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By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University
I have occasionally coached talented individuals whom I believed were going places. However, there were times when it seemed as if I believed in them more than they believed in themselves.
Although they had the talent to succeed, they didn’t see a winner when they looked into the mirror. They saw themselves as persevering toward the goal of success, but they were unable to see themselves celebrating as they crossed the finish line. Why?
‘The Imposter Syndrome’ Obstructs Feelings of Success
Carl Richards, writing in The New York Times, explains how a person seeking to do new things and pursue new dreams can “run into this thing, this fear that you’re bumping up against the limits of your ability.” It’s the “roadblock of fear.”
One’s inner voice rises with accusations of inadequacy and inability to accomplish the new goals. You become your own worst enemy as you create imaginary obstacles in your mind.
You can sabotage your success as a result of a self-fulfilling prophecy. You are what you believe you are!
Richards cites psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes who gave this “feeling” a name in 1978. They called it “the imposter syndrome.” They described it as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.”
Although these people “are highly motivated to achieve,” they also “live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds.”
What are some of the characteristics of individuals suffering from this phenomenon? According to Minneapolis-based writer Kristin Weir’s review of Clance and Imes’ work, “perceived imposters” are:
- High achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success (they don’t think they are worthy).
- Individuals who attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability (lack of confidence in their abilities; they believe their success is based on coincidence).
- Suffering from anxiety and depression because of their fear of being unmasked as a fraud (afraid that someone will discover they are a failure).
- Both men and women suffer from the feeling, and the syndrome is common. (In the past, the syndrome was attributed to women.)
- Individuals who grew up in families that placed a big emphasis on achievement but whose parents sent mixed messages by alternating between praise and criticism (never sure of what success looked like).
- Higher rate of hard work among minorities as they attempt to prove to mainstream peers that they earned the right to be at the table (i.e., fighting the perception that one has to work twice as hard to be viewed half as good).
- More common among people who are embarking on new endeavors (fear of the unknown paralyzing the person with fear).
Bible Story Shows What Happens When Fear Does Not Block Your Dreams
Many times, there is a war going on inside us because we accept the status quo as the way of life. We focus on what we see versus what is in our heart.
The biblical story of David and Goliath shows what can happen when you do not allow fear to kill your dream. Goliath was a seasoned champion and the Israelites were afraid of him.
However, David had great courage and no history of failure or success. Instead, David believed that he could kill the giant Goliath, regardless of his smaller statue.
But the “giant” in the room is only as big as you make it. Allow your inner David to be your light and direct your path.
Don’t abandon your dreams when others see things differently. Do not flee in fear.
When others in authority tell you that you can’t do it, ignore them. Take out your sling and give it your best shot, just as David did. After all, his success on the battlefield made him a king.
Silence the Inner Voice of Doubt
There will be times when prior to taking the next step fear overcomes you; you see that step as an enemy to your survival. Silence that inner voice of doubt. It has no power over you. It’s okay to be anxious and excited, but don’t back away.
Step into the unknown and experience what could be the breakthrough you have been seeking. Even if the step does not take you exactly where you want to go, you will have the opportunity to explore and take another step.
Remember: take one step at a time. Keep moving forward and respect the actions you took in the past. They lit the path for you to get where you are.
Start a management degree at American Public University.
About the Author
Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.
Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.
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