Exploring lived experiences of imposter syndrome

16th April by Joella Bruckshaw

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Exploring lived experiences of imposter syndrome

The Behind the Screen podcast series that Julian Saipe and I started, in our passionate innocence, earlier this year, has begun to take hold, (for us at least!) The series has helped us to integrate our thoughts about authenticity and what it takes for leaders to connect with their own authenticity and how it manifests in their own leadership.

Imposter syndrome

In podcasts five and six we explored the theme of imposter syndrome, something both Julian and I have suffered from, and an experience it turns out, we share with a surprising number of top achievers. Julian talks about Renée Fleming, one of the most acclaimed opera singers in the world today, who speaks openly about her fear of being called out as an imposter by someone in the audience.

In podcast five Julian and I share our own experiences of imposter syndrome growing up with difficult mothers and our recognition of the burden of self-doubt we both carry. Julian felt huge pressure from his mother to be super successful, a requirement which he felt obliged to comply with. I also struggled, with a highly critical mother, whose overall disappointment with life, I wrongly interpreted as her disappointment in me. This conclusion dogged me for many years in my pattern of sabotaging my own success. With a lot of help, we both learned to question these early assumptions and substitute outlooks with greater possibility and more importantly, forgiveness and acceptance of who we actually are.

How men and women do it differently

Of course this left us with a huge curiosity about how others handle their overwhelming feelings of inadequacy when faced with the need to inspire and lead their teams in a way that grows the bottom line of a business. Being opposite sexes, we naturally took an interest in how our own sex tackles the debilitating imposter mindset. We discussed the distinct patterns that hold each sex back, as well as the different ways we’ve been able to help.

Our next guest

By the end of podcast five, we’d come to the conclusion that we needed to find someone who would be willing to discuss their lived experience of imposter syndrome in their career and how they’d tacked it. With this in mind, in the next podcast, we interviewed Mimi Moore the former director general of the Government of Canada.

The power of questions

The interview with Mimi had some of that coaching magic that asking thoughtful questions so often provides. We were also blessed by Mimi’s humility and willingness to be painfully honest about the challenges she’d faced. One in particular was referred to in a hilarious story of being referred to as a “fxxxing powder puff” where an employee was ready to leave the organisation in response to being expected to work with such a young woman.

My particular favourite, was in response to the question: ‘What does asking for money mean to you?” This is an area women often struggle with, equating the valuing of people in money terms, as a negative. It was fascinating to hear how Mimi had grown beyond her early upbringing as a French Canadian catholic (when it was strongly stated that being rich was bad!), by making a positive decision in her teenage years that being poor was not going to stop her overcoming the feelings of economic insecurity.

Personal alignment

I loved the way she’d created an alignment in her mind between who she chose to be and the future she was living into. So often with clients, gaining a conscious understanding of the context of their lives, breaks an internal log jam that has been stopping the river from flowing freely. Suddenly they become exited and naturally resourceful in unexpected ways. Imposter syndrome to me, seems to be about what we choose to focus on.

Imposter syndrome runs deep

What fascinated me in our interview with Mimi, was the appearance initially that she didn’t really suffer from imposter syndrome. However, as our conversation unfolded, it emerged she’d had a number of mindset challenges to overcome in her career that limited her leadership capacity in ways she hadn’t even been aware of and affected how she’d led people. In particular, when she thought about her impatience with the glacial pace of her team, compared to her own fast implementation. As she explained, it was only as she gained greater self-awareness, through her subsequent coach training, she began to recognise it was her fear of not getting results and being caught out that was fuelling her behaviour.

So, if you’re suitably intrigued, next time you take your constitutional around the park or are cooking dinner, click the Behind the Screen link and be informed and entertained!

Our deepest thanks to Joella and Julian for sharing more of their learnings from their podcast series.