getting back. But if I have that little bit of you stress going, then I can really connect with them more deeply. I can work with them with their energy. Between us, we co create a really fantastic session.

And it's the difference between fear and excitement. Instead of do it scared, clear the stuff out inside, close the Imposter Syndrome gap and do it excited. But go have a listen to Episode 19 if you want to know more about the two types of stress. It's a really great episode and I really hope it will help you if you want to go in more deeply on that topic. And then finally today, I want to talk briefly about the three pillars of Imposter Syndrome from our research study.

This explains why in some jobs and in some companies, you feel you have to push yourself really hard to succeed, meaning Imposter Syndrome is everywhere, and in others, the focus is more on that flow and being in the zone and fulfilling your potential from a place of excitement rather than fear. The three pillars of Imposter Syndrome are the culture, the environment and the habits. The company culture, it might be a national culture, faith based culture, family culture, team culture. There are some cultures in a working environment where we feel we have to force and push. Presenteeism is valued over output.

If you're not working super long hours, you're not trying hard enough, and you know that you'll then be judged. And in some companies, something I think is absolutely awful, you can even be fired at the end of the quarter if you haven't put in enough effort. The second pillar is the environment. That's the practical, physical world embodiment of the culture. What does that look like on a daily level, everything from the number of meetings you have to have through to how quickly you have to respond to a ping.

And the third one is personal habits, which is where you have most control. And this is where you do that deeper work to clear and release the hidden blocks, fears, excuses, secondary gain. That was keeping you stuck in Imposter Syndrome. So you can allow yourself to become the version of you that achieves whatever you're dreaming of and has the impact that you've been dreaming of. And the three pillars of Imposter Syndrome help to explain why it's context dependent, why you can take the same person and they'll experience Imposter Syndrome really badly in one place and not another.

It can even be as finely tuned as they only experience Imposter Syndrome if a certain person is in the room. Yeah. So these three pillars help us understand that we can do the work for ourselves, to change our habits, to change the thoughts, to clear that deeper identity level. Yuck. So that we no longer experience this, but unless we also address the culture and the environment, then you can have organisations that are an absolute hotbed for Imposter Syndrome.

And that's something I'm going to be covering in an upcoming episode. I hope you found that helpful. That wraps up for today. If you want to discover how to deeply support people with Imposter Syndrome, make sure you've checked out the Imposter Syndrome First-Aider certification programme. It's a prerequisite for my Master Coach training.

Link to that in the show notes. I've got podcast episodes also in the Show Notes that you'll want to have a listen to if you found today's topic interesting and helpful, including number 29, The Truth About Do It Scared. And number 19 is it time to forget the feel the fear message? Remember to take your scorecard. Link in the Show Notes and go and click in the Show Notes and we'll join in the discussion.

We're talking about this over on LinkedIn and Instagram. I'd love to hear your thoughts on what we've covered today. I hope you have a fantastic week. Next time I'll be back, we'll be talking about how to find the courage to speak out with an idea. Even if Imposter Syndrome is screaming at you to hold back and keep your mouth shut.

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About the author

Clare Josa

Clare is considered a global authority in the fields of Imposter Syndrome, burnout and toxic resilience, and has been an international keynote speaker for over 20 years.

The author of 8 books, a reformed engineer and the former Head of Market Research for one of the world's most disruptive brands, she blends research-backed practical inspiration with demystified ancient wisdom, to help you create breakthroughs in ways that are fast, fun and forever.

Want to find out your Imposter Syndrome Score? Take Clare's free research-backed, quiz-style assessment and get your score plus a personalised action plan in the next 3 minutes.

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