Imposter Syndrome Is Holding You Back

Imposter Syndrome Is Holding You Back

Imposter syndrome shows up in our lives in various ways.

It holds us back from reaching our full potential and is, unfortunately, incredibly insidious.

I have always remembered feeling as if I didn’t deserve the successes I’ve had in life.

As if somehow luck rather than skill has been responsible for where I am today.

Last year, for example, I graduated from a fairly intense 3-year doctor of nursing practice program.

Despite getting all A’s other than one A- (thank you first semester pathophysiology!) in graduate-level nursing classes, I was unable to shake the feeling that I wasn’t smart enough to succeed in this field.

As if I made it through by chance instead of by working hard.

And everyone around me was smarter and way more capable than I.

Graduation day!

Mysteriously Vague Feelings of Being an Imposter

I have always been a high-achiever with perfectionist tendencies and have trouble acknowledging my own success.

It’s tough to feel good about something when you live in constant fear that you will, at some point, be discovered as a fraud.

Or when your standards are so high that it’s not humanly possible to live up to them.

These feelings are tough to talk about with others out of fear that I truly will be discovered as a fraud.

Besides that, I had a hard time describing how I was feeling in a way which would make sense to anyone else.

Because by all regards, I was successful.

After graduating with a fine arts degree, I worked my way through an associate’s degree in nursing.

Then a baccalaureate degree before being accepted into the doctoral program.

All while working as a nurse.

And raising little ones.

My kiddos.

My feelings of being a fraud only solidified these feelings even more.

After all, successful people don’t feel this way.

They wake up every morning, live their awesomely successful lives, and revel in the lives they’ve created.

No doubt, no fear, just confidence and success.

All day, every day.

Imposter Syndrome is a Real Thing

And then one day not too long ago, I was listening to a podcast.

It was about something called “imposter syndrome” and it perfectly described the feelings I had been experiencing for so long now.

I was truly shocked to learn that there was an actual name for what I had been feeling.

Even more shocked to learn that imposter syndrome affects a wide range of people from all walks of life.

And that it is especially common among people who are, in fact, successful.

Hearing the podcast was life-changing for me.

I finally had a name for what I had been feeling.

And if I had a name for it, there was hope I could do something about it.

Hearing the podcast started me on a path of self-discovery.

What exactly is imposter syndrome?

And what causes it?

I started looking for answers.

Imposter Syndrome in High-Achieving Women

And found out that imposter syndrome was first observed by two female psychologists, Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes.

Their work with high-achieving women in the 1970s uncovered patterns of thinking which revolved around feelings of fraudulence.

Women with advanced degrees and professional recognition who also felt that luck, and not intelligence, had gotten them where they were today.

Their paper, published in 1978, outlines the collective experiences of over 150 women from diverse fields including nursing, medicine, and academia.

They discovered that although some of these women also had co-existing anxiety and depression, many had no mental health diagnoses.

Clance and Imes even discovered that imposter syndrome was not exclusive to women.

Differences Between Women and Men

Although imposter syndrome impacted men, it was to a significantly lesser degree.

To explain this phenomenon, the researchers turned to the work of another woman researcher, Kay Deaux.

Deaux’s work hypothesized that society plays a role in the differences in perceived ability between the sexes.

In her work published in the mid 1970s she describes that society is conditioned to have lower expectations of women.

Women therefore often have lower expectations of themselves.

And are then more likely to attribute their own success to luck rather than skill.

Men, on the other hand, are conditioned to go after success less cautiously than women.

And are then less likely to attribute success to anything other than their own ability.

The work of these three women was eye-opening for me.

It provides a possible explanation for the themes which run much deeper than I ever anticipated.

Mom Guilt

In my life, I often feel like I’m fighting a variety of battles that I don’t completely understand but am doing my best to overcome.

Mom guilt is one of them.

I’m constantly feeling pulled between work and home.

Always trying to check one more item off my daily to-do list, whether I’m at work or at home.

And never quite feeling like the end result is good enough.

Or even if the end result is great, that it was simply luck.

Could it be that mom guilt also has its roots in faulty societal expectations of women?

That on the one hand, women are expected to successfully raise a family while working.

And are also expected to stay in great shape, continue socializing, and maintain their own self-care.

But on the other hand, and in light of their status as women, are expected to perform poorly at all these things.

Are we simply set up for failure from the very beginning?

And I’m not sure about you, but I’ve never heard of dad guilt.

Is that even a thing?

You may also enjoy reading this post about the secret to life as a working mom.

A Tale of Two Families

Even beyond societal gender expectations lies family dynamics.

Clance and Imes identified two separate family dynamics which can be used to explain why imposter syndrome occurs.

Family Dynamic #1

The first involves a scenario in which a sibling has been designated as the “smart” one while the daughter herself becomes known as the charming one.

The daughter then comes to feel torn between the belief that she is really just a pretty face and the desire to prove herself as otherwise.

She begins working even harder to prove herself academically yet her family refuses to acknowledge her as such.

At that point, feelings of fradulence begin to emerge.

Doubt sinks in and she wonders whether the beliefs of her family are in fact true.

Family Dynamic #2

The second family dynamic in which imposter syndrome begins to creep in involves the daughter being viewed as perfect in every way.

Whether it’s academics, sports, or music, her skills are viewed by the family as second to none.

And not only are her skills exemplary but she doesn’t have to work hard to achieve any of it.

Everything comes easily to her.

This is the dynamic which is intimately familiar to me.

The point at which imposter syndrome began to creep in was when something actually didn’t come all that easily to me.

It was the point at which I actually had to struggle when I began to doubt my own family’s assessment of my talents.

Maybe I wasn’t as gifted as they believed me to be if everything didn’t come easily.

And maybe I’m simply fooling everyone with the success I’ve achieved thus far.

Natural talent only goes so far and there comes a point for everyone in which hard work is necessary to go further.

Regardless of which family dynamic was present during the formative years, imposter syndrome is a sneaky belief system which is tough to pinpoint until you become aware of its subtleties.

It’s a faulty thought process which holds you back from your true potential.

Now that we have a better understanding of imposter syndrome and how it starts, what can we do to change it?

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

As with many things in life, awareness is the first step.

Although it seems contrary to what you feel, talking about your feelings with others can discredit your fears.

Talking about your feelings aloud with someone else can help you identify how truly false imposter syndrome actually is.

As an example, if you studied for a test, there’s a greater probability that you passed due to preparation than by luck.

Unfortunately, we have learned to doubt ourselves and have an easier time believing luck and not preparation was responsible.

Getting an outside perspective can help ground you until you begin to change the negative thought patterns associated with imposter syndrome.

After all, in many cases, imposter syndrome is based on “feelings” and not on reality.

When you boil it down, imposter syndrome is a false interpretation of actual events.

Until you speak those feelings out loud, they will continue to have power over you.

And you will continue to misinterpret the true source of your own success.

Root Cause Analysis

Likewise, journaling can be extremely beneficial in something I call “root cause analysis.”

I can’t take credit for this concept as it is one which is attributed to the field of nursing, among others.

It essentially involves dissecting a situation to determine the true cause of an error or dysfunction.

As an example, root cause analysis is frequently utilized in the nursing home setting after someone falls.

The ultimate goal in this scenario is to prevent future falls.

But you can really only do that if you figure out what caused the fall in the first place.

Did the person slip because they were barefoot?

Was their drink out of their reach?

Or were they trying to get to the bathroom by themselves?

Once you figure out the root cause, you can theoretically prevent future falls of this nature.

The same process can be applied to anything you deem a “failure” in your own life.

Spend some time thinking about a particular situation which didn’t go according to plan.

Determine which factors contributed to a lack of success.

In many cases you will find that those factors were actually outside your own control.

And if they were out of your control, how could you possibly do anything about them?

Never Give Up … Never Surrender!

We simply have no control over so many aspects of life and need to stop continually beat ourselves up for them.

Conversely, it is equally important to record your successes as a reminder that you are smart and capable.

You are deserving of success.

And even in the face of setbacks, you are constantly learning and growing.

Do you want to know a secret?

No one really knows what they’re doing.

The most successful people in the world experience imposter syndrome from time to time.

It’s not as if you reach a certain level of success and suddenly know everything or are confident 100% of the time.

But the difference between success and failure is never giving up.

Successful people never let feelings of being an imposter hold them back from taking the next step.

They take feedback from each and every experience and instead of letting it defeat them, they learn and grow from it.

And become more confident the next time because of all they’ve overcome to get where they are today.

You may also enjoy reading this post about the secrets to success.

It’s Your Turn

I really wish that I had some type of magical secret to immediately and permanently overcoming imposter syndrome.

But I don’t.

All I have is the gift of awareness.

Because once you become aware of something, it forever remains a part of you.

Once you have the knowledge, you can take steps to change it!

Take this opportunity to analyze your feelings and determine where you can make positive changes.

You don’t have to live in constant fear that you will one day be discovered as a fraud.

Because you’re not.

You are so much more smart and capable than you give yourself credit for!

Now … go forth and be awesome!

Don’t forget to comment below on your big take-aways from this post!

Where are you struggling right now and how are you going to take steps forward?

The Secret to Making Working Mom Life Work

The Secret to Making Working Mom Life Work

After a particularly long and stressful day a few weeks ago, I had an epiphany. It suddenly hit me that I am a working mom. Not a very timely epiphany as my first child is 9 and I worked before and after her birth. But an epiphany, nonetheless.

There are times when navigating a full-time career and managing a household feels incredibly overwhelming. In these dark moments, the questions in my mind arise.

“How can I possibly do everything that needs to be done in a day?”

“Is it selfish to take time for myself?”

“Am I taking anything away from my kids by also having a career?”

“Could I be a better mother if I devoted more time to it?”

“Why am I so hopelessly disorganized?”

These are the moments when I question everything. Maybe these questions have also arisen in your mind?

And although I do consider myself to have perfectionist tendencies, I am a terrible planner. I put very little thought or effort into thinking ahead about certain things. Life has a way of happening and I’ve always emphasized the big decisions while letting the smaller ones go.

But working mom life is tough! So tough that I wonder whether it is possible to excel in one’s career and at home. All while staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, excercising, socializing, and staying sane. Basically doing all the things.

How do you do all the things as a working mom? Are there other moms out there who feel the same way?

It begs the question of how I even got on this crazy path.

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Past and Present

Whether or not I should work has never been the question. Even after having kids, I’ve always felt a strong pull to contribute to my family financially. Having been raised on a dairy farm, I learned very early on that work is simply a part of life.

The act of working in and of itself brings me a great deal of satisfaction. But my career path has taken twists and turns that I never expected.

If there’s anything I’ve learned thus far, it’s that life is unexpected and forces you to pivot.

After graduating with a fine arts degree in music, I found myself living in a tiny Wisconsin town. If you know anything about tiny Wisconsin towns, you know that they are basically comprised of bars and churches. Bleak job prospects for a newly graduated music major. And although I did take a position playing Sunday services for a couple of area churches, I didn’t make nearly enough to support myself.

You may also enjoy reading Stop Caring What “They” Think.

I needed a new plan.

Luckily, I had completed a certified nursing assistant (CNA) course in college and decided to apply for a position at a local nursing home. This one decision launched an entirely different type of career path than I had ever considered before.

A path which would eventually lead from CNA in a nursing home to nurse practitioner for people residing in a nursing home. Throw a marriage, a daughter, divorce, a second marriage, and two sons into the mix and here we are today.

But until recently, I had never sat down to think about HOW one goes about managing a career and family. What does this actually look like and can the two be meshed together in some type of cohesive way?

Career and Family

All great questions. My working mom epiphany was starting to lead me down a path of discovery. And so I did what I usually do whenever I have a curious thought which won’t go away. I looked for a book which could help me better understand this concept of working while raising a family.

The book I found was a collection of individual stories of women who work and also have children. Stories of women who climbed the corporate ladder and those who ultimately chose to adjust their careers around their home life. Women juggling PTO, sick days, vacation, and wardrobe malfunctions all in the name of excelling at work and at home.

An entire book all about the good, the bad, and the ugly of being a working mom.

And to be honest, the book was initially a letdown.

I didn’t need some book to tell me that mom guilt about being at work versus at my daughter’s school event is real. Or that a morning routine (or lack thereof) can make or break your day. I truly wasn’t looking for a story about another woman’s husband chipping in at home so she could work.

It was answers I was after. Answers about how to manage the overwhelming chaos of working mom life. Easy-to-follow checklists for taming the daily disarray. Hints about fitting self-care into a tumultuous schedule. Encouragement that yes, things will in fact get better.

Stories are nice but they aren’t answers.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m super happy that Susan’s husband vacuums and scrubs the toilets. But how did she get him to take on these tasks?

And congratulations to Lindsay on cutting back to part-time hours! But what about the options if your family’s economic stability depends upon your full-time hours?

It’s amazing that Cheryl was able to negotiate her employer into allowing her some time to work-from-home. But how is this story beneficial when your career is not amenable to working from home?

I was beginning to think that there simply were no answers to the questions I was asking.

More Questions Than Answers

Despite my initial disappointment in the book’s inability to answer my questions, I kept reading it. Mostly because I was 50 pages in at that point and already invested.

After all, it was possible that the answers I was looking for were in the very last chapter. Or in some type of bonus chapter. It was also entirely possible that the secret to managing my working mom life was in an exclusive online book resource.

I had to keep reading to make sure I wasn’t missing out on anything that all the other working moms somehow knew. Working mom life would be much easier if there was a secret to making it all balance. If not a secret, then maybe a magical fairy or elf.

Picture this. It’s been a long day at work, you’re tired, and your toddler screams all the way home from day care. And then continues screaming because you won’t let him lick the soap dispenser at home. His older brother, slighted because you asked how his day went, quickly joins in the screaming. Just to top it all off, their older sister starts yelling because she is annoyed at the screaming of the other two.

You’ve been there before too, right?

In this moment, wouldn’t it be great if you could tap into some deep well of knowledge? In fact, wouldn’t it be great if you could suddenly feel calm, cool, and collected about all areas of your working and home life? If you could simply let the stress of the work day melt away amidst the screaming tantrums of your kids.

Admit how great it would feel if you could drop the constant feelings of competition between work and home. The feeling that because you work, you’re somehow dropping the ball at home. Or the feeling that because you take time off to care for a sick child, you’re slacking off at work. And on and on and on.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was looking for reassurance. Reassurance that I wasn’t the only one feeling the constant conflict between work and home life. I needed to hear that I wasn’t the only one with more questions than answers.

The Working Mom Secret

It wasn’t until I was almost through with the book that it suddenly hit me.

I wasn’t the only one questioning how to make it all work! There was no magical “one size fits all” answer for achieving balance in your working mom life.

And do you know what else I learned?

There are forces beyond my control influencing my thoughts, feelings, and responses to “balancing” working mom life. Forces contributing to my feelings of overwhelm and constant questioning.

These forces run deep. Some are rooted in society’s expectations about male and female roles both inside and outside the home. Others stem from the influences of social media and comparison. Still others are deeply personal and come from your own expectations of who you ARE versus who you SHOULD be.

And let’s not forget the expectations of your spouse, friends, family, and coworkers. The unsolicited advice about how to learn more, be more, and do more. Advice on how to make all the bits and pieces of your life come together into a pretty picture.

In short, working moms are struggling against a plethora of outside forces. This struggle only sets us up for more and more questions.

Unless we stop and consider what is truly driving our feelings, emotions, and actions, we will never come to a better understanding of the issue.

And how does one come to a better understanding of an issue?

By asking questions, seeking out information, and sifting through one’s deepest underlying thoughts and beliefs.

The secret to a better understanding of working mom life is to ask more questions.

I know this may not be the answer you were hoping for. Believe me, I completely understand your frustration in now having more questions than answers.

But at the end of the day, working moms all have completely different hopes, dreams, and goals.

We are all individuals. Each of us has a unique perspective to contribute.

What’s Your Perspective?

By this point, you’re probably asking yourself, “Ok, great. But now what? How can I apply this in my own life?”

You can start by ditching the concept of “balancing” home and work lives. The word “balance” means equilibrium. Equality between two separate entities.

In working mom life, there is NO. SUCH. THING. as balance.

Life is unexpected. You will constantly need to make tough choices. Choices which result in favoring one thing over another.

This is just the nature of life. Accept that there will be times when you need to choose family over work. And vice versa. It’s ok.

Know that all working moms wrestle with these questions. If not these same exact questions, then eerily similar ones.

None of us really knows what we’re doing. We’re all just doing the very best we can with what we have. Approach each new day with the faith that you are making progress. Forgive yourself.

Talk with other working moms who may be going through the same struggles as you. Working moms are a community of incredibly strong, resourceful, and resilient women. We absolutely need to avoid tearing each other down but rather stick together!

And stay curious. If you’re struggling, look for resources. In today’s world, there is an abundance of information out there. Don’t keep yourself in the darkness of overwhelm when all you need to do is simply reach out and turn on the light switch.

Keep asking questions until you find the answers you’re looking for! Or at least until you get to the questions which get you to the root of your hang-up.

If you’re looking for a starting point, check out the book which inspired today’s post here. This book triggered so much emotionally for me and inspired my belief that the answer to this issue is complex and actually lies in the questions.

If a podcast is more your style, check out one of my personal favs below!

  • Do It Scared with Ruth Soukup
  • The Confidence Podcast with Trish Blackwell
  • Rise Podcast with Rachel Hollis

And always remember that you’re not on this journey alone. Life with kids requires a complete transformation. You cannot live the same way you did before having kids. And my guess is that you wouldn’t want to. Kids add an element of fulfillment unmatched by anything else!

And now it’s your turn. What are your current challenges, questions, and stresses? Where do you find yourself constantly getting hung up? What are the forces beyond your control which are currently impacting you in a big way? I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this and more below!