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Dr. Bob Wright | May 5, 2022

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: How to Get Past a Fear of Success

Most of us have experienced imposter syndrome at one point or another. We might have success in our career or receive accolades from our boss, and in creeps the sneaking suspicion that we really don’t “deserve this.”



Overcoming imposter syndrome isn’t easy. It’s based on self-doubt, untruths that we tell ourselves, and feelings of inadequacy that we may have been building for years. So how do we do it? How do we kick imposter syndrome once and for all and accept the kudos and compliments that we’ve earned without feeling like a phony?

What is Imposter Syndrome Anyway?

Many of us get the feeling that we’re about to be “found out.” We might feel like our success is a mistake. When we do something right, we assume we’ve managed to “trick” others into believing that we’re actually good at what we’re doing. We’ve deceived everyone into believing that we’re great salespeople, an incredible CEO, fantastic artists, or talented writers. We think, “if they only knew the truth,” or we dread the day we’re found out.

When we experience these thoughts and self-doubts, they’re symptoms of what’s known as imposter syndrome. What is imposter syndrome, and where does it come from?

The term “imposter phenomenon” was coined by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes in 1978. For many, the term resonated with feelings that they’d long held. It was used to describe the feeling that many successful individuals get. Despite plenty of contrary evidence, many successful people feel like “frauds,” or as though they don’t deserve the success they experience in their chosen profession. Even when these individuals were shown proof of their success, they dismissed it as good fortune or suggested they deceived others into believing they were competent. What’s more, they often feared being discovered or found out.

This may sound familiar to many of us. Why do we feel this way? Why do we experience imposter syndrome?


The reality is that many of us have some type of underlying anxiety and fear. We all feel worried from time to time. Sometimes our worries are reasonable given the circumstances. Sometimes they aren’t.


Many of us may experience worries about our health, finances, social lives, loved ones, and more. We may wonder if other people like us; we may feel lonely and disconnected; we may worry about how we can take care of others in our lives.

A little bit of fear, worry, or even anxiety is a natural part of being human. Most successful people are driven in one way or another by their sense of discontent and uneasiness. They’re driven by a need to do well and may have anxiety about success.

However, a healthy amount of worry can spiral out of control when we encounter foundational ideas in our heads known as limiting beliefs. Some of these beliefs are good. They keep us safe. They may keep us from quitting our job and running off to join the circus. They may prevent us from hurting ourselves or from hurting those around us.

But our limiting beliefs can also prevent us from trusting ourselves. Many of these beliefs aren’t accurate. They keep us from reaching our potential and fully developing ourselves. We may find that we’re holding back because we want to stay nice and cozy in our perceived “safe zone,” even if we aren’t reaching our maximum satisfaction. Our limiting beliefs can keep us from fully living our best lives.

Understanding the Origins of Our Limiting Beliefs to Beat Imposter Syndrome

We might not be able to beat our imposter syndrome right away. It’s not something that can be wished or reasoned away with the snap of our fingers. Instead, we have to examine where our limiting beliefs originate. They’re part of our very core, and the first step to overcoming imposter syndrome is to dig down and look at them. These beliefs were typically formed very early in our childhood, and while some of them may have applied to our world at the time, they’re often untrue, especially in adulthood. If we don’t pinpoint them and work through them, they can hold us back from reaching our fullest potential.

We may hear limiting beliefs in our head, and they make us have thoughts like:

When we say these beliefs aloud, we may even think they sound a little unreasonable, but they tend to follow us around. These beliefs can haunt us. Sometimes we don’t realize our limiting beliefs because they’ve been buried and intertwined so deeply within our subconscious. We might be blind to them, but they shape many of our choices and our confidence. These limiting beliefs may steer our decisions toward or away from things we may otherwise want.


So how deep are these beliefs? Most of our limiting beliefs were formed before we were even aware of them. They may have originated from our interactions with our parents, siblings, grandparents, teachers, caretakers, or even friends.


Much of our social and emotional makeup is formed by the time we reach age six or seven. We carry that with us for the rest of our lives, using it to form the basis of the way we see ourselves and our world. We tap into it when we make choices.

Why One Person Felt Like an Imposter

I was coaching a very successful young man. He had references and accolades from many respected people within his industry. He had recently received a promotion to a higher position where he earned more money and had a chance to manage a global network of team members. By all accounts, he was doing extremely well.

But despite his evident success, he was still haunted by the fact that he didn’t have a college degree. He flunked out of his program. Not because he couldn’t keep up, but because (at the time) he didn’t care. He was more interested in sports in his younger years. He went out and partied. He’d since turned his life around and found great success, but in the back of his mind, he felt like he was just waiting to be found out.

He believed that he was an imposter. Now, he’d been very upfront with his bosses and let them know that he didn’t hold a degree. Yet, he still was promoted and did very well in his position. He relied on his life experience and personality to drive him to success. He built a strong rapport with his clientele and coworkers. He had innate leadership skills. But the idea that he wasn’t good enough still kept coming up until it was tainting the joy of his success.

As we worked together, we learned that it all went back to his relationship with his parents when he was a child. He was living out a self-fulfilling prophecy that he would never be good enough. His mom was a higher performer, while his dad was less so. This experience led him to believe that as a man, he was inherently lazy. He didn’t even live up to his father’s standard—especially after his grades went downhill in college.

In his head, he was still hearing all these doubts. He had a desire to rebel against others’ performance standards and had a hard time with authority. Despite the money, promotions, and success, he was still holding onto those early childhood limitations.

How to Let Go of those Limiting Beliefs and Ditch Your Inner Imposter

To become really successful and take our lives to the next level, we have to shake up those limiting beliefs. Discovering them is the first step, but we also have to realize that we need to let them go at a certain point, or they will always hold us back.


So how do we let go of imposter syndrome? We have to challenge what we think about ourselves. If we feel like we don’t deserve our success, we can examine why we have that belief. Where does it come from? How can we challenge it? Test the waters to see what happens when we choose not to believe it anymore. Challenge it!


Every step we take away from our limiting beliefs is huge. It builds momentum, and with each new success, we start to rebuild our confidence and acknowledge that these beliefs don’t apply to us anymore. We can tell ourselves that we’re embracing our best lives and deserve what we have. When we are working toward living up to our fullest potential, we can and will make it happen.

Educational Theorist Lev Vygotsky taught Social Development Theory. It is the idea that kids develop by playing and through social interactions. It’s how they learn about the world. Kids first pretend something, and throughout their cognitive development, the play turns into real-life social interactions. Anyone who’s watched kids play house has probably observed some very elaborate social interactions planned and then carried out. Kids imagine different scenarios and then play out their reactions to the scenarios. They become what they first pretend.

Like kids, we can try to “fake it, ‘til we make it.” We can acknowledge that our limiting beliefs are there and hold us back, but we’re going to move forward anyway. We can know that we can achieve whatever we want by working on our skills and continuously challenging ourselves.

If we’re in a constant state of growth, challenging ourselves and being honest, authentic, and intentional, we can become what we want to be. It doesn’t matter our age or our situation. There is very little that is out of our reach. It’s not about deserving success or fitting a certain mold. It’s not even about being lucky. It’s about having integrity, dedication, and intention. If we work to create the best and bring out the best for those around us, they will reciprocate because they will also want the best for us.

So the next time that doubt creeps in, let go of the idea that you don’t really deserve your success. Instead, savor the way it feels good and embrace it!

For more ideas about living your best life, don’t miss the resources we offer at Wright Now. We have many courses and materials available for download. Check it out today so you can start to get the life you want!

 


About the Author

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Dr. Bob Wright is an internationally recognized visionary, educator, program developer, leadership and sales executive, best-selling author and speaker. He is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.


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Wright Living is a division of the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential, a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.

 

 

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