Imposter Syndrome – a term we often hear in professional circles, especially among high achieving women.
It’s that nagging feeling of not being good enough, despite clear successes.
But what if imposter syndrome at work isn’t just about self-doubt?
What if imposter syndrome is the symptom of sick corporate systems rather than about us?
How do we work with and understand our feelings of imposter syndrome at work and use it as a competitive advantage?
Rethinking Imposter Syndrome At Work
Imposter Syndrome at work is particularly prevalent among high-achieving women (in fact, that’s where the phenomenon was first observed in 1978). Nearly every client who comes into my coaching practice experiences it and thinks it’s her fault. But let me tell you something for the first time and not the last time: Imposter syndrome is not a fault of yours.
In their viral article from Harvard Business Review, “Ruchika Tulshya and Jodi-Ann Burey aptly point out, “The impact of systemic racism, classism, xenophobia, and other biases was categorically absent when the concept of imposter syndrome was developed.”
Recognizing this is crucial. It’s not only about an individual’s perceived shortcomings, but about how these perceptions are created through systemic barriers, marginalization, lack of inclusion and unconscious bias.
By understanding that these feelings stem from the work environment, the focus shifts from self-help to systemic change. It’s about creating workplaces where diverse talents are recognized and valued, not questioned.
A key element in understanding Imposter Syndrome is the concept of the Success Wound™, an underlying phenomenon I’ve observed in high achieving women that explains the pain that develops when we start believing our worth is tied to our achievements.
The Success Wound™ is the false belief that our worthiness of love and belonging is contingent upon what we produce, achieve and do, rather than our inherent goodness. It is this success wound that is installed in us from parenting, education, and these same systems of capitalism and patriarchy that make us feel “not enough”.
These struggles and fears, which are other focused, creates an inner conflict, leaving many feeling like they’re never enough. This can be seen clearly in the three most common fears in high achieving women.
1) The fear of disappointing or letting other people down.
2) the fear of falling behind.
3) the fear of looking incompetent.
When we begin to heal the Success Wound™ and view the system for what it is, broken, we can go about creating our own unique definition of success and cultivate unwavering self-confidence in our ability to achieve it in the workplace.
How Corporate Systems Contribute to Imposter Syndrome At Work For Women
The corporate world, deeply influenced by patriarchal values and capitalistic goals, often acts as a catalyst for Imposter Syndrome, particularly for women and minorities.
This environment sets up standards that feel not just unattainable, but also fundamentally exclusive. These standards, deeply embedded in corporate cultures, are often aligned with a narrow definition of success – one that is traditionally male and skewed towards a specific socio-economic demographic.
In such a setting, women and minority groups are frequently left feeling like outsiders. The bar for success is set so high and defined so narrowly that it inevitably leads to questioning not only one’s professional capabilities but also one’s identity.
This questioning feeds into the Imposter Syndrome at work, where despite having the skills and achievements, individuals feel undeserving of their success.
The role of patriarchy in shaping these corporate standards cannot be overstated. It creates a framework where certain leadership styles, typically associated with masculine traits, are valued over others. This biases the corporate environment against women and those who do not conform to these traditional norms.
Capitalism, with its relentless focus on profits and efficiency, further exacerbates this situation. It often prioritizes results over people, fostering a cutthroat environment where the pressure to perform can overshadow the value of diverse perspectives and inclusive leadership styles.
In this context, the standards for success become more than just professional targets; they become yardsticks against which individuals measure their worth. This is particularly challenging for women and minorities, who are constantly navigating these systemic barriers, battling the challenges of proving their competence while trying to also reshape the narrative around what it means to be successful in the corporate world.
By acknowledging these systemic issues, women can better understand the roots of their feelings of imposter syndrome at work. This understanding is crucial in shifting the focus from internal self-doubt to external advocacy and change, aiming to create a more inclusive, equitable, and diverse corporate culture.
How to Heal the Success Wound ™ To Reverse Imposter Syndrome
The Success Wound™ is the pain that we internalize about our self-worth as a result of these systems.
We weren’t born with the Success Wound™, it was learned and socialized within us through our cultural definitions of success and worthiness.
Unlearning these beliefs is how we start to reclaim our worth and heal imposter syndrome in the process. If the opposite of imposter syndrome is knowing your value and feeling that you belong, then healing your Success Wound ™ will help you to get there.
The first step is to understand the origin of your Success Wound™ and how it manifests for you.
There are 5 primary archetypes and you can find yours below!
This quiz will help you to diagnose your Success Wound™ and understand how it shows up for you.
It will also give you specific steps to take to heal your Success Wound ™ and unlearn imposter syndrome at work.