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  • Writer's pictureSarah Vizer

Overcoming your inner imposter.  How to feel confidence at any stage of life

Updated: Jun 21

Overcoming your inner imposter

I’ve been noticing a trend lately - there seems to be a lot of imposters amongst us!  Or are there?  Let me explain.

 

Imposter syndrome is a term used to describe that feeling like any good work or success you achieve shouldn’t be believed.  In full swing, it’s an insidious crisis of confidence that can leave you feeling like a fake or a fraud, about to be uncovered at any moment.  

 

It seems to be referenced everywhere - people I speak to, clients and colleagues, vulnerability posts on social media, even within expert and celebrity podcasts.

 

Why is it that the people who realistically SHOULD have the most confidence in themselves are often the ones expressing the most insecurities?  These talented, established, accomplished professionals are confessing their deepest, darkest well of doubts and a critical lack of confidence in their own abilities.

 

And frankly, it’s so relatable!    

 

 

Confidence through the ages

 

Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that we tend to be our most confident at 2 points in life… 

 

The first stage is when we’re young - that being in both age and maturity. This is a time of growth and expansion, enjoying that lovely mix of energy and zeal.  Combine this with a lack of inhibition, and we can be treated to all sorts of opinions from those in this stage of life!

 

But somewhere along the line, this particularly brand of young confidence can wane.  There are many reasons why this occurs…

 

  • Exposure to a wider variety of people and situations, often out of your comfort zone.

  • Growing self-knowledge that you don’t in fact know it all!

  • Being shut down by others one too many times.

 

I epitomised this brand of young confidence but became infinitely less so in my twenties as I slowly began to realise how much I didn’t know!  Travelling overseas showed me how much more there was to the world.  However, it was the start of my professional career that tipped the balance towards a crisis of confidence and my growing imposter complex.  This plagued me well into the years to come. 

 

The second stage occurs when we pass a certain age of older maturity.  I’m being deliberately vague as this can happen at many ages - our thirties, forties, fifties, sixties or beyond.  This maturity brings a confidence born from a deep sense of knowing who you are in life.   You know what you’re good at and most likely mainly stick to your lane. 


>> At what point have you done enough, heard enough, seen enough to be able to trust in your core views and experiences?


I’m still waiting to this stage to fully kick-in to shed those last persistent little doubts, but after years of working on my confidence game happily it’s feeling within reach. 

 

I’ve observed this time of life can also mean we become a little bit set in our ways.  This brand of mature confidence when combined with a rigidity of view can lead to grumpy faced mumblings in the corner, uttering things like, "that’s not how it’s done", or the old chestnut, "back in my day…"!  

 

Ideally in this maturity stage you confidently know who you are but maintain an ability to adapt and learn. This is what’s known as a growth mindset made famous by psychologist Carol Dweck in her book ‘Mindset’. 

 

But we’re not here to talk about when we DO feel our most confident are we!  The trend I’ve been observing lately is what happens BETWEEN THESE 2 PERIODS OF LIFE, where doubts infiltrate and all these imposters start to emerge!

 

 

The invisible unconfident

 

I was in my early 30s when I noticed a confidence and assertiveness training program that was being offered at my place of employment.  ‘Great, this is exactly what I need,’ I thought to myself and asked my manager for their endorsement.   Their response shocked me, “You?”, they spat disbelievingly.  “Confidence and assertiveness?  You’re the most confident person here!”  

 

How strange is it being told something so completely false about yourself!  I was feeling stuck after years of crippling self-doubt.  My inner dialogue voiced some truly awful opinions about who I was and how I was doing in life.  And even when I was getting positive feedback, rave reviews at work, I somehow didn’t believe it. 

 

Obviously, I was putting on a good front and had those around me fooled, but you can’t fool yourself. 


>> Who else feels that crippling self-doubt, that crisis of confidence, fearing the next knock on your door will be to out you as a bungling fraud?

 

When imposter syndrome kicks-in it can go hand-in-hand with other traits like perfectionism and people-pleasing.  Striving to overcome what we see are our lack of abilities, this negative refrain in our head tells us constantly that what we’re doing is not good enough…or better yet, we’re just not enough full stop

 

We become the invisible unconfident, translated into behaviours such as hard-work and sensitivity to negative criticism, or an addiction to being liked.  We can become driven achievers, even workaholics.  It’s an exhausting merry-go-round, hoping all this conscientiousness and diligence will keep us safe.  A flawed strategy at best.

 

 

Bridging the confidence gap


>> How can your young confidence morph into a more mature confidence, bypassing this messy middle of doubt and insecurity?


If you’re already friends with your own inner imposter, then you’re probably wishing you’d asked this question sooner!  But it’s never too late to work on your confidence game.  

 

There are many great tips around building confidence, such as setting goals, managing your inner dialogue, building on your strengths, celebrating what you do well, and finding a coach or mentor. 

 

These are all important, but at a higher level I’ve found there are 2 important aspects to consider…  

 

1.The first aspect is growing your knowledge of who you are.  This is your foundation on which you build your confidence.  

 

If I had to pinpoint the source of my growing mature confidence, I would say it stems from the comfort of being in my own skin.  A huge part of this is allowing myself to just be who I am, no judgements needed.  Combine this with a growing focus on what’s important in life, and this becomes a concept I call your core identity.

 

Your identity is an unfurling flower, updating through the ages. What’s important at one time of life changes as you gather more information, meet new people, have new experiences. 

 

Previously when I’ve aligned my sense of identity with external sources of validation, such as how well I do in my career, or what others think of me, this has had disastrous consequences.   Over the years I’m learning to find a foundation for my identity that is separate to these external sources, one of my own creation. And this is so much easier to control. 

 

Over the years I’ve become much more aware my priorities in life, worked out who I want around me, as well as what brings me happiness versus what brings me stress. These all plays a vital role in banishing those fraudulent, imposter-like feelings, allowing me to become more grounded and confident overall. 

 

When you are growing your knowledge of who you are, a core belief can be, ‘I am capable and confident in who I am’. 

 

2. The second aspect is maintaining your ability to adapt and learn, Carol Dweck’s growth mindset if you will.  Building on your base of identity, this becomes aligning your confidence with the premise that what you don’t know you can adapt to and learn.

 

Across the many skills needed in life, you will have varying degrees of confidence.  There are times when you SHOULDN’T have high confidence - it would be silly to have no background in a topic and have high confidence in it right!  When you first become a parent or adopt a pet into your household it's a whole new world. Now I'm onto my second dog and full of confidence in my abilities - it’s been a learning journey. 

 

Life is this cycle of learning.  You probably start your professional career without a whole heap of confidence but build it up over time.  You might change jobs or careers and find your confidence dips down as you are temporarily thrown back into a learning phase. 

 

Doesn’t it feel like a warm, cosy bath to know you can learn and adapt as you travel through life?  Contrast this to the judgements and recriminations that accompany with the imposter vibe.  This confidence is realistic, much more than just bravado or positive thinking.

 

When you cultivate a growth mindset, a core belief can be, ‘I can adapt and learn as needed’.

  

So, the next time that familiar feeling creeps up on you, like you’re about to be busted for being a fake or fraud, it’s your opportunity to make a more realistic assessment.  Maybe you are an imposter!  Or is it more likely that you’re one of our talented, established, accomplished professionals, with a vast capacity to adapt and learn? 

 

Only you know the truth to this one.  I wish you well upping your confident game as you navigate all these weird and wonderful stages of life.

 

 

Sarah Vizer, Leadership and Mindset Coach

Sarah Vizer is a leadership and mindset coach at Beyond Burnout. She's now realised that she is definitely not an imposter!  


Find out more at www.sarahvizer.com

 


 

 

 

                                                                                                           

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