Personify Your Inner Critic — First of all, you are not your inner critic. It makes up just a part of you, but does not define you as the whole person. Personify your inner critic: name them, describe what they look like, describe what their voice is like, is it a soft voice or a quiet voice? Once you have done that, whenever they start telling you that you are a “fraud”, that you achieved success by “luck”, that you don’t belong, then you as yourself can talk back to it and tell it to get lost.
As a part of our series about how very accomplished leaders were able to succeed despite experiencing Imposter Syndrome, I had the pleasure of interviewing Claudia Minner.
Claudia Minner is an executive coach based in Chicago, Illinois whose main mission is to help high-achieving, talented female entrepreneurs and executives who struggle with imposter syndrome ditch their inner critics so they can fully celebrate their successes, awaken their confidence, and become totally unstoppable as they live life on their terms. By uniquely combining her psychotherapy background as a licensed marriage and family therapist with her executive coaching experience, Claudia serves as an all-in-one strategist, guide, and support system in helping women stop secretly doubting their qualifications and create the life and career they feel totally good and aligned with. You can learn more about Claudia and how she can help you combat imposter syndrome on her website: www.claudiaminner.com
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
Of course! I’m an extrovert through and through. So, I have always been passionate about using my superpower of having conversations with others to help them in powerful ways. It was, and still is, amazing to me how much insight can be mutually cultivated from talking with others. I love having transformative conversations with people, helping them see their world from a new, more self-serving perspective, and giving them the tools needed to thrive.
I started my career solely as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist working with individuals, couples, and families. I was trained to view people and their presenting problems as part of their larger systems, not just themselves as individuals. I believe it is critical to be relationally focused when working with people because there are so many external factors, combined with internal, that can lead to the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that we have and can repeat themselves.
Within my caseload, I worked with several professional women in different stages of life. They were experiencing stress, anxiety, fear of failure, and other issues in their personal lives. They were the kind of women I thought “had it all”: success, incredible income, attended top schools, were in long term relationships, and appeared to be all around perfect. One issue, though, seemed to be a common denominator across all of them: imposter syndrome. It shocked me. Considering what their life seemed to be like, it was confusing to see these ambitious women so unsure of what they have accomplished. This negatively affected how they were showing up both personally and professionally, to the point of pushing away people they loved most and robbing themselves of feeling worthy of living the successful, happy life it seemed that they had on paper.
When we started working together, they told me that they felt like that had to make a choice: hiring a therapist to manage the personal issues or hiring an executive coach to manage the work issues.
Given my belief in considering people as greater than the sum of their parts when helping them, I realized how important it was to be able to offer holistic support in one powerful space so as to not compartmentalize different areas of a person’s life when it comes to achieving success. I challenge traditional executive coaching and mental health models by combining both fields — supporting professional women from a relational, more integrative approach that helps them to tackle imposter syndrome across all areas of their life instead of choosing just one area of focus.
There is an almost constant pressure that many women face both personally and professionally that can trigger the symptoms of imposter syndrome and make them think, “Gosh, what am I even doing here?”. I also think that women are socially conditioned to feel like they are taking up too much space, that they are “less than”, and that they need to people please to appear perfect. I help relieve that pressure so that women can feel empowered to fully get rid of their self-doubt, own their inner power, and feel confident in their achievements so that they can not only stop caring about what others think, they get to feel totally good in the life and career that deep down they know they deserve and are worthy of.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
The most interesting stories that come from my career are the ones you would never believe. Not necessarily the content of what we discuss with one another, but who it is coming from. I have worked with a lot of different people throughout my career — some of the most successful, intelligent, ambitious, and even prestigious people in various industries. Yet, I am continuously shocked by the number of people who secretly don’t believe they earned their success, or think they aren’t deserving enough of it because it was by “luck”, are unqualified, etc.
I remember one client I had who, upon first meeting her, I found was just absolutely stunning on the inside and out. She usually came for sessions during lunch from her corporate job — she wore impeccable A-line dresses, usually accompanied by designer heels and bag, and looked totally flawless. She had been married for around 5 years at the time and had a three-year-old. She carried herself effortlessly, and she had the personality to match. She was lovely, but she was really struggling with imposter syndrome.
She would ruminate for hours about ideas she pitched in management meetings, avoid vacations because she didn’t want her coworkers to think she was lazy, and stopped eating because she “didn’t have time”. Her marriage was falling apart because her spouse felt so distant from her, and it took her on an emotional roller coaster that kept affecting the relationship.
When she got promoted to partner at work, she cried in my office. Not happy tears, though. She cried because she felt that she must have misrepresented how hard she was actually working. She felt someone else probably deserved it more than her, and she probably wouldn’t know what she was doing. I remember sitting there thinking, “…WHAT?! You work your butt off! You graduated Magna Cum Laude! You are literally one of the most deserving people!”
We worked together so that she could gain the insight and learn the tools to bridge the disconnect between what others see in her and what she saw in herself and stop letting her imposter syndrome eat away at her confidence, ability to get the job done, and her life.
By the end of our work together, she felt so deserving of her accomplishments that she could actually celebrate them! Her marriage started to improve, she took more time off guilt-free, and stopped letting her anxiety keep her from living her life the way she wanted to.
A key take away for me from this and other experiences I have had is to be nice to everyone I meet, be curious about their dispositions and worldviews, and to never judge a book by their cover without some further investigating. You never know what someone might be going through privately, and the total disconnect they may feel between what others see externally and what they feel internally.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
There are not many individuals that offer therapeutically informed executive coaching. Or, at least there aren’t many that offer this with the proper clinical training, licensure, experience, system, and strategies needed to help clients totally excel.
I remember when one client saying to me, “Gosh, why aren’t there more people like you out there who can do both? I don’t want everything to be about work, and I don’t need everything to get all emotional about my personal life all the time, either. I just want a balance and talk to one person!”
I cannot tell you how many times people have lamented to me about having to sacrifice a part of their life for only one area of success. That frustrates me. I believe in total success and happiness for people. I have found that when one area is not going so well, the others end up following suit after a certain amount of time because everything in a person’s life is influencing the other all the time. You cannot compartmentalize how different areas of your life affect you. That’s why it was critical for me to provide the right support, system, and strategies that focus on all areas, not just one.
My signature system is influenced by my years of being a licensed therapist, and is rooted in a clinical framework that is not only highly effective, but unmatched by other traditional coaching models, that put women on the fast-track to bridging the gap between their external and internal selves so that they can unlock even more success and feel emotionally balanced.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are so many people I am incredibly grateful for who have helped me get to where I am today, and the list honestly keeps growing between family, friends, and mentors. Through it all, my biggest cheerleader has always been my husband, Brent. I definitely would not be where I am without him. He unconditionally supports me, challenges me, and reminds me of how capable I am (even when it comes to my most outlandish goals).
When I wanted to start my business, he was such a supportive, grounding force. I talked his ear off about it almost every night, and I still do. He always listens. When I was becoming more serious about the business coming to fruition, we had a newborn at home. He asked me tough, pragmatic questions at times while also being empowering and loving. He wanted to hear my ideas and how he could best support me. He has never said, “I don’t think this is going to work for you.” At the end of every conversation, he would say something along the lines of, “I’m proud of you, and I know you can do this.” I believe that a true, loving, supportive partner will get into the nitty gritty with you because they so badly want to see you succeed, not set you up for failure. I feel so lucky to have him in my corner all this time and onward, and that he believes in me as much as I like to believe in myself.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the experience of Impostor Syndrome. How would you define Impostor Syndrome? What do people with Imposter Syndrome feel?
Imposter Syndrome is most commonly known as feeling like a fraud in ways that elicit a secret internal doubt in a person’s own skills, competencies, achievements, relationships, talents, and more even though they know and can see how accomplished they truly are.
However, Imposter Syndrome goes beyond just thinking, “I’m a fraud”. Imposter Syndrome is also generally feeling so incredibly disconnected between how you feel about yourself internally and what is happening externally that it evokes perfectionism, competitiveness, anxiety, fear of failure, defensiveness, over-compensation, and more.
People with imposter syndrome have trouble validating their place in their career and their life to the point of feeling paralyzing anxiety. They feel disconnected from others and themselves, unsure of their identity, and constantly on edge.
I believe people with imposter syndrome feel like they somehow lied to get where they are, or that they misrepresented themselves in a way that completely manipulated the system to get them the success, income, accolades, and more that they have earned.
However, deep down, they do know that this isn’t true about themselves. They try to prove that they are worthy of where they are in life for themselves, but, aren’t able to independently quell the fear that says otherwise. Because of this, they have a constant need for external validation, which never fully satiates the imposter’s thirst, and can lead to a downward mental spiral emotionally and self-sabotage of their career and life.
What are the downsides of Impostor Syndrome? How can it limit people?
Imposter Syndrome can be incredibly limiting because it can cause total self-sabotage from a self-fulfilling prophecy — manifesting the exact outcomes that people with imposter syndrome fear in the first place.
The behaviors triggered by imposter syndrome can lead to extreme defensiveness, avoidance, anxiety, heightened sensitivity, drastic mood changes, pushing others away, and validating false impressions of self when faced with criticism, feedback, and feeling “wrong” or like they don’t belong where they are.
It leads to constantly overthinking interpersonal interactions and replaying situations in their head that may have exposed them being a “fraud”. It also leads to working excessively long hours or devoting too much time to smaller tasks, which cuts into self-care and leisure time.
Worst of all, imposter syndrome and its effects can come home with you and negatively impact your personal life. Not only does the overworking take time away from your personal life, it can also lead to fearing abandonment, questioning why others like or love you, and constantly seeking external validation to the point that others become exhausted by you and feeling hopeless in showing you your worth.
The emotional spirals become frustrating for the person struggling with imposter syndrome and everyone in their life. It highlights a lack of confidence and insecurity that other people may not have otherwise seen, which reinforces the self-fulfilling prophecy.
Imposter Syndrome is like having a leaky bucket where the leak if your lack of confidence to keep the water. When the leak is left untreated, the last option is to keep begging for water externally; however, there is only so much water that can be given and retained without patching the leak to keep the water line filled to the brim (and overflowing).
How can the experience of Impostor Syndrome impact how one treats others?
One of the biggest impacts is how negatively it can influence the way one connects with others. It can make you so unsure of yourself in relationships that it can lead to one of three behaviors: avoidance, defensiveness, and/or clinginess. You might avoid any interactions that could possibly expose that you are a fraud, become defensive when you feel threatened exposure of being a fraud, or seek a lot of reassurance and external validation to receive approval that you are not a fraud. Because of the heightened sensitivity to possible exposure, it totally limits a person’s ability to show up in relationships as their true selves, feel secure, and have an authentic connection. As I mentioned before, it can lead to pushing people away as they feel they have to do the bulk of the work helping you feel like you are not an imposter. People do notice when someone isn’t being their authentic self that is fully aligned externally and internally, and it can be a huge turn off.
We would love to hear your story about your experience with Impostor Syndrome. Would you be able to share that with us?
I had struggled with Imposter Syndrome since I was a teenager, though I didn’t have the language to label it as such.
Before I invested in working on myself and my mindset, I felt like I looked like I had my life together on the outside; however, I was anxiously flailing internally. I struggled with a constant paradox with myself: I got good grades, but secretly felt I didn’t work hard enough to deserve them. I went to great schools, but secretly felt I got into them by mistake or through luck. I confidently provided my opinions and ideas, but would ruminate about what I said and analyze the reactions for hours.
I was so anxious all of the time. I felt like I wasn’t really who anyone thought I was on the outside. I knew deep down I earned everything that I had and that I provided value; however, I was so scared that it wasn’t true.
It led to me not being the best at taking feedback, because, to me, it meant that other people were holding up a mirror to me that was saying, “Look, you aren’t who or what you say you are and we know it.” It was truly anxiety-provoking and a real insecure version of myself, and it robbed me from a lot of incredible opportunities for myself.
Did you ever shake the feeling off? If yes, what have you done to mitigate it or eliminate it?
I have — that’s not to say that self-doubt or some imposter syndrome never pops up. I definitely do, still! It just doesn’t stand in my way any more or waste my time. I don’t let it inhibit me from reaching my goals, and I can have both feelings of self-doubt and validation of everything I have accomplished.
I had to invest in my own mindset and do some really hard work on myself. I hired a coach of my own, went to therapy, and would open up to my loved ones for support. I had to take really hard looks at myself, rewrite the toxic narratives that were holding me back since childhood, and rewire my brain to align my accomplishments with my feelings about myself without any doubts.
Through my own process, I was not only able to rewire my mindset, I was also able to open new doors for myself by starting my own business, earning a higher income, speaking more directly, feeling less guilt about taking vacations (and taking more of them), and also experiencing unconditional love in my relationships.
My own work on banishing imposter syndrome, combined with my years of clinical and executive coaching experience, has helped me create the therapeutically informed system I deliver to my clients to help them ditch their own inner critics. It truly is amazing what can be unlocked once you are empowered to take control of your Imposter Syndrome and tell it to hit the curb. I don’t think most people know what greatness is awaiting for them on the other side once they stop letting their self-doubt run the show. I’ll tell you firsthand, it is the most liberating feeling in the world, and I had no idea how much better life could get, how much more free I could feel to be myself, and how much more I could truly accomplish (and feel so worthy of).
In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone who is experiencing Impostor Syndrome can take to move forward despite feeling like an “Impostor”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Personify Your Inner Critic
First of all, you are not your inner critic. It makes up just a part of you, but does not define you as the whole person. Personify your inner critic: name them, describe what they look like, describe what their voice is like, is it a soft voice or a quiet voice? Once you have done that, whenever they start telling you that you are a “fraud”, that you achieved success by “luck”, that you don’t belong, then you as yourself can talk back to it and tell it to get lost.
Make a List of “Unshakable” Beliefs, Values, and Talents
Write down what you know to be true about yourself and your identity. What are the beliefs, values, and talents that you have where if someone said to you, “I don’t think you believe/value/can do XYZ” you would say “Yes I do” without any doubt.
Write Down Your Accomplishments
Create a list of what you have accomplished and achieved: from the schools you attended, to your promotions and raises, the good things in your family/love life, accolades, and more. Continuously reminding yourself of all that you have achieved helps eradicate the imposter and bridge the disconnect you are having with these experiences.
Visualize Your Life Without The Imposter
My favorite question to ask is, “What would be or feel different about your life if the imposter was no longer in it?” Think about the person you would be, how others would treat you, what career you would be in, how colleagues and family would treat you, what kind of romantic relationship would you have, how many vacations would you take, etc. Once you are able to imagine this life, and keep visualizing it, you will be better able to visualize how you can get there. Your imposter is telling you that you are incapable and to not visualize success. The more you visualize how everything will be without the imposter, the clearer the path will be to getting there with your capabilities.
Practice Mindfulness Daily
It is really to get caught up with racing thoughts about the past and future, which can create even more stress and reinforce thoughts and feeling associated with imposter syndrome. By practicing mindfulness and being non-judgmentally present with oneself, even for ten minutes a day, there will be a noticeable shift in mood, behavior, and how often the imposter shows themselves. It will leave you feeling more grounded, slowed, and in tune with yourself.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would encourage everyone to engage in the “Stuart Smalley”, based on the SNL skit about self-help. Though the skit was meant to be cheesy and playful, I think that the more we engage in positive self-talk, the more we show ourselves what we are capable of. I believe in confirmation bias: interpreting new evidence into existing beliefs. If we practice believing in ourselves more and telling ourselves what we are capable of, the more evidence we will notice to confirm that we are worth believing in and what we are truly capable of, and then we will take action on it!
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
I would want to sit down with Brene Brown — she is such an empowering force of nature, and a woman I really look up to. The way she normalizes shame, vulnerability, imperfection, and more through her storytelling is a gift I encourage everyone to give themselves through her books, interviews, and videos. She is someone who helped me on my own journey with imposter syndrome, and continuously checks me on my humanness, because she is doing that herself. She is full of wisdom from research and life experience. I have had the privilege of attending one of her talks; however, being able to exchange words with her and pick her brain would be life changing!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can catch up with me on LinkedIn and on Instagram (@claudiaminnercoaching). I post daily with tips on how you can stop letting Imposter Syndrome get in the way of stepping into your inner power.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!