I’m sure there isn’t a person anywhere who hasn’t at some stage thought ”I shouldn’t be here. They going to find out I don’t know what I’m doing”. Feeling like a fraud is common and for some people it is almost impossible to shake it off, no matter the situation. The psychologists have named this “imposter syndrome” and as a coach, I have seen so many people, but especially women, battle with it. If you are always thinking that you’re a fraud and a failure, you definitely aren’t alone.

Psychologist Pauline Rose Clance first identified Imposter syndrome in 1978. Here’s what she writes about those who have it “Even though they are often very successful by external standards, they feel their success has been due to some mysterious fluke or luck or great effort; they are afraid their achievements are due to “breaks” and not the result of their own ability and competence. They are also pretty certain that, unless they go to gargantuan efforts to do so, success can not be repeated. They are afraid that next time, I will blow it.” Her research found that imposter syndrome is present in all genders, races, ages and occupations but it is more prevalent in disadvantaged or underrepresented groups and seems to affect them more.

When I joined the wine industry I suffered from imposter syndrome for quite a while. I have always drunk local wine but when I began my job I knew next to nothing about the wines of the world, viticulture and wine making. The wine world is full of passionate aficionados who study wine and happily and endlessly discuss the soil, the clone, the root stock, the trellising in the vineyard, the age of the barrels the wine matured in etc. instead of, as I tend to do, just getting on with enjoying it. I dreaded being asked my opinion on a wine. When I was presented with a wine list in Europe and asked to order the wines, I wouldn’t recognise 95% of what was on it. It was all quite scary. I got over my imposter syndrome by learning what I needed to know to get by and then focusing on what I was good at and why I had got the job in the first place- my international business knowledge, my marketing and organisational skills.  I soon realised that I didn’t need to be the wine expert, there were others in my team who could fill that role and once I accepted that, my feelings of being a fraud vanished.

Here’s what Valerie Young who wrote a book on imposter syndrome says ”People who don’t feel like impostors are no more intelligent or capable or talented or qualified than those who do. The only difference between them and us is that in the exact situation that triggers an impostor response in us… they are thinking different thoughts. That’s it.”

As with most problems, the best way to deal with imposter syndrome is to talk about it. Open up to your colleagues and friends for support. You will find many of them, even the most senior and experienced, feel or have felt the same way that you do. It’s equally important to acknowledge your successes and stop undervaluing yourself. You are in your position because someone thought you had the talent or skills to be there so believe in yourself, recognise your own competence, and remind yourself every day that you belong.


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