FOUR CAUSES OF IMPOSTER SYNDROME
It’s probably one of your worst fears:
That the rug will be swiped out from under your feet, and you’ll find yourself, ass to the floor, looking up at everyone who’s been watching you as they stare in disbelief.
Sometimes you wonder if you should be running a business, and if someone’s going to come along and say ‘Er, we’ve figured out that you’re making this up as you go along, so stop pretending, and run back home to mummy. We’re bringing in a proper grown up to take care of things.’
This is Imposter Syndrome. The term was coined in 1978 by Clance & Imes in their research on high-achieving individuals who described feeling like frauds, and fearing they would be exposed.
I’ve had conversations with people struck with Imposter Syndrome in all fields; from highly paid TV execs; to the top of the banking food chain. The big game of the business jungle aren’t immune from this profit-and-sanity-threatening disease – it can strike any of us, at any time.
When I’m helping people smash through their self-imposed ceilings, there’s often a hidden story that more acclaim equals more feelings of being a fraud – and knowing that more stress is waiting on the next rung of the ladder holds them back from making the bold moves to expand their business.
When you’re constantly waiting for the axe to fall; for someone to call you out; for one of your decisions to be a catastrophe, or for something to go hideously wrong – no wonder things are stressful!
So, let’s dig into Imposter Syndrome – what is causing it?
I’m going to share with you four (rarely recognised) causes of Imposter Syndrome, because understanding where something began is often the key to unlocking it…
Big Fish, Little Fish
In order to grow, we all experience a transition from big fish in a small pond, to little fish in a large pond.
You probably know someone who was so scared of making this move that they’re still living the same life as they were as a teenager.
It’s an inevitable part of life that as we evolve, we move in some circles where we are the expert, and some where we are not.
Eventually, as your business grows and you’re running the show, you’re the established expert.
However, when your brain scans its files before making a decision, it gathers data from all of your experiences.
And these include any time you made the leap to a bigger pond, and got out of your depth.
Meet Max, a successful CEO who finds it hard to relax.
Max went to a small junior school, where he was the star of every production.
Taking the lead roles, singing solos, he was recognised as a ‘little gem with a big talent’.
It was a bit of shock to his system when he arrived at the local senior school, and met all the ‘little gems’ from the other junior schools in the area.
Suddenly, competition was fierce.
For the first time in his life, Max auditioned and didn’t get a lead role.
He didn’t even get a speaking role.
Looking back, he hardly remembers it.
He’s forgotten the lump that formed in his throat as he (literally) swallowed his pride.
His mind’s blanked out how he ran home that day and cried in secret.
As far as Max is concerned, he didn’t dwell on it.
He accepted that he was no longer ‘the best’ and focused on other things.
Fast-forward 30 years.
Locked in Max’s subconscious is a memory of reading the list of roles for the show; his excitement and confidence suddenly turning to shock and disappointment.
What Max doesn’t realise, is that his subconscious made three decisions based on that experience:
1. I’m not the best.
2. When I’m at the top of the ladder it’s just because no-one has realised there are people better than me.
3. Being excited, relaxed, and confident ends in pain.
Unbeknownst to him, Max’s behaviour is governed by these beliefs.
Consequently, he’s in a constant state of high-alert.
He can’t afford to get ‘too confident’.
His brain is constantly whispering to him that ‘it’s only a matter of time’ before someone comes along and takes his place.
And he definitely can’t allow himself to be genuinely excited or relaxed, because that’s just plain dangerous.
He might have forgotten running home to cry, but his subconscious hasn’t, and it’s not going to take the risk of a repeat performance.
When you’re talented in business, it can seem like you have the Midas touch.
And when everything you come into contact with seems to magically improve, you can get a bit of a reputation for having a charmed life.
The problem with this is that when you benefit from everything that you do, you start to question your own integrity.
We live in a culture that has some serious belief-hangovers from the days when martyring yourself, self-sacrifice and being poor were signs that you were ‘good’.
So when you’re creating wealth it triggers a subconscious feeling of guilt from the hidden belief that you’re doing something ‘bad’.
This is a core block that holds a lot of people back from making great money.
What tends to happen for high-earners is that you make the money, but you also feel that you’re doing something wrong – especially if you enjoy what you do.
When you get to the point where business is rocking, and you (sensibly) don’t want to sacrifice your success to fulfil some ancient vow of poverty that’s engrained in your subconscious, it becomes harder and harder to feel like a good person.
Your monkey mind does a number on you:
You’re doing something wrong. It’s only a matter of time before you get found out. You should be sacrificing.
And this turns into: You’re only looking after yourself. You’re helping him because it will benefit you. You are a terrible person and you will go straight to hell.
It’s really hard to relax when you secretly believe you’re a bad person.
So instead you stay on guard, waiting for the axe to fall and expecting to get ‘outed’.
Goodbye down-time, family-time, social life, good sleep and great health.
Hello tension, paranoia, broken relationships, exhaustion and excessive habits.
After all, if you’re secretly guilty, you don’t deserve better.
The Curse of Serendipity
Sometimes in life, things happen in the most unexpected ways.
Right place, right time.
A chance meeting. A brief encounter. A fateful introduction.
Which is all well and good when it’s happening.
You meet the person whose brother went to school with the head of the board of the company you want to connect with.
Life is full of these sequences of connection.
It’s how it works.
In your quiet moments, when you glance back at your progress, or the conversational ones, when someone asks you ‘how did that happen?’, it’s easy to let the shadow of doubt creep in.
You start to wonder if: Maybe that just happened because he pulled strings. Maybe there was someone better for the job than me. Maybe I’m not actually worthy.
Suddenly, you begin to question your own merit.
On the surface you convince yourself, ‘that’s how life works. It’s not what you know it’s who you know! It’s how things are done.’
And deep in the subconscious you wonder if that’s ok. If it’s fair. If it’s just.
You think ‘If I was that good, it would have happened anyway. I wouldn’t have needed the leg-up. I wouldn’t have needed the support. I should have been able to make it all happen on my own.’
It’s not a big leap from there to ‘I was put here by circumstance. I don’t deserve it. I’m a fraud.’
It doesn’t matter how much you rationalise that you create your own luck if something different is going on in your subconscious.
Where there is dissonance between the logical and the latent minds, they become locked in battle with little regard for your mental and emotional wellbeing.
No wonder you feel like peace of mind is something you trade for the privilege of running your own business.
Which leads me to the final cause of Imposter Syndrome on this list…
Fear of Relaxing
This one is interesting because it’s both cause and effect. It’s a tasty little cycle that keeps your adrenalin pumping and your caffeine habit borderline-dangerous.
There’s a myth that you have to be obsessed with your work in order to succeed.
You must never switch off. You must be devout in your worship at the altar holding your laptop. Otherwise you just don’t want it enough. You don’t care enough. You don’t deserve success.
So you dedicate all of your waking (and much of your sleeping) hours to your work.
In the beginning, this feels good. You’re excited, you’re passionate, you have heaps of energy.
The problem is that when you don’t relax, you become less capable of solving problems, downloading ideas, and taking aligned action.
Decision-making gets harder. You start to doubt yourself.
So then you start to worry that you’re losing your touch.
This is quickly joined by a fear that others might notice you’re no longer a brilliant mind.
So the last thing you’re able to do is relax!
And even when you do partake in some ‘relaxing’ activity, you can’t switch off.
Of course you can’t – your subconscious is set up to protect you, and it’s convinced that the second you stop obsessing, someone will notice that you’re not fully committed. Oh and also, you don’t really seem to be as good as you said you were.
The cycle continues, and you end up miserable – and you’re meant to be having an incredible time running your business, so you feel a fraud about that too!
Imposter Syndrome is a massive cause of stress for many (most) business owners.
You’re not alone, and it can be sorted out.
By identifying where the patterns are formed, you can begin to unravel them – even naming them helps!
Hopefully this post will give you plenty of ideas for where to look. Because the chances are, you’re not a fraud, you are brilliant in your zone of genius, and you just need to give yourself permission to easily make a lot of money for doing what you love.