As soon as I sat down to write this article, a little voice popped in my head:
What do you know about helping others combat Imposter Syndrome?
Isn’t this a psychological phenomenon? You’re not a therapist.
You coach others dealing with their marketing and their businesses, not their minds.
I have given speeches in front of thousands of people, contributed to major publications, launched an online marketing agency that generates thousands of dollars per year for myself and my clients, and have created award-winning digital campaigns.
But the voice doesn’t care about facts.
I was still feeling like a fraud.
There I was, with a blank screen, and a body full of nerves. I sat wondering not only how I was going to get to the end of this article, but also how I was going to help you get through it too.
The racing thoughts continued:
Why are you even qualified to write this?
What in the world are you doing?
It was somewhere around my second deadline extension request with Tradecraft’s Editor in Chief, Dani, that I finally made the connection. The very thing I was writing about was what I was experiencing:
Do you know that feeling? Have you heard that voice in your head?
Perhaps that voice has grown more intense since becoming a coach, and despite having years of expertise, raving testimonials, and accolades, you still have similar thoughts.
Don’t be ashamed, my friend.
As a coach, it can be difficult to be deemed as the expert in the room because of the expectations that we not only place on ourselves, but from the ones that have been placed on us.
Several social, traditional, and cultural expectations have shaped our vantage points that, if left unchecked, maybe a skewed view of how we see ourselves in our professions.
Additionally, the idea of being a novice in a new coaching position can invite stress into our lives. According to an article written in American Nurse Today, “situations, such as taking on a new role, can lead to imposter syndrome.”
The author concludes that although people might be excited to showcase their talent and skill, others may expect for them to “immediately have expert knowledge” which can be just as stressful as the transition into the new position itself.
This syndrome feels similar to putting on a pair of jeans that have been ironed with just a little too much starch. Although they are your correct size and have fit in the past, external situations have made them uncomfortable.
However, they are your jeans, you’re still the coach, and you have the expertise.
If you’ve ever had similar thoughts, recognize that questioning your creativity can be a reminder of your humility or an invitation down a rabbit hole of horror. However, you have the power to decide which of those options it will be.
What is imposter syndrome?
This syndrome was first identified in 1978 by two Psychologists, Pauline Clance, Ph.D., ABPP and Suzanne Imes, Ph.D. Both at Georgia State University. The doctors noticed how different students felt amongst their peers in college and the comments they made in their counseling sessions.
Although the students obtained high test scores and were more than qualified to be at the university, they questioned the outcomes of their exams and feared the worst relative to their achievements. After one student stated they felt like an “imposter,” the term was officially coined.
Doctors Clance and Imes researched and concluded that this typically occurred in high achieving individuals. While successful by social standards, an individual experiencing this syndrome will feel as if their accomplishments are due to luck or chance, rather than the skills they possess.
According to Dr. Clance, “they are also pretty certain that, unless they go to gargantuan efforts to do so, success cannot be repeated. They are afraid that next time, they will blow it.”
Additionally, individuals experiencing this syndrome have a fear of being exposed. They fear they will be exposed as a fraud or that they won't measure up.
How to beat this syndrome and stop feeling like a fraud
Although you may not label yourself as an imposter by name, you may say things like:
I am not qualified to coach anyone.
I don’t deserve to be here. Once they find out, it’ll be so embarrassing.
If my students aren’t successful, that’s a reflection on my coaching. I knew I wasn’t ready.
I want to assure you that you’re not alone and have listed a few ways to help you combat this syndrome. This list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it will help push you in the right direction.
Recognize that this way of thought is a sign that you have a touch of natural genius (just go with me here)! Remember, this syndrome was first discovered in highly successful individuals and high performers.
As a creative and a coach, you are constantly building, iterating, and finding better processes not only for yourself, but for others. That takes a high level of cognitive skill, analytical prowess, and insight.
You must recognize that this fear may come with the territory, but it does not have to stay.
When you begin to have those thoughts, identify them immediately so you can trace the root.
Some questions you may want to ask yourself include:
- Is there any truth to what I am feeling right now?
- Is there an experience I had when I was younger that’s making me doubt myself today?
- When did I first feel like this?
- Do I need to reframe a past incident from a failure into a learning experience?
- Is this feeling of doubt really mine or did someone project it onto me?
This syndrome is not an official disorder; however, it does not mean the feelings that you are experiencing are not real. Recognizing the signs is necessary in order to move past some of your doubt.
If you want to see how you measure up against others, take Dr. Clance’s Imposter Phenomenon Scale (CIPS) available on her website for free.
Often times when you have stepped into the coaching side of your business, it’s because you have done one of four things:
- Previously helped others to reach a desired result
- Created a process/system that others can mimic
- Reached a result that others strive to obtain
- Obtained a level of expertise and insight that others are willing to pay for
You might have even done everything on that list!
The common denominator is that you have a track record of behaviors and credentials with every degree, licensure, and testimonial. The wisdom and recognition that you garnered in obtaining this expertise as a coach is something that you can lean into.
I encourage you to go back to your bio, resume, CV, or even the positive note your mom slipped in your lunch box in the 4th grade. When you feel those fears attempting to form, whip out your credentials and remind yourself of how much grit it has taken you to get to this point in your career. There’s nothing phony about that.
We have to stop with the “fake it until you make it” mantra, because that’s not helping anyone in the long term. As a coach, “faking it” can have a perpetual impact for those who you are called to help and inspire.
Do you know what’s better than faking it? Having other people tell you how great you are at the particular thing you are coaching others in.
World-renowned social activist, theologian, and former columnist for The Washington Post, Rahiel Tesfamariam once said, “Surround yourself with people who remind you of who you are.”
This can be other coaches, peers, and mentors.
I once attended an event where the keynote speaker was actor and author, Hill Harper. He encouraged everyone in the audience to create their own “Personal Board of Directors” consisting of people with who we could share our goals and who could help us achieve them.
I immediately thought of five people that I highly respected and that I knew wouldn’t mind investing their time in me.
Not only did they overwhelmingly accept my invitation to be on my Personal Board of Directors, a fire lit under me because I did not want to let them down. I did not have time to worry about being an imposter, I knew I had goals to hit.
I encourage you to do the same. Do your best to ensure that the people you enlist to be part of your support system truly have your best interest in mind and that you are in a safe place to be vulnerable and honest.
It’s perfectly fine for you to make mistakes and to not know everything relative to your field of expertise. Remember, even the best athletes in the world have coaches. Your support system is there to help you.
The worst thing this can do is keep us from our best work.
As a coach, you must always remember that there are people waiting on you to help them get to the next level in their lives. Think back to a time where you felt 100% prepared to do something and accurately anticipated all of the risks involved….
The sooner you push through, the sooner you can know how to improve on your current process.
I also encourage you to record or document your processes either on video or in a journal.
The last recommendation is to evaluate yourself.
Watch your own videos, review your own client notes, and see if there are any opportunities for you to improve. You may find some unique things that only you do that can add to your competitive advantage as a coach.
Evaluating also gives you a chance to create real case studies of your clients, form best practices from your own research, create rubrics to measure your performance, and test new ideas you may have without disturbing your current rhythm.
Your clients and students are counting on you to continuously improve. One of the ways you ensure growth in your coaching business is by growing as an individual.
Invite qualified and trusted confidants to evaluate you as well. Measuring your work against industry key performance indicators is a way to receive unbiased feedback.
Ready to stop feeling like a fraud?
Want to learn more about this syndrome or negative thoughts? Here are some resources: