How to overcome imposter syndrome

By Holly L

October 23, 2020

Ever feel like a fraud? Worried someone will catch you out?

You could be suffering from imposter syndrome.  Research suggests that as many as six in ten women suffer from this crippling self-doubt at some point in their careers.

I began thinking about my own journey with imposter syndrome this week as my certificate arrived in the post, proving I had been awarded a MSc in Executive Coaching. Does that mean I’m good enough now?


My Journey began when I set out to become an executive coach 2 years ago.  In my previous roles in talent and leadership development I had plenty of confidence.  I’d been in it for 15 years and never doubted my knowledge and experience.  I enrolled in Ashridge’s MSc in Executive Coaching. This two-year programme was centred in relational coaching and the psychology of behaviour.  Up until this point, I had always thought I was a good coach and this programme would just add to my knowledge and skills.

By the end of module one, I had an overwhelming feeling of incompetence and believed I had so much to learn.  Throughout the first year, I took on clients in order to practice the things I was learning.  I could never bring myself to charge for any of those sessions, telling myself, it wasn’t fair to take money from people when I wasn’t yet qualified; they were helping me rather than the other way around.

At the beginning of year two I went forward for my Ashridge Accreditation.  This was a full day assessment that involved live coaching and interviews around submitted case studies and recorded client sessions.  I had never been this nervous.  It mattered so much to me because I had convinced myself that gaining this accreditation would give me the confidence I needed to start charging for my services.

I passed!

I remember texting friends and family that were eagerly awaiting the outcome, and all the messages of congratulations were pouring in.  As I was driving home that night, I had an empty feeling inside that I couldn’t explain.  I should be feeling over the moon and I wasn’t, why?

It hit me so hard I had to pull the car over.  All this time I had convinced myself I just needed this piece of paper, this accreditation, this recognition from someone else to say I was good enough and then, I would have the confidence.

I still didn’t believe it

In fact, in the back of my thoughts I believed I had somehow blagged the accreditors, pulled the wool over the assessors eyes and tricked them into passing me.

No piece of paper, or anyone else for that matter, was going to make me feel good enough, the only person that could do that was me.

How I overcame my imposter syndrome

The first thing I asked myself was; “If I were a client presenting with these feelings and thoughts how would I coach me?”

What was the expectation I held of myself that I was so sure I would fall short of?

I discovered it came from desire to deliver results, something tangible. I needed to completely change my paradigm.  I wasn’t being paid to deliver solutions anymore, I needed to believe in the value I created just by being present with someone.

As a coach I have asked that question of my clients many times; and, I have had many different responses. Do any of these resonate with you?

I must be the expert

You beat yourself up for not knowing all the answers all the time and think people with believe you are not smart enough. You don’t want to admit to needing help or people will think you are not up to it.

I must be strong

You feel like you must never show any vulnerability otherwise that will be taken for weakness so you put on the mask every day and hope no one will notice you have feelings.

I must be perfect

You want everything to be 100% perfect all the time otherwise someone might say your work isn’t up to scratch, you can’t ever make a mistake, or you will be letting everyone down.

I must work harder

You feel guilty for taking a lunch break. If you see others working hard and under pressure you believe you’re not earning your salary or title and need to work longer.

So what…

Once you think you understand what is driving this feeling of not being good enough try asking yourself these questions:

Q 1. First turn that barrier into a goal – I want to stop feeling as though I must (be the expert, be strong, be perfect, work harder) and believe I deserve to be where I am, doing what I am doing.

Q 2. Do you think it is true that (you must be the expert, be strong, be perfect, work harder)?

Q 3. If you do think it’s true, what are your reasons for believing that?  What could you be assuming or what evidence is there that it is true?

Try replacing the statement that is holding you back with a liberating one.  For example, instead of “I must be the expert”, try “I am an intelligent problem solver and I build relationships by collaborating with others to overcome barriers and find solutions”.

Now ask yourself, if you knew that statement was true, how would you feel, what would you do differently?

It’s time to stop faking and start feeling!

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