Shining Through Imposter Syndrome

Have you heard of this? It’s been around a while, but I’ve only recently begun to understand how it applies to me.

If you’re not familiar, basically the Imposter Syndrome is a fear of being discovered as not being smart enough or good enough or … enough. Being a fraud. It’s an inability to internalize success. Women, particularly, are conditioned to do this, attribute our successes to external factors. But it’s not just women. It’s men, too. Girls. Boys. Many of us are impacted by this tendency to discount our achievements and fear being called a fraud.

I started a new audiobook today, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. It’s an excellent book. I highly recommend it. I mean, I haven’t finished it, yet. I suppose there’s a chance that it could go downhill from here. But I’m feeling pretty good about this recommendation.

Anyway, Sandberg is a COO at Facebook and in her book, she discusses her own inability to own her success for fear of being discovered as a fraud. But this is a truly successful, influential person. I mean, financially she is worth $1.61 billion. I’d feel ok with that level of success.

In her book, Sandberg also discusses all of the ways that imposter syndrome impacts women and men in the business world and how this starts at a young age. How our young girls are praised for their beauty rather than their intelligence. How our boys are praised for their athletic ability rather than their academic success. How intelligence is not the path to popularity in our culture.

And while it may be easy to say to kids that they should value their education and intelligence over social acceptance and popularity, that’s simply unrealistic. We are social creatures. Social acceptance is important to us. It’s important to our survival. So, telling kids that intelligence is more important than popularity is ineffective, and frankly, ridiculous.

A better approach may be to try to shift social norms. Not an easy undertaking, certainly. But all of the best things are challenging. Challenges are what make life fun. (Maybe tomorrow I’ll tell you about the fun I’m going to have on my 3am run in the morning … sooooo much fun. *sigh*)

One way to start is with programs that invest in our kids. Programs like Girls on the Run and Let Me Run. Volunteer to coach kids or help with the end of season Celebration 5k. Donate to bring the program to more kids. Encourage your child to participate. Make people aware that the programs exist.

As for me, I will continue coaching, raising money, and spreading the word. And I’m going to work on modeling these behaviors myself. I’m going to stop letting my fear of “being found out” keep me from pursuing my dream of publishing a book. I’m going to stop letting my fear of not being enough keep me from pursuing the career I really want.

And I will hope that by letting my own light shine a little brighter, I will help others give themselves permission to shine their own.


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