Audit Advantage: Impostor Syndrome

Audit Advantage: Imposter Syndrome


Audit Advantage: Impostor Syndrome – when finding the fraud is YOU!

How do you describe your progress, your success, your achievements?  Ever ascribe them to ‘just good luck’, ‘being in the right place at the right time’, ‘sheer hard grind and hanging on in there’?  Ever feel others have an unwarranted high opinion of you, that you might be ‘found out’, that you don’t deserve your role or station in life?

If any of this sounds familiar (or has ever been familiar), then I can assure you, you are not alone.  A staggering 70% of us have experienced the dreaded, so-called Impostor Syndrome at some point in our lives.  It is a very real, very common, phenomenon; it can be highly debilitating, but actually, I do wonder if it’s also something that makes us human, empathetic to others, an integral contributor to our own Emotional Intelligence.

The dark side

The Impostor Phenomenon first came to the fore in the 1970s through the research of psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. They studied 150 accomplished females and discovered that, ‘despite their earned degrees, scholastic honours, high achievement...praise and professional recognition’, they tended to regard themselves as ‘impostors’ with no internal sense of owning their success. Research has been ongoing ever since. This propensity to ‘feeling a fraud’ is not limited to women but crosses all boundaries - gender, age, profession and sector.  A very recent study suggested that, despite the media stereotype of the highly self-assured millennial, in fact, one third (more than 4 million) of 18-34 year olds acknowledged Imposter Syndrome, with 12 million experiencing some degree of ‘confidence gremlins’.

How and why does this matter?  Well the most obvious impact is on our wellbeing – anxiety and worry, stress and depression, lack of fulfillment, as well as fear, all have a big effect on our physical and mental health (for a reminder check out our article on Stress).  But that’s not all.  Feeling insecure can lead to excessive compensation, workaholism and ‘over achievement’ which not only reinforce the tendency to cite true grit over ability, but can also bring a vicious circle of perfectionism and procrastination.  All of this can tip over into relationships and behaviours with our nearest and dearest, as well as with colleagues and team members in the workplace.

And the lighter side of Impostor Syndrome

This is serious stuff!  But the good news is, that once you have recognised the tendencies, there’s much you can do to manage the Impostor Phenomenon.  Let’s find out how.

  1. Admit it.  First to yourself, and then to others. Go live!  Remember, all the evidence suggests strongly that you are not alone! Ask for help; mentors and coaching can assist in a more formal way but even simply admitting your fears to your closest circle, in a more informal approach, can help to gain perspective.
  2. Challenge your perceptions.  Evaluate the evidence, objectively – in other words, conduct an audit of what you done, how you’ve performed, what you’ve achieved. Look at the facts from the point of view of a third party but steer away from comparisons with others – you will always find yourself lacking.  Try an independent diagnostic strengths’ finder to boost your self-perspective. 
  3. Be realistic.  Consummate mastery and perfectionism are rarely attainable, despite what might be suggested by social media!  Expertise and competence are highly regarded but they are not the same as perfectionism.  We are operating in challenging and turbulent times, characterised by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA).  The antidote requires resilience and flexibility; personal stretch is valued and comfort zones are often breached but flawless performance is not expected.
  4. Grow your mindset.  Operating from a premise of being ‘found out’ is always going to limit your horizons and feed the perennial vicious circle of the Imposter Syndrome. Strive for balance in your self-assessment. Don’t discount praise, take it on the chin and accept compliments just as you would, criticism.  Work through our guide to a Growth Mindset to develop your neuro-elasticity and move beyond a set of fixed outlooks.
  5. Take responsibility. ‘Own’ your achievement; this is also known as ‘internalising’ as opposed to attributing them to external factors, like good luck, outside of your control.  Take stock and focus on what you have achieved rather than what you haven’t and how you have achieved it. Banish demeaning words like ‘just’, ‘only’ and ‘but’ and embrace the efforts, endurance and talents that have brought you this far.

The chances are you weren’t hired by accident!  Think about it: if we all had to wait for mastery before we took on a new job or a new role, then progress for the world at large would be very slow indeed!  It’s perfectly natural to feel a degree of stretch at transition points in your career and the research suggests that it is very common for those doubts, uncertainties and fears to persist.  Fears of inadequacy are just that – fears.  Take an active approach to managing them and you’ll protect your personal wellbeing as well as achieving your aspirations, with a worthy dose of humility. 


Which topic would you like to read about next month? Look over the list of topics in the original Audit Advantage article here and let us know your choice for the next topic we should cover.

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