Episode 18: You’re Not Alone: Normalizing Imposter Syndrome

Jun 6, 2023 | imposter syndrome, podcast | 0 comments

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You can find the full transcript for this episode at the bottom of this page

This week on the show we’re mixing things up and instead of interviewing someone else I’ll be speaking on one of my favorite topics to talk about – imposter syndrome. It’s one I’m very familiar with after helping many clients to overcome it, and having dealt with it myself which I share more about in this episode.

Imposter syndrome is a deep feeling of self-doubt, very often in spite of having an impressive resume. When you’re dealing with imposter syndrome, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve accomplished, or how positively others see you, you have a voice inside that tells you you’re a fraud and it can feel like the ultimate truth.

I really dislike the term imposter syndrome. Especially the syndrome part. It makes it sound like it’s a diagnosable condition, which it isn’t, and it also makes it sound like something is wrong with you.

First of all, if you’re struggling with it – you’re in good company. It’s estimated that 70% of people will struggle with imposter syndrome at some time or another. If you’re a high achiever, an entrepreneur, or part of a marginalized group you’re even more likely to experience it.

Imposter syndrome actually comes from a good place. It’s trying to keep you safe. And when our brain is doing something to try and keep us safe, we can’t just tell it to stop what it’s doing, even though that’s often the temptation. We might try to do things like rationalize our way out of imposter syndrome, remind ourselves of all of our accomplishments and the discrepancy between how we see ourselves and what’s on paper, we might just tell our brains to stop it, shut up. But these things are actually counterproductive and can sometimes even make imposter syndrome louder.

Be sure to check out the full episode to learn more, including some tools to help you make sure that imposter syndrome doesn’t hold you back.

What You’ll Learn in this Episode:

  • My own struggle with imposter syndrome and why it’s so important for her to share her own story
  • Why experiencing imposter syndrome isn’t a sign you’re not capable and may actually be proof you are cut out for the job
  • Why high achievers, entrepreneurs, or people who are part of a marginalized group, are more likely to experience imposter syndrome
  • Why you can’t fully eliminate imposter syndrome, and a few tools you can try out yourself to make sure it doesn’t hold you back
  • Why we also need systemic changes, in addition to mindset work, in order to really tackle imposter syndrome

Resources & Inspiration from the Show

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About Founders’ Fears & Failures and your host, Dr. Melissa Parks

Melissa is an entrepreneur, former therapist (PhD in Clinical & Health Psychology), and an executive coach for entrepreneurs with a special focus on startup founders. Her passion for supporting startup founders in particular began after witnessing firsthand the emotional rollercoaster her husband experienced as a startup co-founder.

She started the Founders’ Fears & Failures podcast with the mission of shining a light on the mental and emotional challenges that come with life as a startup founder. Having lived abroad for 10 years herself she realizes how much we can learn from hearing stories from around the globe which is why the show doesn’t focus on a country-specific startup ecosystem.

Melissa is also the co-founder of the Location Independent Therapist Community, and a mom to a toddler who keeps her on her toes, and fuels her passion for helping to make the world a better place.

If you are interested in coming on the show, please get in touch. We would love to hear your story.

Want to connect further? Get in touch with Melissa on social media:

Want to work with Melissa?

Melissa is a former therapist who provides mindset coaching for ambitious professionals around the globe. Schedule your free discovery call HERE.

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Did you enjoy listening to this episode? Leave your review on Apple podcasts or Spotify.

Disclaimer: The Founders’ Fears & Failures is for educational, informational, and entertainment purposes only. It is not meant to be used for personal health advice and should not be construed to constitute personal or professional consultation or guidance, or to replace medical or mental health treatment. The opinions expressed by this podcast, including the podcast guests, are not meant to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of a medical or mental health provider regarding any questions or concerns you have about your medical and/or mental health needs. If you are in crisis, please visit this website to find a list of suicide hotlines around the globe. 

Episode Transcript

Melissa 

Hi everyone. This week on the show, we are mixing things up. And instead of interviewing someone, I’ll be sharing with you about one of my favorite topics impostor syndrome. I should say, it’s not my favorite topic to experience, but it is one of my favorite topics to talk about and work on with clients.

However, before we dive into that, I wanted to take a minute to say a huge thank you to all of you for listening to the show, because we’ve just reached a big milestone of 1000 downloads. But even more than that number, I want to celebrate all the positive feedback I’ve received about the show. I always love hearing from listeners and what episodes particularly resonated with you. But what I wasn’t expecting as a podcast host was just how much pauses how much positive feedback I’d received from guests I’ve had on the show.

So many of those guests have told me how therapeutic it’s been for them to get vulnerable, and process their an entrepreneur journey. Others have told me how it’s led to meaningful conversations off air with people in their lives. And one guest in particular, even told me that this show has helped them to grow their network of open, honest and supportive entrepreneurs. So I launched the show, hoping that it would have a domino effect. And it’s really exciting to me to know that we’re just three months in and already starting to see that happen.

So I can’t wait to see where where things are going to take us. I’m in the process of recording a new round of guests, recording interviews with a new round of guests. And I’m also going to be experimenting with mixing in some solo episodes here on there. As I said, you know, I’d love to hear what topics resonate with you the most. So please get in touch on my website, melissaparks.com I’m also pretty active on Instagram and LinkedIn as well. And so either one of those places just reach out, let me know you know what’s resonating with you. Or if there’s a topic you’d like to see covered, or maybe somebody you’d like to nominate to come on the show and share their story. Please let me know.

Last thing before we launch into impostor syndrome, if you’ve enjoyed this show, please follow along or like it on whatever podcast podcast platform you prefer. And please consider leaving a review because this really helps others find the podcast and know that it’s something that they want to check out.

All right now we’re on to the topic, imposter syndrome. So over the years, impostor syndrome has become an area of expertise for me, as I’ve helped many clients who have struggled with it. But even before that, I was very familiar with imposter syndrome because I had it even before I knew what it was called. So I remember once telling my own therapist that I have this deep fear that despite doing my PhD working at a prestigious prestigious therapy clinic, and living a life I’d created for myself halfway around the world for my family, I really had this fear that it was just something that I created due to lack and it was the risk of crumbling at any given moment.

So thankfully, my therapist had some great tools to help me better understand and work through this self doubt. But it wasn’t until years later, when I came across the term imposter syndrome, that I really started to make sense of my own fear of being found out as a fraud and where it came from. So a lot of what I was the ways that I helped clients, it’s not just it, you know, it’s things I’ve read and learned that can help with imposter syndrome. But I really come at it from a place of understanding firsthand just, you know, what this is like and where it can come from. Obviously, I always tell my clients, everybody’s journey is different, everybody’s story is unique. So that also means that you know, what might help you is going to be different for another person. But I did just want to start off by saying that if you’re experiencing impostor syndrome, I get you, I have been there myself. And you know, it’s something actually I still struggle with. And I’ll talk later about why imposter syndrome is not something that in we can expect to just go away completely. So, but don’t worry, I’m going to give you some tips as well about how you can manage it and make sure it doesn’t hold you back.

So impostor syndrome is a deep feeling of self doubt, it’s very often in spite of having an impressive resume. And when you’re dealing with impostor syndrome, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve accomplished or how positively others see you, you have a voice inside you, that tells you you’re a fraud. And when it’s going on, it can feel like the ultimate truth. Now, before I go any further, I have to tell you that as time goes on, I’ve really come to dislike the term imposter syndrome, especially that syndrome. Part of it makes it sound like it’s a diagnosable condition. And well, I could do a whole podcast episode probably about my thoughts about, about clinical diagnoses, and you know, the stigma that they can create and all of that, but I’m not gonna go into that.

Now, I’m just going to say that I don’t like how imposter syndrome has that word syndrome in it. I’m going to use it throughout the show, because you know, that’s, that’s what we call it. But I don’t like that, because it does make it sound like something is wrong with you. And nothing could be further from the truth. It really makes imposter syndrome. So much heavier when we feel like okay, something’s wrong with me because I have this thing called impostor syndrome. But the thing is, if you’re struggling with it, you are in good company. It’s estimated that 70% of people will struggle with impostor syndrome at some time or another. I have to say, I’ve met a couple of people who have told me that never experienced impostor syndrome. And I totally believe them, but they are the exception. I would say if you meet somebody who assess that they’ve never experienced it. It is more likely that they’re lying or denial because it’s so common. So, just know again, if you’re experiencing it, you are not alone.

And an interesting thing about impostor syndrome is that it seems to be even more common amongst Highly successful people. So many leaders, entrepreneurs and celebrities record experiencing it, such as Ariana Huffington, Tom Hayden’s, Sonia Sotomayor, Howard Schultz, Michelle Obama’s Sheryl Sandberg, Maya Angelou, if you Google well known people with impostor syndrome, you can find an even longer list. So there is a reason why high achievers might be at higher risk for experiencing impostor syndrome. And that’s due to the Dunning Kruger effect. So you might have heard about this effect related to the idea that people who have lower intelligence often misjudge their own cognitive ability and their intelligence, they might think that they’re smarter than they actually are, or smarter than others around them. In other words, they’re kind of not smart enough to realize that they’re not very smart. But what happens is that people who are highly intelligent, seem to have the opposite problem. And that suggests that like, as they start to, you know, learn even more about a topic, the more likely it is that you’re going to become aware of the gaps in your knowledge. So that might be something that comes with a high intelligence, it’s just being able to be very aware of what you don’t know. And what ends up happening then is that you’re just so highly aware of what you don’t know that you start to have less confidence in your ability and knowledge. So I do share that with my clients when they are experiencing impostor syndrome. doubting your ability is actually a good sign that you’re cut out for the job, even though that feels really strange.

It’s just why a one reason why using mindfulness to combat combat impostor syndrome can be so helpful. And when I say mindfulness, I’m not talking necessarily about sitting down and meditating, although that can be really helpful. But what I mean, though, is just practicing something that I call mindfulness on the go. And what it is, is, it’s getting familiar with the types of thoughts you have throughout your day. And you start to label those thoughts. So you can start labeling those thoughts as impostor syndrome thoughts. And this can really help us to do what’s at the heart of mindfulness, one of the things at the heart of mindfulness, which is to start getting distance from the thoughts that just passed through our minds automatically, and we can stop taking them at face value. So you might have heard before that you shouldn’t believe everything you think. And this couldn’t be more true when it comes to impostor syndrome. So keep that in mind, you can’t believe everything you think. And like I said, just going back, kind of more traditional mindfulness, where you’re sitting down and really tuning into your breathing, those kinds of things can be incredibly helpful, too. So that’s something if my clients are up for it, I also try to introduce them to it and give them the tools and support to do that as well. But I just some people that hear the word mindfulness and get a little weirded out at, and they’re like, No, I don’t have time for that, or I don’t want to do that, or I wouldn’t be good at that. So I just also try to get really flexible and find different ways that work for different people. And the fourth thing is just to get familiar with those thoughts that tend to pass through our minds and really affect us, but we don’t always notice them.

So it might also be helpful for you to know that as an entrepreneur, it’s even more likely that you’ll experience impostor syndrome. So unlike other careers, being an entrepreneur doesn’t require you to pass an exam or earn a degree. You know, there’s no graduation ceremony where everybody says, like you did it, you’re ready. It doesn’t involve the same external validation as other jobs. And it also comes with that whole mental and emotional rollercoaster of entrepreneur life that we all know. So really high stakes, lots of pressure, and it doesn’t have some of the security that might come with another job, another career. And also, as an entrepreneur, you’re constantly pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and facing uncertainty. And you’re often doing this in a highly visible role as CEO in the face of your company. So our brains really hate uncertainty, and they hate it when we stick our necks out. These are situations that signal to our brains, that and they signal to our brains that we’re in danger, because back in the day, standing out in the crowd and separating from the pack really could put us in danger. Now these days, these situations probably aren’t a matter of life or death. But our brains read them and in the exact same way and the alarm bells still go off when it detects a risk of rejection or risk of failure. And so what that means is, imagine for instance, you’re preparing to pitch to a group of investors, your brain may read the situation in the same way as if you were getting ready to step out in front of a common oncoming car. Don’t do it your brain screams Who do you think you are? So you hear that, you know that’s imposter syndrome creeping in right? And imposter syndrome then is just one way that our brain tries to get us to stop putting ourselves into what it sees as dangerous situations.

And what that means is imposter syndrome actually comes from a good place. It’s trying to keep you safe. And when our brain is doing something to try and keep us safe. We can’t just tell it to stop what it’s doing. What is often the temptation. So we might try to do things like rationalize our way out of imposter syndrome remind ourselves of all of our accomplishments and the discrepancy between how we, between how we see ourselves and you know what’s on paper, we might just tell our brains to stop it shut up. But these things are actually counterproductive and can sometimes even make imposter syndrome louder.

So here’s a metaphor I often share with clients to help them see why we can’t just make impostor syndrome go away, and what we can do instead. So imagine you’re driving a car, you’re headed in the direction of whatever is important to you. So maybe having a successful company making an impact, providing for your family, living a life of freedom and flexibility, possibly a combination of all those things. impostor syndrome is in the passenger seat with you. It’s trying to remind you that you’re not cut out for this, that you’re gonna make a fool of yourself, if you keep on this path. Who do you think you are, it screams in your ears as you’re waiting at a stoplight. Now, the temptation might be to kick it out of the car, right? That will shut shut it up. But somehow, no matter how many times you could get out of the car, it always manages to catch up to you and get back inside. You have to accept that it’s coming along for the ride. But you don’t have to keep it in the passenger seat, you can send it to the backseat. And you can make sure that it doesn’t get to choose the music. And especially it doesn’t get to choose the direction your car’s going. The thing is when we stop fighting with our thoughts when we stop fighting with imposter syndrome. And you know impostor syndrome realizes it doesn’t have the choice in the direction you’re going to take, the more likely it is to get quiet, might even decide to take a nap. So give that a try. Next time you’re experiencing impostor syndrome, maybe try to imagine that metaphor in your head and see if it does help help you.

Now, I’ve said high achievers are more at risk of experiencing impostor syndrome, entrepreneurs are more at risk. And we also know that people are part of marginalized groups are more at risk for experiencing impostor syndrome. This includes women or people in the bipoc, immigrant neurodivergent, or LGBTQIA, plus community, among others. And this is because when you’re one part of one of these groups, you spend years growing up in a world that hasn’t been designed for you or where you don’t have the same privilege afforded to you that many people around you do. And time and time again, you’re being told sometimes in subtle ways, but other times loud and clear that something is wrong with you, or that you don’t belong. So over the years, a voice develops inside of you that questions your self worth and your ability. He reminds you of the ways you’re different and might not be good enough. It’s often also coming from a good place. Our brain kind of thinks that as though, like if we anticipate how others might see us, you know, if we say something hurtful to ourselves before somebody else says that same thing, that somehow when we experience those attacks, they might hurt less. It just the thing is, it’s a misguided attempt to try to help because it doesn’t actually hurt us any less when it actually happens. But it’s like our brain is trained to rehearse and prepare for what what it’s anticipating will be a painful situation. And the thing is, when we experience imposter syndrome, it’s often in situations where we feel like we don’t belong. I often hear this from people who are considered overlooked or underestimated founders, they feel like they don’t fit the profile of the typical founder. And what ends up happening is that it fuels their imposter syndrome because it pushes a button inside of them that reminds them of past situations where they haven’t felt like they belong. Their brain start sensing that they’re this isn’t a safe place, and starts to tell them, maybe you’re just not cut out to be a founder. It’s really trying to help them to escape the situation, the situation that where they don’t feel safe, right, again, is trying to keep us safe.

And this is why when it comes to impostor syndrome, it isn’t enough to just learn tricks to shift our mindset. Yes, some of those things. I’ve already talked about the mindfulness, the noticing our thoughts, those things can really help. But we really need to do take it even one step further. We need to look at our past and get a better understanding of where impostor syndrome comes from. This can help us to have greater compassion for ourselves when it shows up. And I do want to say though, that this can be tough to do on your own, not impossible, and I’ll share a resource later that can help you. But if you’re struggling with impostor syndrome, I’d really encourage you to not go it alone. So you know, share with somebody else, you know, maybe a friend or a loved one, someone that feels like a safe person to confide in. But also consider working with a therapist or a coach who’s qualified to do that deep dive with you to understand where your imposter syndrome is coming from, so that it doesn’t hold you back and doesn’t keep you doubting, doubting who you are and what you’re capable of. Because the truth is that even though impostor syndrome does come up from a good place, it does come with a lot of negative consequences and it can ultimately lead us to experience low self esteem, anxiety, depression. It might lead us to avoid things that are important to us, or you might wind up getting in a cycle of poor perfectionism in an attempt to try and quiet the voice of imposter syndrome.

And along with this, I want you to know, it’s not just your job to end impostor syndrome. Again, yes, I’m helping you giving you some tools that can help you. And I’ll give you a few more before we wrap up the show today. But we also need systemic changes to take place that reduce bias discrimination and increase representation, so that we can feel like we belong, right so that there isn’t so much of a need of imposter syndrome to step in. Right, we need to have places where we can feel safe. There’s a great two part article from the Harvard Business Review from a couple of years ago. One of them is one of the articles is titled stop telling women they have impostor syndrome, and the other is called an imposter syndrome in your workplace. I’m going to link to those in the show notes in case you haven’t seen them. They’re ones I share with clients all the time. And they really are some of the first articles I’ve I’ve seen. There’s a lot of conversations happening now. But these are the first that I saw really opening up the conversation about impostor syndrome and really explaining that it doesn’t, it’s not just about us, right? It’s not just about self care. It’s not just about things we can do as individuals, but it needs to also be part of a larger kind of community systemic wide conversation.

And then the last thing I want to share with you about imposter syndrome is that it’s not likely to disappear. For years, I felt like I was a fraud. Because I was working as a therapist. I’ve been two years of therapy myself and I still experienced impostor syndrome. What I didn’t realize, but I essentially had impostor syndrome about my imposter syndrome. So imposter syndrome thrives on secrecy. And I found that the more I talk about it, the more I share that experience it, the less power it has over me. So I’ve also found that it can get very sneaky, and sometimes it takes me longer to recognize it, which is why it’s, again, really important, make sure you have someone you can trust you can share with about your struggles as an entrepreneur, because they might be able to identify imposter syndrome before you can. So I’ve worked with therapists, I work with coaches who have helped me with this and but also sometimes that person has my husband was like, you know, this sounds a lot like imposter syndrome. And you know, it’s always a shock to me, like, what, how is that possible? I really thought that, you know, I just wasn’t ready for this. But now I do know that when I’m putting myself out of my comfort zone, I kind of am aware like, Okay, I’m kind of on the lookout for impostor syndrome, I know it’s likely to strike. And for me these days, it usually shows up as procrastination, and really logical arguments of why I shouldn’t do something. So it’s even less about like, Are you sure you’re cut out for this, but we’re like, Are you sure this is a good idea. And that’s another way that impostor syndrome can show up. For me, it’s really helpful to reframe this as growing pains. And it’s just part of being an entrepreneur, it’s part of the journey. And imposter syndrome is just part of that journey.

Another thing that’s really helped me is to strengthen another voice to balance out the voice of imposter syndrome. This is a voice that’s encouraging and supportive, and reminds me of my potential. It’s a voice that says it says things like, it makes complete sense, you feel scared and doubtful. And I believe that you can do hard things. So I really like to call this voice my inner compassionate coach. But you might call it your inner ally, your inner friend, cheerleader, or your inner supportive boss. Basically, this is the voice that is helping you to cultivate compassion for yourself. Now, when we start practicing self compassion, it can feel a little cheesy, or it can feel a little weird or uncomfortable. That is normal. That is part of the process. That is one of the growing pains that comes with it. But the truth is, is that it is an incredibly powerful tool. And I go so far as to say it has changed my life. And I know it’s made a huge difference in the lives of my clients as well, which is why I’m such a huge advocate and proponent of people going on their own journeys of practicing self compassion. So if you want to connect with your inner compassionate coach, I do have a free download that you could sign up for on my website at Melissaparks.com/self-compassion-entrepreneurs. And I will admit that’s confusing, so I will definitely link to that in the show notes as well. So it’s easy for you to find. All right, that is it for this week’s episode.

I hope that you found this helpful and that you have some new ideas and a greater understanding of your own struggle with impostor syndrome. Hopefully, you’re already getting started on that journey of having greater compassion for yourself around this. I hope that this conversation will also inspire you to dare to be vulnerable with someone around you about your own impostor syndrome. Remember, chances are they’ve experienced it themselves.

And also remember how imposter syndrome thrives on secrecy. So one way that you can work to overcome it is by sharing about it.

If you liked this episode, please share it with someone else who you think needs to hear it. And don’t forget to subscribe to the show so you don’t miss a single episode. I’ll see you next Tuesday. And I hope you have a great week.

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HI I’M MELISSA

I'm a therapist-turned-coach who loves working with clients around the world! I work with the globally mobile community to support them through transitions as well as entrepreneurs who need support navigating the rollercoaster of entrepreneur life.

I'm also the co-founder of the Location Independent Therapists (LIT) Community, a mom, a self-compassion advocate, and an aspiring author.

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