This past weekend I was in Montreal for the McCall McBain scholarship selection. McCall McBain scholarships are the most prestigious in Canada set up at McGill, the number one ranked university in the country. John and Marcy McCall McBain donated $200 million to help graduate students whose ambition is to lead with purpose. The admission criteria are evenly weighted among leadership, academic performance and service. The scholarships were refereed by a group of volunteers that flew in from all over Canada. There were CEOs, CFOs, lawyers, authors, VPs--outstanding men and women that had international reputations of excellence in their field. It was a privilege and honor to be part of this process.
During one of the breaks between applicants, my panel struck up a conversation on the topic of confidence. The chair of my committee asked me about Imposter Syndrome. She wanted to know if it was a real thing, whether I believe in it, if I ever had it, and if it ever goes away. I paused for a moment and looked at my panel of four very distinguished colleagues. Instead of responding directly, I asked the group, “Do you ever look at yourself and wonder if you are good enough, if you belong?” Three of the four raised their hand. My chair was shocked.
Pauline Clance and Rozanne Imes first described Imposter Syndrome in 1978 as an internal barrier— a pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud.’
Have you ever experienced Imposter Syndrome? Here are a few clues that will reveal it. One, you use self-deprecating language when you talk about your accomplishments. You may be disguising it through humor. Two, you have a lot of negative self-talk—those quiet but unnerving thoughts of doubt. Three, you internalize criticism, deflect praise and count yourself lucky rather than good. We all have it sometimes. Even if it isn’t cured, we can learn to manage it by using effective coping skills to keep it out of our way.
Have I experienced it? Yes. Here’s a photo of me sharing a stage with two billionaires and the Prime Minister.
There have been many times in my career when I have felt out of place. I find the moments when Imposter Syndrome is strongest in me are usually the same ones when I am actually stretching towards my potential—going for that promotion, taking on the big assignment, presenting an ambitious plan. This picture is from the opening of the newly renovated and reimagined Maple Leaf Gardens as Ryerson University’s Mattamy Athletic Centre.
As simple as it sounds, it is important. When I step into a new role, I dress well. It changes my confidence, how I carry myself, and how I enter a room.
Remind yourself that you didn’t get here by chance. You’ve worked hard. You are talented.
Practice them every day. ‘I can learn anything.’ ‘No one outworks me.’ ‘I am the captain of my ship and the master of my fate.’
Start where you feel most confident and experienced. Build on those successes.
All too often, we minimize our accomplishments and focus on what is yet undone. Resist. Take a moment to share and savour victories.
Even in the board room, you are not alone. It took courage for those folks in my panel this weekend to raise their hand. From the start, researchers observed that high performance and never feeling like you are quite good enough, often go hand in hand. While it is uncomfortable, it is a part of striving.
Don’t worry that there is something broken in you that must be fixed. We all have self-doubt. The key is to acknowledge and manage it.