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Imposter Syndrome? Stop Being an Insecure Overachiever

Nicki GilmourMy bet is that if you are reading this column you have either googled the words “imposter syndrome” or “insecure overachiever” at least once.

Maybe more than 50% of readers today might identify with all or some of the traits and behaviors that apply to insecure overachievers since people who read theglasshammer are seeking career advice, information or inspiration of some kind.

I can tell you that most of us are driven by something.

Fear of failure comes up a lot amongst highly successful executives and how could it not? The stakes are high and what got you to where you are is an individual mix of skills and behaviors purely contextual to your lived experiences in your organization. The culture that each firm and team embodies varies and evolves moment to moment and person to person but is very relevant to norming overwork as a good thing. But imagine what your life would be like if failure large or small was seen as a learning experience and not a devastating event?

Driven people are driven by something and it is not usually ambition for ambition’s sake, if you think for a second about that. Motivations behind all behaviors can be somewhat simplified by categorizing them into three summarized buckets that Socrates and then Plato spoke of much less concisely in The Republic:

1) Gain, or what’s in it for me?

2) Honor, such as high altruism traits or desire to leave a legacy work

3) Fear, or what will happen if I fail or do not do this

Many successful people in the world are insecure overachievers because always wanting better has given us great products and services and achievements as humans. No matter how you cut it, subjective judgement, and in this case your subjective judgement against yourself to believe there is a better product or version that you can produce next time, fuels innovation.

However, where hardworking, smart people fall under the insecure overachiever definition is when fear is extreme, almost all-consuming and underlined by a feeling of permanent inadequacy despite having a range of actual significant achievements. “Work harder” is what people who suffer from this implicitly tell themselves. And in a world of more is more for work in many industries the norm is to put in long hours and show commitment, so discovering this issue may be harder than for people who work in very balanced, life- and family-centric societies.

Imposter syndrome fits here too when fear includes a feeling of secret shame of not being good enough and shows up as fear of being found out as a fraud. Usually, this comes with a feeling of needed external validation as the person cannot validate themselves. The person can feel anxious and unhappy no matter how many advanced degrees completed with honors and jobs they have excelled at. No matter how much money they earn or amazing projects they have completed, they can only see the future challenge in future time and cannot enjoy their past achievements or present successes.

If any of this sounds familiar, it is entirely important to get to the root cause of why you feel how you feel. It is usually sitting in your subconscious as a construct or several constructs that have formed into a belief.

Here is what you need to do:

1) Decide if you want to change from a stressed-out, unhappy “insecure overachiever” or someone who doesn’t belong or deserve their success.

2) Get a goal, such as “be more content with my work achievements” or “look at balance of my entire life, not just work” or “get healthy mentally and physically in 2020.”

3) Work on awareness and making explicit to yourself what you tell yourself when you indulge in some self-deprecation (and not the modest, historically British kind).

4) Read “Immunity to Change” which provides a great model for practical use around seeing what hidden competing agendas you might be carrying around that are thwarting your goal of being more sustainable and satisfied.

5) Call me and sign up for a coaching pack of 5 sessions to support and facilitate this work. As a coach who has written a paper at Columbia University on how goal setting is derailed by the subconscious, I can help you.

Ready to start? Book your first coaching session here for 90 minutes (pay online) and get started on the mental debris so that you enter 2020 in a new mindset with a real plan.

Or book a free 15-minute exploratory call here to see if this is for you.