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Who Do You Think You Are? What you Actually Need to Know About Imposter Syndrome.

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

My first feature as a podcast guest, had me all tangled up in knots. Before the host hit record I kept thinking Lisa, just who do you think you are? What are you doing here? Who do you think you are to sit here and give advice to people who are terrified of having their photo taken, who have real feelings and fear around showing up...just who do you think you are missy? My inner voice went on, unhelpfully to point out, you're not a model, we all know that was a disaster. And then more unhelpfully, you've never even completed an entire photography course (for the record, I learn by trial and error, not being shown. This I know about myself). What are the listeners going to think? Why am I sharing all of this with you? Simply, to remind you this is all very, very normal. We all laugh, we all cry, we all feel insecure - it's all part of growing and evolving. It's riding on the edge of change and it means a metamorphosis is on the way. It's my hope the coping strategies I share with you will help you to stay anchored when these feelings arise and maybe even get a little bit excited about what's to come?

You know the definition by now but just in case — what is Imposter Syndrome?

Before I dive in here, know that you don't need fixing, there is nothing wrong with you — nothing. I want to get that straight right off the bat because the nature of imposter syndrome as defined waaaaay back in 1978, problematically implies there are steps to take to fix the problem, in women. Specifically high achieving women (insert raised eyebrow here). A Google search yields more than 5 million results for imposter syndrome with solutions ranging from self help books to reciting one’s accomplishments in front of a mirror. Clearly there is a market here to sell solutions that prey on your insecurities, that remind you there is a clinical term for that which ails you - of course there is. This is not one of those blog posts.

The nitty gritty.

Imposter Syndrome was discovered and named by two women (of course it was). First identified as Imposter Phenomenon by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. They define it as "An internal experience of intellectual phoniness in people who believe they are not intelligent, capable or creative, despite evidence of high achievement". Intellectual phoniness, ouch. Their research has launched decades of initiatives, programs and self help books to fix the problem of imposter syndrome in women. In my own words I describe it as a sense that I suck — at everything. That I have no right to be here and it's just a matter of time before everyone realizes I'm a fraud. You should know I also identify as a perfectionist and a high achiever, all textbook "Imposter syndrome" traits, according to Clance & Imes.

In my own words it feels like a sense that I suck at everything. That I have no right to be here and everyone will find out I am a fraud.

Lisa Haukom photographed in her Oregon Coast home, photo credit The Golden Brand Co.

It feels bittersweet

Really though, isn't this just part of being human whether you self identify as a high achiever or not? Here's what I have learned after spending the better part of my 40's facing my fears, embracing my shadows, and saying yes when fear told me to say no. It never completely goes away, and I'm okay with that. I have my toolkit of coping strategies to dip into when the need arises and I try to embrace my "imposter" feelings because they mean I am still evolving. You know that feeling when you move into a new home? It feels foreign to you. You have yet to discover its quirks, you still don't completely know one another. It feels bittersweet. That's how you know you are at the beginning of a new adventure. Why not think of imposter syndrome in a similar way? Why not embrace the adventure? As with everything in life, my philosophy is always keep what works, leave the rest. This is my advice to you as you curate your own toolkit of strategies. Ready to dip in?

Lisa Haukom photographed in her Oregon Coast home, photo credit The Golden Brand Co.

It feels foreign to you. You have yet to discover its quirks, you still don't completely know one another. It feels bittersweet.

Number one: You didn't just get lucky

You worked your ass off and there's no shame in owning that. Hooray, you just booked a client, won the award...turned your final book draft into your publisher — what's your first thought? Do you feel like you just got lucky? When you experience success do you shrug off praise even though you worked your ass off? Does recognition of any sort make you uncomfortable or do you (gasp) apologize, play it down... make light of it? I've been guilty of all of them at some point in my life. I've even made excuses to not go for what I really want, for fear that I would fail or didn't deserve it. I've also realized I may never feel fully deserving every moment of every day, and I'm okay with that. I no longer let it stop me from saying yes, thank you and I did do a great job, didn't I?

Number two: Three people aren't owning up

I know you feel like you are alone with a spotlight on you amplifying your every move, while a crowd of onlookers analyzes your every decision, but take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. According to the International Journal of Behavioral Science, 70% of people suffer from Imposter Phenomenon at some point in their lives. So if there are 10 people in the room, 7 of them are freaking out, just like you and 3 people are most likely not owning up.

Number three: Know your bad-assery is real, very real

I don't want to diminish anyone's experiences here, truly — but logically if you've spent time in the company of other women you know first-hand their struggle to make peace with expectations, responsibilities, their own dreams, and desires. You've witnessed them feeling torn between wanting and the shame of wanting. Maybe you've felt this way yourself. Again, you don't need fixing, you need to be with others who hold space for you. Pour it all out with trusted friends, a community or group of people all experiencing the same fears. Or better yet, someone a few steps ahead of you, who has navigated their own complex feelings and can steer you back to yourself. Bottom line, you need support, people you trust to remind you that your bad assery is real, not imagined, and you are deserving.

Number four: Stop comparing yourself to others

Seriously, stop it. This is not optional and there is no wiggle room here. You are not just hurting yourself, deeply and irrecoverably, you are also perpetuating the myth that there is only room for one woman at the table. Comparison fuels the false sense of competition between women and makes you constantly feel like you are behind. There is no falling behind, you are exactly where you need to be. There is plenty of room for every woman to be smart, sexy and successful if that's what she desires.

“Comparison is an act of violence against the self. It also leads to judgments and jealousy of those we deem “better off” than we are. If we aren’t the ones doing the comparing, then we’re the ones against whom other women measure themselves. In either case, the comparison, judgments, and jealousy lead to ugly behavior.” — Iyanla Vanzant, 21 Days to Forgive Everyone for Everything

Number five: Be kind to yourself

Friend we've all been around the block learning to navigate our successes and our failures. Yet we keep going. We keep pursing our goals going after what we want, even when we are afraid. We keep trying, learning and doing the scary thing despite fear. If that's not kindness I don't know what is.


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