Michelle Obama’s remarks about impostor syndrome – a term used to describe feelings of insecurity or self-doubt, despite there being no evidence to support such a belief – have inspired others to share their experiences.
When Sophie Montagne applied to be a part of the Ice Maiden expedition in Antarctica, she didn’t think she would make the cut.
She applied whilst working in marketing, and saw a poster about the trip at an army reserve unit where she attends part-time.
“The group of applicants was gradually whittled down from 250 applicants to the final six, in a process that lasted two years.
“During this time I was so crippled by impostor syndrome that I nearly took myself out of the running for the team – I was just somebody that sat at a desk doing marketing. Why did I think I could be part of a record breaking team in the coldest place on earth?!
“It affected how I behaved, my sense of self and, most importantly, my confidence.
“Everyone else seemed to be more of an athlete and was in the army full-time.
“When the team was announced it was vindication that someone has seen me as being valuable. It gave me a spine of confidence.
“As part of the selection I spoke to a psychologist who helped me to identify why I felt like a fraud – I could finally put a name to it.
“I now speak about my experiences in Antarctica and about impostor syndrome specifically to companies and schools. I had never done public speaking before.
“I help them try to find ways to encourage young girls into sport and am very open about my imposter syndrome and how I dealt with it.”
What is impostor syndrome?
Psychotherapist Rachel Buchan describes impostor syndrome as “an internal belief that you are not good enough or don’t belong”.
She says the feeling is most commonly found in the workplace but can also manifest itself in other areas of life like social situations.
It can affect people of all backgrounds, she says, and emerges for a variety of reasons including someone’s upbringing, background and specific circumstances at the time.
Consultant Noel Ferguson says he has impostor syndrome but instead of trying to overcoming it, he has used it to his advantage.
Growing up in “a working class background in Belfast, during the Troubles,” and looking after his elderly parents who were ill during a time when he himself became ill with cancer, he underperformed academically and that led him to feel he wasn’t good enough.
“I have tried to take my impostor syndrome and use it for a directed purpose,” says Noel who later did Open University courses in Leadership and Management.
“I was always aware I had it but I didn’t know what it was.
“Many see it as a burden but I have used it to my benefit. I am thankful I have impostor syndrome because a way of dealing with it is to always strive to be better.
“There’s nothing wrong for men to admit they have it.”
Noel started the Institute for One World Leadership and encourages people to be better leaders.
“When I give talks to students I like to share personal experiences. Lots of people have imposter syndrome and think they are the only ones.
“For people with impostor syndrome, you will always be searching for ways to improve your performance, extend your abilities, and be better at what you do.”
How to overcome impostor syndrome
Kate Atkin is a professional speaker and delivers workshops on impostor syndrome, which she is researching for her PhD.
As the only woman on her managerial team in her previous career at Barclays she experienced impostor syndrome herself and shares tips for overcoming it:
- Talk about it: If you share how you are feeling with others you will soon realise you are not alone.
- Recognise your successes: Don’t put them down to just luck or hard work – without your skills and ability you would not have achieved what you did.
- But remember nobody is perfect: Accept failure is likely to happen at some point and learn from it rather than seeing it as a reflection of yourself.
- Stop comparing yourself to others: Try comparing yourself to what you were like last year instead to see how you have progressed.
Doreen Anselm-Etienne from Cambridgeshire told the BBC that when she was the only black manager in a team in the NHS she had a “constant feeling” of not belonging.
“My role involved working closely with mainly doctors and consultants, the majority of whom were white middle-class males.
“For about five to six years I had the constant feeling that I didn’t belong, that I had got the job by default, I wasn’t smart enough, I wasn’t good enough, my grasp of the English language was inadequate, as I had a Caribbean accent.
“The HR consultant once told me to just keep telling myself every day: ‘I’m the manager, I’m the manager’.
“I don’t know if I overcame it but having the support of some of my colleagues and my successes helped.
“But it was a constant urge to keep doing better, keep working harder. It wasn’t so much about being the best but an attempt to keep up with people I wrongly perceived to be better, smarter, or more intelligent than I am.”
“Feeling like an impostor hasn’t really left me – I’ve just developed a thicker skin, and age has brought with it a level of confidence.”
Interviews by Andree Massiah, UGC & Social News team