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Michele Ivory of The Serene Lifestyle On How To Thrive Despite Experiencing Impostor Syndrome

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

In step one, I’d focus on self-awareness. I struggled with imposter syndrome for a long time, but I didn’t realise it, and that’s common; we believe the thoughts in our minds and don’t realise they aren’t true. It’s easy to go through your day being unconscious of the thoughts you’re having. Start to tune into what you’re thinking and feeling. Notice what these are, how you respond to them and if maybe you’re experiencing imposter syndrome. For example, I felt like I didn’t belong at Uni, so I’d go and buy things to make me feel similar to other students. I’d been taking action without linking it to the previous thoughts, so I never appreciated or understood what was happening; I just kept doing it. You have to have the self-awareness to notice what’s happening so you can step in.

As a part of our series about how very accomplished leaders were able to succeed despite experiencing Imposter Syndrome, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michele Ivory.

Michele Ivory is the founder of The Serene Lifestyle; a business which centres on guiding driven individuals to remove stress from life and work so they can say goodbye to inner turmoil and hello to inner freedom. Having made this transformation herself after burying deep emotional trauma, which manifested in physical illness, she is now on a mission to empower others through the tools and techniques she has learned. You can find out more about her at www.theserenelifestyle.com.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

I grew up in the South of England and moved to the Island of Jersey for a year or two, twenty years ago :-).

I always wanted to be a Psychologist and graduated with a psychology degree but because of my imposter syndrome I ended up training as a chartered accountant.

After becoming unwell ten years ago, I decided enough was enough. While healing my physical body, I also transformed my mindset and finally released emotions that I’d suppressed for years. The experience reawakened my passion for psychology, and I decided to return to my original dream career 21 years after graduating.

For the past five years, I’ve led my business and worked with incredible clients to guide them to believe in themselves and their abilities and create their dream life without inner turmoil or stress running the show.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

When I worked as a chartered accountant, I was given an audit client that my colleagues told me was ‘very difficult’ and ‘challenging’ — I loved working on the audit. The client was direct, said it how it was, and I liked them.

It taught me to always be open-minded. Listening to others’ opinions is important because you can learn so much from them but ultimately you should make up your mind based on what you believe.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Before retraining as a therapist, I worked as a chartered accountant for a big four accountancy firm, I also worked for a FTSE 100 company. As a result, I understand the practical challenges both my corporate and business clients face and how this impacts how they think and feel. My company focuses on blending deep inner work with practical changes that I learned from my career as an accountant and from my own healing journey so my clients can experience long-lasting results.

One of my earliest clients had created a financially successful business but was considering closing it down because the stress of leading it felt too much. However, by the end of our work together, she told me that she’d fallen in love with her business again. We’ve kept in touch, and her business is still thriving but notably, she is too, which is what the serene lifestyle is about — creating a life you love to live.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I have a family, so leaving a well-paid job and setting up my business didn’t only impact me; it also affected my partner and daughter. I’m incredibly grateful and appreciative to both of them for seeing my vision, continuing to encourage me and being unafraid to say it how it is.

In the first few years of my business, I’d make progress and then retreat to the point of stopping. My partner noticed and kindly shared that every time I started to make a success of my business, I seemed to change my plans or go in a different direction rather than stick to my vision. I was aware I was doing this, but I didn’t want to admit it to myself, so I’d try and justify my actions. It’s part of imposter syndrome because the self-doubt and feelings of being a fraud take over, so you backtrack. Finally, hearing it from my partner hit home and confirmed that I was doing this and needed to address it.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the experience of Impostor Syndrome. How would you define Impostor Syndrome? What do people with Imposter Syndrome feel?

Imposter Syndrome is when you have a negative view of yourself compared to the truth of who you are, i.e. there is a distortion between your self-image and reality.

You feel that you don’t belong, as if you’re a fraud to be in the environment that you find yourself in. You believe your peers know more than you, and at any moment, people will realise you don’t know as much as they think you do. You believe that all your success is a fluke or down to luck which leaves you feeling under pressure because you feel you can’t replicate your success as you’re not sure how it happened in the first place. You don’t feel your work is worthy of its praise because you believe you didn’t do a lot; you wonder why you receive glowing appraisals or excellent reviews. You can also feel like you have to work harder than others to ‘justify’ being in your role.

What are the downsides of Impostor Syndrome? How can it limit people?

As well as creating inner turmoil, it can also hold you back from reaching your potential or prevent you from enjoying the success you’re having.

How can the experience of Impostor Syndrome impact how one treats others?

Imposter Syndrome leaves you feeling like you don’t belong and doubting yourself, which means you can put others on an imaginary pedestal. This makes it harder to connect with others because you’re not seeing them as equals. You can allow others to ‘lead’ when you’re just as qualified. You may also find you ‘retreat’ inside yourself when around your peers or clients because the imposter feelings create inner turmoil that makes it hard to focus on the other person. You’re too busy dealing with the thoughts and feelings coming up to be fully present. You can also ‘overgive’ to others because you’re trying to make up for your perceived shortfalls and risk over-working.

We would love to hear your story about your experience with Impostor Syndrome. Would you be able to share that with us?

I came across imposter syndrome a few years ago, and straight away, I knew I was experiencing it and had done so for all of my career. So it’s impacted me in several ways.

I grew up in a family on the breadline, and I was the first member to go to University. However, I never felt like I truly belonged at Uni, and to try and fix that, I started buying clothes, shoes and bags. By the time I graduated with my Psychology degree, I was in considerable debt because of this spending. This stopped my dreams of becoming a psychologist because the next stage was a costly 3-year clinical course. So instead, I chose to become an accountant hoping it would help me be more responsible with money and provide a stable income to clear my debts. So at the start of my career, imposter syndrome took me in a different direction.

I worked as a chartered accountant at one of the big four accountancy firms. My colleagues were warm, friendly and great to work with. Yet, I felt like I didn’t belong again. It was as if I believed they’d sat different exams to me and I’d been given the easy papers. I thought they knew more than me, and I felt out of my depth. I’d be in client meetings wondering how I’d ended up with them trusting me as they did. Then, I received an outstanding appraisal from the senior partner and rather than celebrate; it put me in a spin. I felt under pressure that now others would have high expectations of me that I couldn’t live up to. I felt as if there were two parts to me: one side believed in me, knew that I did know what I was doing, and encouraged me to go for it. But then there was the other side of me who’d have me questioning what I was doing, highlighting differences between me and others and generally made me feel less worthy. Looking back I see that how I felt meant I avoided putting myself forward for opportunities to progress.

Later in my career, I fell ill and to regain my health, I focused on my physical body and my mind and emotions. I learned so much about fear, anxiety, and resilience during this time, which reawakened my love for psychology. So I decided to retrain, and I created my own business to guide others to remove stress from their life and work. But the imposter syndrome raised its head yet again.

On one occasion, I did a talk for Barclays Bank business customers on how our internal state impacts our pricing, billing and cash collection in business. Barclays loved my talk, but the next day, I felt awful. The imposter feelings were rampant: ‘Who are you to talk about finance and psychology?”, ‘What do you know?’, ‘Let’s hope no one at that talk contacts you for help?’, ‘What did you think you were doing?’. The inner voice was brutal, and I listened to it because I thought what it was saying was true. I took down my Facebook business page and retreated. The feelings were overwhelming.

My partner noticed that I was taking one step forward and then taking one step back and shared his observations with me. Then, fortunately, I came across an article about imposter syndrome, and the light bulb went off. My thoughts, feelings and actions over the years suddenly made sense. And I knew that if I didn’t address my imposter feelings, I’d struggle to get my business off the ground.

Did you ever shake the feeling off? If yes, what have you done to mitigate it or eliminate it?

Yes, I have made a monumental transformation with imposter syndrome, and for the last couple of years, I’ve been guiding others to achieve similar results. I came to see there were a few root causes, and I massively reduced the imposter feelings by focusing on addressing those. As a result, I feel completely different about myself and my abilities compared to a few years ago. Of course, I have the odd wobble, but I can spot it and know how to move through it. It doesn’t dominate my life as it did.

I focused on improving my self-worth, trusting myself and my abilities, and my stereotypes of what a ‘successful’ person was.

Taking self-worth first, a lack of this can lead you to have a distorted lens through which you see yourself. For example, I felt confused about why I was highly regarded in my work, a typical self-image distortion; what you see and the truth are different. In my case, I realised that because of my background, I felt ‘poor’ and therefore didn’t belong in the world I was operating in. Low self-worth is about beliefs rather than your thoughts. So, I worked on changing my beliefs about myself to feel more worthy, believing that we are all equal and that I was worthy of the success I was experiencing. I also focused on acknowledging all of my experience because I realised I had a tendency to dismiss achievements as not relevant or being nothing.

I also looked at lack of self-trust because I doubted my skills despite excellent appraisals over the years and glowing client testimonials.

I knew you can lose trust in one area of your life and extrapolate it to other areas too. So, I focused on the different ways I could have lost trust in myself from the past but also how I was possibly doing things today that still led me to doubt myself.

For everything I uncovered, I worked on letting it go so it wasn’t causing me to stay stuck and reframing situations so I saw them as lessons as opposed to examples of failure.

And lastly, I looked at stereotypes that I held about ‘successful’ people and those in my field. We’re constantly creating an internal data bank about ourselves and the world as we grow up, and we’re not always aware of that. So on the face of it, you may believe you can go for it and be successful in your field, but do you match the deeply held beliefs in your subconscious mind? Are you the same as the ‘stereotype’ you hold? I realised that my subconscious views of a successful person were different to how I viewed myself: they looked and sounded different, carried themselves differently, and came from a different background. It was quite a revelation because my deeply held beliefs differed from my conscious thoughts on the matter. For example, I was taking some action as if success was available. Yet, my deep beliefs were that people like me weren’t successful, which triggered imposter feelings and constant inner turmoil. So I had to challenge these beliefs and turn them around, so I believed that I could be successful as ‘me’ and that I was good enough.

In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone who is experiencing Impostor Syndrome can take to move forward despite feeling like an “Impostor”? Please share a story or an example for each.

In step one, I’d focus on self-awareness. I struggled with imposter syndrome for a long time, but I didn’t realise it, and that’s common; we believe the thoughts in our minds and don’t realise they aren’t true. It’s easy to go through your day being unconscious of the thoughts you’re having. Start to tune into what you’re thinking and feeling. Notice what these are, how you respond to them and if maybe you’re experiencing imposter syndrome. For example, I felt like I didn’t belong at Uni, so I’d go and buy things to make me feel similar to other students. I’d been taking action without linking it to the previous thoughts, so I never appreciated or understood what was happening; I just kept doing it. You have to have the self-awareness to notice what’s happening so you can step in.

For step two, when you become aware of an ‘imposter’s’ thought, ask yourself, ‘Is this true?’ and sit with what comes up. So, for example, when the voice in my mind told me that I couldn’t help any of Barclays’ Business customers, I could have asked myself, ‘Is this true?’. If I’d used this simple but powerful question, I would have realised that I wasn’t a fraud and could support them even if I was still downplaying my skill set.

Moving onto step three, become intentional about your actions. Before you take action, focus on why you’re taking it and your intention behind it. I’ve found that when I tune into my intention and check that it is pure and from a good place, it helps take the pressure off, and I feel less of an imposter. Instead of focusing on those around you whom you’ve put on an imaginary pedestal and are triggering imposter feelings, you focus your intention on what you want to say or do and why. For example, in group settings, imposter feelings can rear their head, and you start focusing on being rumbled by those around you instead of what you want to say. When you refocus on your intention and why you want to speak up, for example, to help provide a solution, you move away from focusing on being an imposter and onto what you’re trying to achieve.

Step four, for one testimonial, appraisal or review, write out why the person gave you the feedback they did. They said what they did for a reason; what is that? Was it what you did? Was it how you made them feel? Spend the time to develop the details of why you believe they wrote what they did. As you do this, notice when imposter feelings come up, and you start dismissing your work. If this happens, go back to step two and ask, ‘Is this true?’. Once you’ve done this, put it in your wallet or save it on your phone. Have it somewhere to hand where you can easily access and ponder on it whenever you realise you’re going down the imposter rabbit hole. For example, I used to carry just one sentence a client had said to me that made me feel my work was worthwhile and more than good enough.

And finally, step five, be aware of the ‘aftermath’ of success. Imposter syndrome differs from a pure confidence issue in that external success can make you feel worse rather than better. The imposter syndrome means you feel under more pressure because you don’t understand why you’re getting the success you are or why people write such glowing appraisals or reviews. Whilst other people may want to celebrate a milestone you’ve just achieved, the imposter feelings make you want to do the opposite. Please don’t allow this to stop you from taking action; recognise it when it possibly rears its head and understand this is part of the imposter feelings. This will prevent you from taking detrimental action during this period when you experience this dip in your emotional state. As I mentioned earlier, I deleted my Facebook business page after my successful talk because I was experiencing the ‘aftermath’ of success; this action wasn’t good for my business:-). Being aware of this ‘aftermath sensation’ means you can keep moving forward instead of being stuck in the one step forward, two steps backwards scenario.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

That it’s healthy to express, not suppress, our emotions and how we can safely and mindfully do this. If we learned at a young age that it’s safe to feel our emotions and we’re taught how to do this, our mental health would soar.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)

Russell Brand for his openness and humour.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.instagram.com/the.serene.lifestyle/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.

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