Do you feel like you owe your success solely to good luck? You’re not alone. Impostor syndrome plagues even the most successful women. But why?
Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of The Confidence Code, say “women are currently in the midst of an acute crisis in confidence.” They blame this for the gender pay gap which still plagues most countries, and in Australia is set at 18% as of 2015.
The level of success doesn’t make women more confident either.
Plenty of accomplished, famous women struggle with impostor syndrome
Christine Lagarde - managing director of the International Monetary Fund and one of the world’s most powerful women says "We assume, somehow, that we don't have the expertise to be able to grasp the whole thing.”
Novelist, poet and inspirational role model Maya Angelou once said: "I have written eleven books, but each time I think, 'uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’"
“There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert. How do these people believe all this about me? I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.” Dr. Margaret Chan, Chief of the World Health Organization
Is self-doubt genetic?
After discovering these accomplished women struggled with their success it made me wonder, are we born with this crisis in confidence? Or do we learn it?
Kay and Shipman say it’s a bit of both. In women, the ACC (anterior cingulate cortex) is activated more than in men. The ACC integrated both the emotional and cognitive systems, and is the area where we process worry and concern. In other words? Women weigh up decisions more than men. This may be why women are more thoughtful and successful investors long term.
It’s not all neuroscience though, women are brought up differently too. While girls are encouraged and praised for getting things right, boys are more often encouraged to try hard and fail fast.
This translates into adulthood, where many women will blame themselves for failure, while men will often blame an external force (an unfair boss or an overly difficult exam)
We also view confidence differently. In the workplace, a confident man is trustworthy and charismatic, while confident women are often seen as bitchy and demanding.
Of course there are exceptions to these cases and men doubt themselves too, but overall after Shipman and Kay's research rings true:
It seems women blame failure on themselves, while placing the cause of their success on external factors.
You Can Overcome Impostor Syndrome
The good news? Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change throughout our lifetime, long after we stop growing. It’s how people can learn to speak again after stroke, or learn to change hand dominance. Shipman says women can overcome the confidence crisis by muting the self-doubt soundtrack. "There are moments when, yes, you may want to work in self-doubt, and you may want to go over something again and again and again, but you can't do it all the time,” she says.
So! Save your energy! Make small decisions (cap vs. latté) quickly, and save the careful consideration for important decisions that really need your energy.
Try these tips to combat self-doubt
1. Write down your recent accomplishments. By simply writing them, you’ll reflect on them and the journey. You’ll remember it was a bucket load of hard work and clever timing, not luck, that got you there.
2. Next time your doubt yourself say “I can do it!” Don’t tell yourself off, just remind yourself you’ve got the capacity to do whatever you’re doing.
3. Remember social media isn’t real life. Too many people compare themselves to the images and ‘perfect lives’ they see on social media. Those lives aren’t real, they’re strategically documented stories people have curated. Look at social media as a marketing tool and a way to tell a story, rather than a reflection of a life.
You are good enough, and you earned your success in life and business. You're amazing!
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