Image of crayons and exercise books against blackboard

Recently, in a session of the course I was teaching, a question came up regarding insecurities about our own authority and why we are so afraid to position ourselves in our businesses. And once the issue was raised, it was curious how many people have written and shared that they struggle with those same feelings. Have you heard of Impostor Syndrome? Because there is a good chance you probably have it. I say that because nearly 70% of the population report dealing with some of the feelings associated with what is known as imposter syndrome. Based on research done by Pauline Rose Clance & Suzanne Imes in 1978,  this syndrome describes a feeling of ‘phoniness that occurs when people believe that they are not really intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.’  While these people ‘are highly motivated to achieve,’ they also ‘live in fear of being “found out” or exposed as frauds. 

So, I am going to just be super transparent and tell you that I have suffered from…wait, that I do suffer from impostor syndrome.

When I began interpreting, one of the first things that I had to get comfortable with was the fact that I had no degree in interpreting. Actually, I don’t have a degree in anything. I have a high school diploma. I didn’t even learn my second language the traditional school route. I learned Spanish among the people in my community where I was serving in my volunteer ministry. So, when I would meet other interpreters or translators that had several degrees and all sorts of academic achievements to include in their bio, it could be a bit intimidating.

Then, when I started Code Switch Media, I put off doing so many things in the beginning because I felt like I didn’t have the “AUTHORITY.” I even refrained from calling myself CEO of my company.

“What will people think?

What right do I have to start writing blog posts?

Or, even creating courses about business or interpreting and translating?

What makes me think I can put out a reference tool with glossaries of terminology??

I mean, who am I?

It’s not like I am some expert.”

 

And then my business mentor, Todd Herman, really explained the science behind impostor syndrome and how it keeps so many people from sharing their gifts with others. In fact, I can almost guarantee that as you are reading this post, you are thinking of some brilliant idea you have had to create, or write, or invent, or teach SOMETHING over the years. But you have put off doing it because that little voice in your head says “YOU can’t do that.” Would you believe that Denzel Washington, Tina Fey, Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO), and Meryl Streep all confess to having suffered from impostor syndrome? Even Maya Angelou, internationally acclaimed author and poet said “Each time I write a book, the challenge is so great. I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.

Want to know what is going on inside our heads?

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What the impostor feelings are telling us:

  1.  “I am a FAKE”: believing that you don’t really deserve your success, or you professional position and that somehow others have been deceived into thinking otherwise. This feeling rides shotgun for the fear of being, “found out”, Maybe you have heard that little voice in your head saying: “People think that I am more competent than I really am.” or “If they only knew how much I don’t know…”.
  2.  “It’s just a lucky break”: You attribute any success to external reasons, and not your own ability by saying “I just got lucky this time.” or “It was a total fluke that it worked out.” And then you hold back from doing other things because you are afraid that you won’t be able to repeat the achievement.
  3.  “It wasn’t that important”. This is the tendency to downplay success and discount achievement by saying, “it is not a big deal,” “It not like other people couldn’t do it.” Sometimes because a skill we have comes easily to us, we think it must not be that valuable. So if we present it to others as valuable, we assume we must be fooling people. Instead of letting others decide if what we have to offer is valuable to them, or not, we automatically discount the value and talk ourselves out of sharing anything.

This is not an all or nothing syndrome. Most of you probably identify with a few statements but not all of them. Others may identify with impostor feelings in some situations and not in others.

When I was at the NCI Court Interpreter Seminar, one of our instructors, Yvette Citizen, recommended we watch this Ted talk about power poses. It is common knowledge that a great number of extremely talented interpreters have a very hard time passing the certification exams. Not because they aren’t good  interpreters, but because when they are go to take a TEST of their skills, they are overcome by the feelings related to impostor syndrome. This has happened to me while taking the Federal Oral Exam. I always ace my practice tests, and have been told numerous times “Oh, you have nothing to worry about. You will pass no doubt.” And then, when I finally get to the actual test, I can’t get into the zone, or my state of flow, and I end up not passing the test by 2 points (seriously, this has happened to me three times now.) 

Body chemistry plays a large part in how we feel. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is raised when we are feeling pressured and anxious – and is lower when we are relaxed and poised. Testosterone is a hormone that increases with feelings of power and confidence, and drops when feeling insecure and defensive. So, wouldn’t it be great to lower the stressed out feelings and increase the feelings of confidence in just 2 minutes? Enter Amy Cuddy, a former imposter syndrome sufferer. Research by Amy Cuddy at Harvard and Princeton demonstrated that by spending just two minutes sitting or standing in a pose where our arms are opened up in a “victory” stance can have an amazing effect on us. Picture having just accomplished an amazing feat and you throw your arms up with a big smile and huge exclamation of “Yes!”  Take a look at her brilliant Ted talk.

 

Participants who performed such a “pose” registered dramatically higher levels of testosterone (+20%) and significantly lower levels of cortisol (-25%). In subsequent job interviews, these people were far more likely to receive job offers

Conversely, participants who spent two minutes in an “imposter” pose fared much worse. An imposter pose has our head hung low, legs and/or arms crossed, defensive, often with our eyes cast downward. These people registered lower levels of testosterone (-10%) and increased levels of cortisol (+15%). In subsequent job interviews, none of these participants received offers.

The data is very compelling. So what is the takeaway? Before you give a presentation, go on your next job interview, take a certification exam, or any other activity where you’d like your confidence and strength to shine through – take just two minutes and do this “victory” pose. And if you’re worried about looking silly, just lock yourself in a bathroom stall. No one will know but you.

Right here is where I would love to insert my “full-circle” ending and tell you that I have conquered imposter syndrome and passed my Federal Certification Exam. But, I won’t be able to take the exam again for 2 more years. I promise to update when it happens. For now, I am working through those feelings of “But, who am I to do this or that?” and focusing on the people that I want to help. I am thrilled when I receive feedback from my readers and my students writing me and giving me feedback like this

“Melannie, it has been such a pleasure getting to know you and learn from you. The truth is, in such a short time I have seen an increase in my productivity because I now have everything written down and well planned in advance. And I have already contacted two new clients!”

 

“I am hooked: Melannie is a great coach/mentor/business advisor. Don’t miss the Switch It Up Business Bootcamp!”

And I am even more excited when I inspire someone else to go out and do that thing they have been wanting to do, but were afraid to because of imposter syndrome. If you want to know more about my story and share your own with us here at Code Switch Media, then subscribe to our blog, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter @codeswitchmedia. I would love to hear from you.