Is it Imposter Syndrome?Sep 12, 2023
I don’t know how many of you had the opportunity to watch the US Open Women’s Tennis final this past weekend. Coco Gauff won her first Grand Slam title being one of only three teenagers to win the women’s final and the first since Serena Williams in 1997. Coco had already won three titles and was ranked number four in the world, yet she still struggled with her self-confidence and feelings of impostor syndrome.
“Imposter syndrome is a thing,” Gauff said. “So, sometimes I get that, but it’s something that I’m working on to realize I’m here for a reason and my ranking is here for a reason and I definitely deserve that.”
Gauff isn’t alone. If somebody who is so accomplished can still feel like this, it makes complete sense that you and I find ourselves experiencing imposter syndrome from time to time, especially when we get ourselves into high pressure situations where we have to deliver.
A recent coaching client asked me a question about how would they know when the feelings of nerves and anxiousness are good and when they are bad for you and lead to doubt and the overwhelming feeling that you just aren’t good enough and don’t belong here.
Hello, Imposter Syndrome
I want to remind folks that a certain amount of arousal is important and needed in order to perform your best in any setting. A presentation at work, an important conversation with your boss or client or the physical and cognitive demands of your sport. The amount of arousal needed is dependent on the individual and the task at hand, as well as, your interpretation of the side effects of that arousal.
There are certain activities that take a high level of arousal and certain activities that take a low level of arousal. If I’m a professional athlete in the sport of golf, and I’m about to putt the ball, I don’t want a high level of arousal. I need calm to be able to control that fine motor skill and concentrate. On the opposite side, if I was a football player trying to get to the quarterback and past those 300-pound lineman, I can’t be having a meditational Zen moment at that point in time or I’ll find myself planted six feet into the ground.
Arousal leads to physiological responses: sweaty palms, increased heart rate, or queasy stomach. If we interpret these symptoms with a negative lens, we can have fear and doubt creep into our thinking and become overwhelmed with Imposter syndrome.
You have to combat Imposter Syndrome with intentional self-talk and visualization: reflections on the things you have done that have prepared you for this moment. I mean truths and evidence that you belong here and can handle this.
When the physical signs of arousal come into play, we have a choice to make. Try to only engage with those positive truths. The thoughts you dwell on will dictate whether you feel confident and rise to the moment or you drift towards Imposter syndrome and withdraw into self-doubt.
Let go of the win or else mentality. Gauff says it best here,
“I used to put my tennis and compare it to my self-worth. When I would lose, I would think I was not worth it as a person…having my parents remind me that they love me regardless of how well I do, helped me today.”
We all need a broad identity and multiple roles that define us and our success. If we lose at one thing today, we still have worth as a brother or as a leader. She also pointed out how vital it is to have a community of support. We all need others who have our back.