Flipping the script on the 'Impostor Syndrome'

Dr. Valerie Young was the keynote speaker at the Spark Women’s Leadership Conference

If you’ve ever felt like you only achieved success in your life because you knew the right person, or just so happened to be in the right place at the right time, or through sheer dumb luck, remember this: You are not alone.

Thoughts like these are the result of Impostor Syndrome, where people feel like impostors in their own careers and lives.

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Dr. Valerie Young has spent decades researching Imposter Syndrome, and was the keynote speaker at the Spark Women’s Leadership Conference in Fort St. John this week.

She notes that people often confuse Impostor Syndrome with low self-esteem.

Trisha Miltmore welcomes a full house at the Pomeroy Hotel to the 2017 Spark Women’s Leadership Conference on May 16. - Aleisha Hendry

“People sometimes think it’s just a fancy word for self-esteem, but it’s actually different,” she said. “Self-esteem is a global sense we have of ourselves, but impostor feelings are very specific to achievement arenas, to work, school, business, those kinds of things.”

Young has given talks to employees at companies like Apple and Facebook, so it doesn’t matter what sort of job a person has—anyone can still feel like an impostor.

“It describes an experience whereby even though there’s lots of evidence to the contrary—good grades, degrees, job titles, promotions, positive evaluations—people who feel like impostors have a hard time internalizing and owning their accomplishments,” she said.

Her book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome an How To Thrive In Spite Of It, isn’t just for women, as men can definitely feel like impostors as well.

“A lot of men feel like impostors,” said Young. “Women as a group are more susceptible, and it holds them back more.”

A lot of that has to do with external and internal gender biases, but men as a group are more likely to attribute any mistakes or failures to a factor outside themselves. The teacher wasn’t fair, the other team cheated, they get a bad review ‘the guy’s a jerk, it can’t be me.’

As a group, girls and women are more likely to say, ‘it’s me.’

Young spoke in more detail during her keynote talk at Spark on Tuesday morning. She said her goal is to help women reframe their way of thinking so they can stop having the impostor thoughts.

She noted that women who have impostor syndrome all have one thing in common.

“The one thing that everybody who feels like an impostor has in common is that no one likes to make a mistake or fail or have an off day,” she said. 

“When any of those things happen to people who feel like imposters, they feel shame.”

Those with Impostor Syndrome tend to hold themselves to an impossible, unsustainably high bar that no human on the planet could ever nail all the time, according to Young.

But there is a way to change this mindset.

“If you want to stop feeling like an impostor, which is what everyone wants, you have to stop thinking like an impostor,” said Young.

Over the many years she’s been doing this, Young said she would give people 10 things they could do to reframe their thinking into not being an impostor, but it was never enough for a lot of people.

“What I found out was they wanted to walk into a room feeling like an impostor, and walk out of the room not feeling like an impostor,” she said.

Young said that feelings are the last to change. Those that don’t feel like impostors are no more intelligent or capable than anyone else, they just think different thoughts.

Spark participants also got the chance to do a more hands-on workshop with Young to help drive the point home. The conference wrapped on May 17.


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