Overcome the Impostor Syndrome, Reach Your Full Potential

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Women are constantly subjected to conflicting expectations. Be confident in who you are, but don’t be too confident because then you’re unlikeable. Women should have a place in the workforce, but they should also be the primary caregivers for their children. We could go on, but the bottom line is that it’s no wonder women struggle with the Impostor Syndrome. Patricia Myers, executive leadership coach and 4word Board Member, shares her struggles with being confident in who she was and what women in the workplace can do to keep their own doubts at bay.

We’ve all heard the term “impostor syndrome” but where did it come from? What are the roots of this mindset?

The term was coined in the 1970s by two psychologists trying to understand their highest achieving women clients with strong self-doubts. But I’m quite sure the Impostor Syndrome has been around for centuries, especially since most societies determined women’s roles based on personal need, with little regard for women’s expansive capabilities. At first, it was procreation and taking care of the home. It wasn’t until the need arose that people understood that women could “bring home the bacon—and still fry it up for their families.” 

Once women entered the workplace, there was always an unfair concept of a successful woman. We’re expected not only to be stellar performers, but to look great, have excellent IQ and Emotional Intelligence, and of course, have a lovely and positive personality.  

No one seemed to tell us that it’s okay not to know everything and that every day is a learning opportunity. And that perfection is a feeble antidote for insecurity. 

When have you dealt with impostor syndrome in your life?

I may have started off knowing a little about most jobs I had right after college. But just after I had my second child at age 33, I was chosen for an environmental start-up at Westinghouse. I knew my sponsor nominated me, but I also thought the job was way too technical for my background. I hadn’t a clue as to what a dioxin or benzene was. 

As soon as I started the job, I had such excruciating self-doubts that I desperately wanted to quit and go back to my old job. It was miserable. I even remember seriously asking a friend if I’d have to give back my congratulatory send-off gift—a gorgeous Coach briefcase. I started believing the lie that I had no business in the Environmental Services Division of a Fortune 50 company! I was the poster child for The Impostor Syndrome.

I admit—at that point in my career- humility was not my strength. But I respectfully asked for help and interviewed (and lunched with) nerdy (and sexist) engineers. I walked the facilities every day and studied constantly after the kids were in bed. Within a few painful months, I learned to love the fascinating and challenging environmental business. Eventually I became Marketing Director. 

With that job, I must have figured out I’d probably never know what I was doing in a new job, because after my Environmental job, I joined PNC Financial as VP-Marketing Projects, where once again, I didn’t know much about that, either.

In 1999, my husband and I moved to Saudi Arabia where we joined the largest bank in Saudi. I headed Ladies Private Banking—which I really knew nothing about—nor could I speak the language. At the bank, I became Head of Leadership Development and head of Talent Management. I went back to school in a weekend executive program at INSEAD, outside Paris, and at 55 years old earned an advanced degree and was certified in Consulting and Coaching for Change Leadership. I readily admit that, in fact, almost every time I showed up in a new job, I felt a little like a fraud. 

What does the impostor syndrome look like in different areas of life? Work and home 

The lies of the Impostor Syndrome—that we’re not good enough, smart enough or capable for bigger things—hold us back, and we shrink from accepting challenges and play it safe. These toxic lies turn into barbed wire, keeping us from growing, exploring, and enjoying life. So, just as in our careers, the lies keep us from what God intended for a rich, impactful life. We miss out on loving and being loved—fully and honestly.  

How does it affect our spiritual life?

Our lack of confidence also encourages us to run away from our evangelistic calling, because we feel that Jesus couldn’t have had us in mind for any of His work. Surely, if we stepped into teaching and shepherding—serving Him in any way that we’d have to step out into uncharted territory—we’d be called out as frauds!   

So, how do we fight off these lies? How do we find and nurture and treasure the truth?

First, we need to examine the overwhelming evidence of our successes and accomplishments, then reframe challenges and failures. Focus on what we’ve achieved and overcome, and celebrate the blessings He’s generously given us. 

The truth is, as a daughter of His, we are supremely worthy. 

And, of course, when seeking the truth, there’s only one sure place to go—the WORD. Where in the Bible do we see Him crowning the already perfect man or woman? Never! Over and over, God rejects His people’s’ insecurities and self-doubts.

Ester is such a perfect role model. Remember her beginnings—groomed solely to be taken in by the courts as a beautiful desirable virgin. Do you think she had feelings of insecurity? She would be discovered as an orphan beneath her silks and jewels. And, once queen, just when she had a chance at security and safety, she was confronted with the decision to put those things at risk and lose the affection of the king. 

But the truth set her free as Mordecai prophesies, “Who knows that you came to this royal position for such a time as this.” She takes up God’s challenge with no safety net. 

Our role models abound, page after page. How ironic and comforting that God doesn’t choose the perfect who never fail and don’t question their own abilities. He chooses each one of us, by name, to overcome the lies to reach our God-given potential.

Patricia currently specializes in executive leadership coaching, talent management, and helping groups manage change. Her consulting capitalizes on 35 years’ experience in US marketing, project management and corporate affairs in telecommunications, finance and manufacturing with Westinghouse, GTE/Verizon and PNC Financial. She later worked in the Middle East in private banking, talent management and organizational development as Head of Talent Management for National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia. Currently, she exclusively works exclusively for KPMG.  

Deeply passionate about elevating people’s effectiveness, Pat has coached and mentored hundreds of senior leaders and key young talent and has led team coaching and training to improve relationships through constructive feedback. Pat has developed international talent management and mentoring processes for businesses focused on developing and defending their talent pool

She earned a degree in Clinical Organizational Psychology from the French University, INSTEAD, and is certified for Consulting and Coaching for Change. Before working for KPMG, her previous client list included international firms such as Dow Chemical, Hilton Hotels, Zain Telecommunications, Assa Abloy, Intercontinental Hotels, Proctor & Gamble, Pepsico, CBS, Zale and many regional firms.

She is a mentor and is on the national Board of Directors for 4word.