The 3 Pillars Of Imposter Syndrome & Burnout (And Why It’s Not Your Fault You Can’t Shake It) [Episode 48]

Who is really to blame for you experiencing imposter syndrome? This is an important question that I recently answered at a Q&A session.

This episode is for everyone who feels like they have tried everything to fix imposter syndrome for themselves or their team and it hasn’t worked. It's likely to be because they're only addressing one of the three pillars - I spill the beans on those during the episode.

71% of your team is experiencing toxic resilience right now and feeling the need to cover up and carry on as though nothing is wrong. This leads to them operating on a fight, flight or freeze response which makes burnout and imposter syndrome so much worse.

Listen now to discover how the three key pillars of Imposter Syndrome are getting in the way of preventing imposter syndrome, and what you can do about it, even in the next few weeks. Plus, I’ll share how you can become a beacon of hope for others.

What You'll Discover Today About The 3 Pillars Of Imposter Syndrome & Burnout

  • Why your habits give you the power to press pause on Imposter Syndrome and turn down the dial
  • How imposter is context-dependent and removing yourself from the situation can temporarily change how you feel, but doesn't actually fix anything
  • What the Three Pillars of Imposter Syndrome™ are and what you can do about them
  • Which of these has the biggest impact on your experience imposter syndrome
  • Why you need to be aware of toxic resilience in the workplace and how this is contributing to imposter syndrome
  • How the office environment and layout might be contributing to imposter syndrome
  • The real reason you have toxic team members and bosses
  • Why imposter syndrome is holding back your DE&I initiatives

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Speaker 1 (00:00)
Welcome to Episode 48 of The Ditching Imposter Syndrome Podcast with me, your host, Claire Yosa. And today we are looking at the research-backed model we've created called The Three pillars of imposter syndrome and burnout. So this episode is for you if you feel like you've tried everything to fix imposter syndrome or at least tried a lot and it hasn't worked, or and if you're seeing the warning signs in your organisation and you're super curious to understand how you can go beyond that tears sympathy, which we talked about in the last episode in number 47, and actually get to the root causes of what's driving and triggering imposter syndrome for your wider teams. About three years ago, I was doing an imposter syndrome keynote for a large international corporation. One of the things that I love to do is be able to take questions live from the audience. In this particular one, at the end, there were only about 40 or 50 people left who'd been able to stay for the live version of the Q&A. So someone was actually able to come on camera and ask me a question, but they turned out to be somebody who was feeling very, very angry, bordering on rage.

Speaker 1 (01:10)
How dare you tell me I'm to blame for imposter syndrome? And they were absolutely right. See, one of the things that can happen when I do an imposter syndrome keynote is the briefing organisation will often give me a very long list of things I am not allowed to talk about. And here's what's really interesting is company culture and how the work itself might be driving imposter syndrome is often one of them. But the other thing is when I'm doing something like a keynote where all I'm doing is coming in, doing an hour, two hours, some workshop, and the company has not booked anything that is going to actually get in there and create those shifts and prevent imposter syndrome for people, I have to stick in that session to things that are within people's control. And that means that in that precious hour, I'm going to focus more on the habits where someone's personal power lies, on the things they can actually do right away to press pause on imposter syndrome and to tone down the dial on how it feels day to day and how often it comes up, because doing that deeper preventative work to clear out the hidden root causes and triggers is way beyond what you can achieve in a one hour masterclass.

Speaker 1 (02:23)
So this delegate was feeling really angry because of exactly that, because they could see every single day they were a leader and a line manager what it was within their organisation that was causing and triggering the imposter syndrome problem. And it got me thinking about my own experience of imposter syndrome. Back in 2001, I was crippled by imposter syndrome. It is the reason why I left the engineering career I left. And there is a link to give you more details in an article I did on LinkedIn recently on that in the show notes for this episode. And back then, and I didn't even know there was this thing called imposter syndrome. I didn't even know that there was something I could do about it. I thought it was just me. I thought I was somehow broken. I didn't know how to fix me, and so I ended up running. I took a sabbatical at something really common that people do when they want to escape imposter syndrome, but not necessarily quit their job. I convinced myself that at 30, that was the perfect time for me to put a great big fat hiatus in the middle of my career.

Speaker 1 (03:28)
But looking back, now I know what I know because by 2003, I was specialising full-time in supporting organisations and individuals in clearing out imposter syndrome. I can really see that what was driving the imposter syndrome in that job where I quit my engineering career was not just me. There was stuff outside of me that meant previously dormant imposter syndrome was coming out to play. And in my next role, in my next company where I should have had massive imposter syndrome, and you can find out more about this if you've got ditching imposter syndrome, go and read it. I talk about this in detail. I didn't have it at all. Different culture, different environment, but I still took myself with me. So one of the things that people do with imposter syndrome is they run. They try to escape what they see as triggering the imposter syndrome, but without dealing with what's inside. And that can work because sometimes moving away from that culture and environment can be enough to fix it. But then you never know which promotion, which tap on the shoulder, which stretch project is going to retrigger it. So back to this really, actually brilliant person in this keynote for completely calling me out, which needed to happen, even though I'd done it because my hands were tied.

Speaker 1 (04:46)
I want to share with you today what I told them. So there is this impasse. It's like we're stuck. We know that some of imposter syndrome is running inside of us, but we also know there are things in the outside world that can trigger it because imposter syndrome is context-dependent. For example, I am yet to work with a client who's running imposter syndrome at work and when they're shopping in the supermarket for groceries. It doesn't happen all the time. Yes, it can play on our minds. It can be in the background. We can be thinking about it what feels like near constantly, particularly in the dead of night, that's 3:00 AM, self-talk. But imposter syndrome is context-dependent. So if it's context-dependent, it means that there is a context that's outside of us that either makes imposter syndrome come out to play or means it's not so much of an issue for us. This is something that I've researched in-depth over the last 20 years. From our research studies, we've created a model that I want to talk to you about today called the Three Pillars of Burnout. And what we have found both from our research studies and every time we've worked with organisations on this wider, deeper work is that you have to address all three pillars to truly clear out imposter syndrome.

Speaker 1 (06:05)
So these three pillars are the culture, the environment, and the habits. Culture, environment, habits. What do I mean by culture? That can be the company culture, the organisational culture, the team culture. It can be a national culture. It can be a faith-based culture. It can be the culture that's grown up within your family, your region, even your city. The culture is all about our values, how the world works, how things are done here. And we found that this is actually the slowest of the factors to change. But that doesn't mean it's impossible. And it's also the factor, the pillar that has the biggest impact. So, for example, in our research studies, 47 % of respondents said they had far too many meetings and they were having to get their day-to-day work done in the micro breaks between meetings or outside of working hours. Now, you can imagine if somebody's running imposter syndrome, and I've talked before about the four P's of imposter syndrome, there's a link to them in the show notes if that's new to you, they are perfectionism, procrastination, project paralysis, and people pleasing. If you're running those, everything you're doing is taking you more time.

Speaker 1 (07:22)
Overthinking, second-guessing, and worrying can mean a two-hour report can take two days. Add into that a cultural thing of actually, once you're in a leadership role or a senior management or a management role, you're expected to have back-to-back meetings all day and do your work outside. You can imagine how that impacts burnout, how it impacts productivity, and that chronic low-level stress or even medium to high-level stress that you're living under is proven to make it harder to concentrate, much more likely that you'll make mistakes, and that exacerbates imposter syndrome. Another cultural factor that came up really strongly is something we call toxic resilience, the spoken or unspoken requirement to bounce back from adversity, to pretend that you're okay when you've been knocked, to smile when you're being shouted at. That toxic resilience is so harmful. And 71 % of the respondents in our latest research study say they're experiencing this in the workplace daily or regularly. Now, what this does is it further increases the stress levels, and it means that people are pushing down their emotions, and both of these make imposter syndrome worse, both for men and for women. It's a major contributor to burnout.

Speaker 1 (08:36)
I've actually got a podcast episode I did on this. It causes something called hypervigilance, where we get stuck on high alert looking for threats. I'll put a link to that in the show notes. There's another really big cultural factor that's actually super easy to fix, and it's crazy that this is still running. We found that 86 % of respondents found pings, those interruptions, distracting. And it's been proven that it can take 10 to 15 minutes to get back in flow when you're doing deeper strategic planning type thinking work when you've been distracted. And we found that in far too many organisations, there is an expectation that if you don't respond to that ping within, say, a 10-minute window, you know it will get escalated to your boss. And if that doesn't work, you know they'll ping your director to complain about you. So people are on constant lookout, the fight-flight-free-freeze stress response is being triggered 20, 30, 40 times an hour by these pings and the cultural expectation that you're going to respond to them really quickly. Another cultural factor that can impact imposter syndrome is highly competitive cultures where people regularly feel judged and compared to others and found as lacking.

Speaker 1 (09:50)
This was particularly prevalent in data-driven organisations where they're considered to be a right and a wrong, and also in professions like research, like law, engineering, IT, where you're only considered to be as good as your last case or your last project. And if you make a mistake, it can be made really public in this culture. One of the big triggers from our research for imposter syndrome is something that we call comparisonitis, where you compare yourself to others and you decide that you're lacking in some way and you judge yourself. It's not about evaluating your performance and learning from it and improving and growing. It's about judging yourself, taking that feedback that's in your head from the outside world, comparing yourself to others and deciding that you are not good enough in some way. So this ranking, this comparing, even shoutouts for people who've done really well, can all of it lead to further imposter syndrome? And the final cultural factor I want to talk about today, there are so many more I could talk about, but book me for a call and we can go through it in your organisation, is that culture of everything is urgent.

Speaker 1 (10:59)
Nothing can wait anymore. Everyone else is stressed too. And so everything feels like a crisis. People report feeling under more pressure than ever before to get things done yesterday, living in fear of the request or escalating it to their boss if they don't. This triggers that whole fight-flight-freeze again, that chronic stress exacerbates symptoms of imposter syndrome, and it means that small things can trigger a major imposter syndrome and self-sabotage response. Here are some of the cultural factors that are at play that I'm sure you can imagine can exacerbate imposter syndrome, and all of them are fixable. Culture change can take longer than the other two pillars, but all of these are fixable when those in the leadership roles are truly committed to creating this depth of change. Then we move on to the second pillar, which is environment. This I define as the practical embodiment of the culture. What does it mean on a day to day basis, in practical reality? That culture of everything is urgent. What does that then look like in somebody's inbox, in the tone of messages they're getting, in how they're managed? Some of the other environment factors that can make a very big difference for imposter syndrome are things like the office environment.

Speaker 1 (12:19)
For example, anything that increases stress levels will increase imposter syndrome because of the way the two both work on the autonomic nervous system and that fight-flight-freeze response. So you might have an office environment with hot desking because people are hybrid working. That lack of feeling like you've got a home and a base, that's Maslow's hierarchy of needs right there at the bottom. If you want to go woo on this in the yoga world, that is the base chakra. That is our feeling of groundedness, our belonging, our connection, and our safety. The other thing that can be really key with the office environment for imposter syndrome is how noisy it is. So you've got people who've got an introvert preference versus extrovert. That's where do I get my energy from? Do I get a buzz from being around people and do my best work in a cafe or an open-plan office? Or do I desperately need to recharge my batteries on my own in silence, in which case open-plan offices and hot desking are my personal idea of hell. There's also another factor, though, for people who are neurodiverse, for a lot of them, that open plan full of distractions, noisy office environment can make it almost impossible for them to do their best work, and that can mean that they do then make mistakes and that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy on their imposter syndrome.

Speaker 1 (13:37)
Another thing in the environment, that embodiment of the culture, what is being passed down from the senior leadership team through the layers of management into everybody else is toxic team members and line managers. When business leaders go through our stepping up to lead programme, which really deeply clears out the root causes of imposter syndrome for them, the vast majority have had a very strong experience with a toxic line manager at some point in the last 10 years that is still affecting their wellbeing, their mental and emotional and physical health, and imposter syndrome today. There needs to be zero tolerance for toxic team members and toxic line managers. But that doesn't mean you should boot them out of the company because here's the irony, is very often it's that person's own imposter syndrome that is causing them to behave in that way. Like a micromanaging bully boss, that's often the perfectionism response to a bout of imposter syndrome and passing that on through the team members so that they don't make the line manager look bad and not good enough, and it helps them with their imposter syndrome. So I'm not making excuses this is not acceptable behaviour, but somebody who's behaving in a toxic way needs help, not criticism.

Speaker 1 (14:49)
And the environment is also impacted by a company's policies and procedures. So for every policy you're creating or reviewing, it's incredibly important to look at that through the eyes of somebody running severe imposter syndrome and thinking, How might this impact them?, particularly in ways that we're not necessarily predicting. The third pillar — we've done the culture and the environment — is our personal habits. How are we behaving? That means we've potentially created within us fertile soil for the seeds of imposter syndrome. This is everything from negative thinking and beating ourselves up through to things like those four P's, that coping strategies of the perfectionism procrastination, project paralysis, and people pleasing, through to doubting ourselves, through to the self-sabotage habits that we've developed over the years. Now you can build what I call the Bridge of coping strategies to go over the imposter syndrome gap, that gap between who we see ourselves as being and who we think we need to be to do or achieve something. But when the culture and the environment change or something in the outside world changes to mean that we have a new version of us that we need to imagine becoming, the imposter syndrome gap widens.

Speaker 1 (15:59)
The old bridge of coping strategies is no longer big enough to bridge that gap. And suddenly we're stuck in full-on crisis mode self-sabotage. This is why I work with organisations on all three pillars: the culture, the environment, and the habits. But here's the thing. I start with the habits because that is where people have their control. There's something amazing that happens. When you've cleared out your own imposter syndrome, you've shifted those habits, you have allowed yourself to close the imposter syndrome gap by becoming the version of you that feels confident, courageous, and passionate in that difference that you're here to make. When you create culture and environment change from that space, from that energy, it is profoundly different to when you create it from a space of anger and that deeply hidden fear of being found out as a fraud. And it's really essential to be dealing with all three pillars, not just because of imposter syndrome and the burnout it inevitably leads to. These three pillars stall your E, D, and I initiatives. They prevent inclusion. They prevent equality. They're driving the gender pay gap, the lack of equality in leadership roles because the culture and environment factors are disproportionately impacting women compared to men.

Speaker 1 (17:28)
Part of this is the national culture, particularly in the UK, where women, for example, are still doing the majority of caring on top of full-time jobs. Anything in the culture, in the environment that's about overworking or reading emails outside hours or having to respond immediately to pings is going to hurt them more. And partly because of the way men and women handle imposter syndrome differently, we found from our research studies that men tend to push on through that fear, which can lead to mental health issues, anxiety, and worse, further down the line, but they will tend to ignore the emotions and push on through. The women will tend to hold back in order to avoid experiencing those emotions; so the cultural factors are more likely to make them withdraw; to not go for those opportunities; the environment factors are more likely to make them hold back from speaking up with their ideas and experience imposter syndrome even more severely than their male counterparts. So my invitation to you today is yes, come and work with me and my certified master coaches and natural resilience method practitioners to clear out your own imposter syndrome. But also get trained in these skills so you can be that beacon of light helping others in your organisation at that habits level laying those foundations.

Speaker 1 (18:42)
I'm going to put a link in the show notes for how you can get certified in this work within your teams. And then look at your company culture and environment. How might that be unintentionally driving imposter syndrome? Feeding that secret fear of being found out at 3:00 AM is not good enough. And what emergency changes could you make? Even if it's just within your team, while you work on the longer term strategic ideas and policy changes? That's something I can help with. We can do a research, data-backed audit for you and work with you to create your strategic action plan to clear those culture and environment triggers and really put an end to toxic resilience in the workplace so that people can thrive, really fulfilling their potential with less time and less effort. It's a win-win all round. We can run masterminds for women who are going into leadership positions so that this doesn't impact them as much, and then they can also act as agents for change on the culture and the environment. And if you want to know what imposter syndrome and burnout might be costing your organisation each and every single day.

Speaker 1 (19:50)
So one in ten of your team members is thinking about quitting due to imposter syndrome or burnout. Today, we've used our research studies to create a free calculator for you. There is a link to that under the calculator bit in the show notes. Go and play with those numbers, waive them in front of the decision makers, and then book a call with me so we can see how we could work together to turn this around for your organisation in as few as 6-12 months. So I hope that's been useful for you today, giving you a bit of the background on the theory behind imposter syndrome, how it works in organisations. I'm going to be back next week if you're listening to this when it's live. Christmas nearly, talking about how to handle imposter syndrome at Christmas and some things that you can do to set yourself up for a fabulous new year.

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