In 2013, I commenced my MBA, nervously. I was nervous because I had not been at school for a long time. I was suffering acutely from imposter syndrome and like many women, I had thoughts that I wasn’t smart enough, I didn’t really belong and the first time I opened my mouth I would be found out! After all, one of my favourite throw away lines to stop other people worrying is “Don’t worry, just fake it til you make it!” Gulp.
“Despite my life and career success up until that point, I still felt I was faking it.”
I still felt the need to set ambitious and arguably, excessively high, unrealistic goals for myself. Probably because I cared just a little bit too much about other people’s opinions. Amy Cuddy talks and writes about this crippling phenomena and how it makes us over-think and dramatise how much other people are judging us. She talks about how it ‘steals our power and suffocates our presence’ and makes us permanently afraid. Gah!
Great news though! As I moved through the courses in my MBA, I discovered some really terrific things. I wasn’t out of touch, woefully inadequate or uneducated at all. I wasn’t faking it! I was becoming less afraid. And you know what else? The more I discovered my own strengths, my innate traits and characteristics, became more self-aware, the less I cared about bending myself out of shape to meet other people’s expectations.
So what caused the turnaround?
A couple of my courses had a profoundly positive effect. The core leadership course introduced me to the seminal works of Peter Drucker and Daniel Goleman. I took the advice of both Goleman (2000) ‘you have to lead yourself before you can lead others’ and Drucker (1999) ‘it takes more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than to improve from first-rate performance to excellence’ and built myself an action plan. (Yes I wasn’t quite there…still a recovering perfectionist!) My action plan began with four questions:
What do I need to know?
What do I need to do?
What do I need to be?
What is holding me back?
Question 4 ….da da dum! Insert lightbulb moment here.
Perhaps you’ve guessed it, what was holding me back was my relentless pursuit of perfection, my need to prove myself to others , my need to be invulnerable and of course, all of this is grounded in good old imposter syndrome. On top of that, I just had not taken enough time out to lead myself. I didn’t know myself and my own strengths and worth, well enough.
Businesswoman media published an article about the 4 steps to overcome Imposter Syndrome. It’s a good, practical read:
Stop trying to prove something
Realise no-one knows what they’re doing
Pay less attention to the (negative) voice in your head
Track your achievements AND your progress
Not every woman needs to complete an MBA to defeat imposter syndrome. So here’s my step number 5:
The journey on the road to mastery is never-ending.
Enjoy the journey, it’s called life.
Michelle is an astute businesswoman & keen entrepreneur who has founded a business to coach, train & mentor women of all ages and stages. Michelle wants to shatter the glass ceiling & help women be successful, in whatever way they define success. Founded by a woman, run by women, for women and the organisations that employ women. Michelle coaches, mentors, consults, runs events & speaks about her vision to create a gender equal world.