When I was invited to be on the panel of the RegTech Women’s Leap of Faith event hosted by the FCA, my first reaction was to ask ‘Why me?’
The panel was made up of senior female leaders from the FCA and yours truly. I was asked to talk about confronting Impostor Syndrome and how I see it showing up in the work I do with entrepreneurs and business owners. We were all asked to reflect on our careers and the decisions that had led us to this point in our lives and careers. We explored the risks we had and hadn’t taken in our careers and discussed what might encourage women to take more risks.
Looking back at my early career, I remember how brave and fearless I was. I was happy to wing it – taking a job in India without a job description, managing large teams and moving from the corporate world to the impenetrable fortress of investment banking! I didn’t have a lot of time or space for fear and doubt until I decided to set up on my own. That’s when the voices of doom hit me – who was I to say I could help business owners, what did I know, who would listen to little old me? I was meeting lots of business owners who were getting out of their depth and burning themselves out and I wanted to be able to help them. I knew that I had the skills and experience, but I was plagued by self-doubt.
Someone mentioned Impostor Syndrome to me, and I decided to try and find out why I was feeling so under-confident for the first time in my life. I read some great books and articles on the subject, including ‘Unmasking’ by Tara Halliday, ‘Beyond Impostor Syndrome’ by Margaret Collins and ‘The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women’ by Valerie Young.
I soon discovered what a serious issue Impostor Syndrome can be – causing mental health issues like stress, anxiety and depression. When Impostor Syndrome first started being talked about in the 1970s, people thought it only applied to women. In fact the very first article written on the subject was titled ‘The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women’ and explored how despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the women who took part in the study believed that their achievements were the result of luck or other people’s mistakes. Further studies followed and it soon transpired that Impostor Syndrome applies equally to both men and women – men just weren’t so willing to admit it.
It might apply equally to men and women, but it seems to me that there’s a unique and rather special way us women give ourselves a hard time. I’m not a therapist and I’m not an expert on Impostor Syndrome, but from my experience of working with many business owners and their teams, I see aspects showing up on a spectrum. For acute cases it ends up in extreme stress and anxiety, turning down opportunities we don’t think we’re worthy of or avoiding activities we don’t think we should be doing.
For milder cases, it leads to overwhelm, perfectionism and burnout. We may not self-sabotage or be convinced that we are a fraud, but those feelings of doubt, that we may be ‘found out’ at any moment are very real for many of us. The guilt and fear associated with the condition is very real, even for those not suffering from its acute effects.
So what can be done about Impostor Syndrome? Clearly at the acute end of the scale, seeing a qualified coach or therapist is the way forward. What I find can really help people feel grounded and confident is having a good understanding of how they’re wired. We all see the world through our own spectacles – and we can’t really understand what it’s like to be anyone else.
So that means we don’t necessarily value what we do and what we know, because we don’t see it as special or different. We use psychometric profiling to help people understand what makes them tick and, in my experience, it can be life-changing! After one such session a man told me he’d learnt more about himself in the last two hours than in the past 10 years. He said I’d made him feel like it was OK to be himself.
It was a privilege to be on the panel and in such great company. It was a wonderful event full of many fabulous women (and men). If I and my amazing fellow panelists were able to inspire even one person to take a leap of faith, then it was a job well done. And next time we find ourselves asking ‘Why me?’ let’s answer ‘Why not me?’
Lisa Zevi – October 2019