GHC12: Tempering the Impostor Syndrome by Managing the Fear of Failure

As I walked into this session led by Francine Gordon (F Gordon Group) and Sabina Nawaz (Sabina Nawaz Consulting), I was a little surprised. Instead of rows of chairs facing the front, it looked like we were about to sit down to an organized lunch. 


On the tables were worksheets for attendees to fill out, looking something like this:

If you’ve filled out any psychological survey, there’s a high probability that you’ve ranked statements like the ones that were on this sheet, including:

  • I can give the impression that I am more competent than I really am
  • At times I feel my success has been due to some kind of luck

Or, my favorites:

  • Sometimes I’m afraid others will discover how much knowledge or ability I really lack
  • If I receive a great deal of praise and recognition for something I’ve accomplished, I tend to discount the importance of what I’ve done.

Opening Remarks

As we scrambled for pens and glanced furtively around to make sure we weren’t posing as impostors, the session started. Francine started by asking the attendees whose colleagues think that they (the attendees) are competent. A fair amount of the audience raised their hands. She then told the people who don’t think that they deserve that opinion to lower their hands. The number of hands that remained raised was paltry in number.

When organizing a panel on the impostor syndrome, which is this idea that you are not qualified for or deserving of the job you have even if you are, Francine ran into an interesting problem. The women that she approached to be panelists were hesitant to participate because:

They were afraid that if they were on a panel about impostors, people might think they were impostors.

Reviewing the Worksheet

As we went through the worksheet, we surveyed the results. There were three overall categories (at the bottom of the picture):

  • DOS: doesn’t own success, who can’t accept responsibility for things that go well because of their efforts
  • NGE: never good enough, who is the classic perfectionist
  • PGF: pretty good front, who always feels like they are putting up a facade and faking it

Amongst the audience, NGEs were the most common, followed by DOSs, and trailed by PGFs (where I happen to fall).

Discussion and Conclusion

We then broke up into groups discussing our “classification” and trying to identify what triggered it and what we found that helped us to cope. As a PGF myself, I ascribe to the “fake it till you make it” mentality, which in the realm of public speaking works pretty well. We chatted as a group for a while, followed by some closing remarks.

One of the pure gold quotes from Sabina: “If you don’t buy these ideas, that’s okay, rent them!”

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