Even the most successful people can falter. People on TV, people who run big business, give lectures, run countries. Sometimes, in some situations, we can feel like an actor or a fraud. Like we’re not good enough. Fearful that someone will find out.
Professor Brene Brown is a world authority on vulnerability. Her TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability has accumulated more than 43 million views and she has written five best-selling books. Yet even she has wobbled. When she was accepted on to a PhD programme in her early career, she thought: “Wait until they find out that they let me in by accident.”
Closer to home, the leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon, recently confessed to experiencing imposter syndrome, saying: “Even though I have been in politics for a long time, I have been First Minister for four years, there will be days when I think ‘should I even be here? Is somebody about to find me out?”
The imposter phenomenon
The term “impostor phenomenon” was first introduced in 1978 by researchers who defined it as an individual experience of self-perceived intellectual phoniness (fraud). More than forty years later, imposter syndrome is still impacting lives and careers as much as it ever did; a recent survey showed it affects a staggering 62% of people at work in the UK.
This stat comes as no surprise to executive and personal coach Katie Harvey, who has supported many clients who have seen their career – and lives – suffer as a consequence. “I see imposter syndrome a lot. Clients who identify with it tell me they want to hide, and that they feel a sense of shame. It happens a lot when people move outside their comfort zones, so when they get a new job or get promoted, for example.”