Let’s talk about … our imposter syndrome

In a conversation with an editor I’ve known for several years, I mentioned feeling like an imposter at times, and he look aghast. We’ve been on panels together, and judged some industry awards. So he’s seen me in a variety of situations.

“You, Catherine.. you feel like an imposter? I can’t believe it!”

Sure I do!

I’ve experienced the imposter syndrome many times during my career. It started early on when I was a 22 y.o. project manager of a team of developers who were all male, and double my age. I didn’t know what I was doing… really I didn’t. It was South Africa in the early 90s and female bosses were as rare as a platypus on the Savannah.

I moved from project management into consulting, which is all about silly day rates, bravado, braggadocio and being smarter than the client. This kind of horseshit culture fed my burgeoning insecurities, which continued to thrive unnamed.

I immigrated to the UK and I was aware of being a very small fish in a very big pond. In the early 2000s, UK was all about specialization and South Africa produced generalists. The interview question “Do you have 10 years experience in [insert crazy specific functional experience]” was kryptonite and continued to nurture my assumptions about being a fraud.

In my last corporate role as an industry technology analyst, again I experienced crippling self-doubt when I had to present as the ‘expert’ on a trends at conferences. Was I really the most knowledgeable person in the room on this topic? I always waited for some killer question from the audience that would expose me. It never came but that didn’t dispel my feelings of being a fraud. I could hear the time-bomb ticking.

Then I chucked that consultant world in for a very different world — that of coaching. I decided I HAD to certify in order to feel I was a ‘real’ coach. The letter of certification didn’t seem to achieve that. I spent two years with my wonderfully patient coach supervisor finding my authentic self and learning to own my own power.

So has all this taught me?

Firstly, change triggers the imposter. Change in the form of training in a new coaching tool, changing your career, moving country, starting a new role, entering a new co-facilitation partnership. With the change comes uncertainty and not knowing the boundaries or expectations of the new situation. These dark murky shadows encourage in me questions of self-worth. Am I really good enough?

Knowing the feeling and the sense of this imposter place is a great first step and I’m much more able to recognize the symptoms and stay curious about it.

What I’ve also come to realise is I have a huge attachment to ‘adding value’. When you are in the services business like we are in coaching, it’s hard not to link your value to the invoice. In my role as supervisor, I hear this need in coaches to be seen to ‘add value’ usually in some form of transformation of the client. When the client isn’t transformed, doesn’t sign up for more sessions, or just simply goes MIA the factors for feeling like a fraud are all nicely teed up and we need only step into that small, un-resourceful place and collude with the imposter.

It takes relentless courage and commitment to yourself to own this shadow part of you. The imposter syndrome is allowed to persist in our high-performing culture because in part we don’t talk about it. It’s time that we start being more open about our internal experiences for the sake of ourselves, our family and our clients.

What’s your story? Do drop me a line to share.

From one coach to another

In sharing my thoughts and experiences (including the messes) as a coach and solo entrepreneur, I’d like to make my contribution to your world of ensuring you feel a little less alone in your endeavor to support others.

Catherine Stagg-Macey

Written by

Team and exec coach in tech industry with an interest in the bizarre, the geeky and the funny.

From one coach to another

In sharing my thoughts and experiences (including the messes) as a coach and solo entrepreneur, I’d like to make my contribution to your world of ensuring you feel a little less alone in your endeavor to support others.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade