They don’t need to look for external validation. The need to acknowledge themselves constantly for all they achieve, no matter how “small” the achievement may seem. That self-validation is the constant reminder that they are good enough.
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 Heather Rider.
Heather Rider, known professionally as The Energy Synergist, is an anxiety specialist who personally overcame high-functioning anxiety and Imposter Syndrome while working in a demanding Tech job.
She works with clients from all over the world who want to take a nontraditional, holistic approach to healing anxiety.
She regularly writes and presents on the issues of perfectionism, Imposter Syndrome, high-functioning anxiety and other anxiety related topics.
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’?
For years I struggled with high functioning anxiety and perfectionism (the two go hand-in-hand). But I didn’t know I had anxiety and had never heard of high functioning anxiety. The “functioning” part is incredibly accurate.
I was highly functional and successful, but on the inside I was a “hot mess.” I just thought I was stressed out all the time.
Eventually, from years of overwhelm and anxiety, I got very sick with a severe autoimmune reaction. My nervous system was shot and my body just gave out.
That illness really forced me to slow down and heal. Through healing my physical body, I got the emotional healing that I didn’t even realize I needed.
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?
I used to work in Technology in Austin. Through recovering from that auto immune reaction, I really transformed my life. I overcame high functioning anxiety and I realized that my mission and the reason I am here is to help other people heal from the emotional reasons they have anxiety.
I left the world of Tech to open my business. I’ll talk more about Imposter Syndrome in my own life later. But, if I hadn’t beaten Imposter Syndrome, I wouldn’t have been able to have the courage to leave a very well-paying job to start my own business.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I take a very unusual approach to helping people heal from anxiety. It’s a mix of coaching and energy work, plus a lot of practical tips and tools. I’ve cultivated my method through working with hundreds of clients.
I had one client, Sarah, who told me at the end of her first session with me, “I got more out of this one session than years of therapy.”
My technique is unique, and clients are able to have noticeable results in a fairly short amount of time.
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?
I would define Imposter Syndrome as immense feelings of self-doubt or unworthiness. If you have Imposter Syndrome, you feel like a fraud and like you’re going to be “found out.”
That feeling can be surreal (I had a client describe it like she was having an out of body experience). When I suffered from Imposter Syndrome, I felt like I was in a movie, but it was my life. I remember thinking that “I can’t do this” while I was at work.
It didn’t make any sense. I was doing the think I thought I pretending to do. It felt like I was faking it, but I wasn’t. I was actually doing real, quality work.
What are the downsides of Impostor Syndrome? How can it limit people?
Imposter Syndrome holds people back from work success and personal interests as well.
At work, on way that Imposter Syndrome holds people back is by keeping the person with Imposter Syndrome from providing input or sharing their ideas (particularly in meetings, where they won’t speak up or join in the conversation).
They fear they don’t have anything valuable to say, with an internal dialogue of keeping themselves quiet because of the fear they will say something “stupid,” or thinking that their ideas aren’t as valuable as others’, whom they see as having more experience.
In one’s personal life, Imposter Syndrome can hold people back in a myriad of ways. Often people won’t go to exercise classes (like yoga for example) because they think they don’t know what they are doing and compare themselves to others in the room who are more experienced.
People with Imposter Syndrome often won’t try creative pursuits as a hobby, like creating art for example. They think they have to be amazing right away, instead of allowing themselves to be a beginner.
They are really limiting joy and expression in their lives.
How can the experience of Impostor Syndrome impact how one treats others?
Because of the massive self-doubt that comes with Imposter Syndrome, that feeling of unworthiness can start to transfer over into other areas of someone’s life, including their personal romantic relationships.
Doubt can start to creep in about the relationship. The person with Imposter Syndrome may be thinking “I’m not good enough at work; maybe I’m not good enough for this person either.”
We would love to hear your story about your experience with Impostor Syndrome. Would you be able to share that with us?
I got into the work I do now because a number of years ago, I was struggling with high functioning anxiety (which is hidden anxiety because I was highly functional in the world), I was also a lot perfectionism and Imposter Syndrome.
I worked in Technology in Austin in the early 2000’s. I left the field and Austin and moved to Charlotte, where I alternated as a stay at home mom and a school librarian, which I did because the schedule worked well with having little kids.
But, I made $38,000 as a librarian, and after I got a divorce, that wasn’t going to cut it.
So, I moved back to Austin to get back into tech and through the power of networking, got a job after being out of the field for 10 years. That is a really long time to be out of Tech.
And what happened, is I found myself at the job full of total overwhelm, feeling like I didn’t know what I was doing.
One day at work, I had the most surreal experience. I felt like I was inside a movie. Like I was an actor in my own life and that while I was doing the work, it felt like I was pretending to do the work. So there I am doing the work, but it felt like I was pretending to do the work, even though I was actually doing the work.
The sensation that I had was so bizarre that I did a Google search of some sort related to the way I was feeling.
I don’t remember what magical keywords I used, but a result for Imposter Syndrome came back.
I read this webpage and was like — whoa, this is describing me EXACTLY.
I did not know that Imposter Syndrome had a name — I had never heard of it and didn’t know that other people felt the way I was feeling.
So, I knew that Imposter Syndrome was really holding me back from success at work, because I was so full of doubt about everything I was doing, so much so that I wanted to quit that job.
Did you ever shake the feeling off? If yes, what have you done to mitigate it or eliminate it?
Luckily, I had met a life coach right around that time at a networking event. I contacted her and bought a package of sessions with her.
I had never worked with a life coach, but I knew I needed help. And help I got.
We had a really powerful session that helped with that Imposter Syndrome.
And after that, I had a huge breakthrough at work and really knocked a project out of the park. That success gave me so much confidence that I wound up asking for a raise.
I did get a raise, but it wasn’t enough. So, I started job hunting and landed a job where I was offered over $35,000 more per year in salary, plus stock options. Which I said yes to (a big Heck Yes!!).
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.
One step is to recognize that in the US, it is estimated that at least 70% of people have experienced Imposter Syndrome. When you know how wide spread and pervasive the phenomena is, you don’t feel so alone. That statistic really put the syndrome in context for a lot of people.
A second step is to learn to recognize when the Imposter is talking to you. This takes a level of self-awareness and practice. The voice is so sneaky and invasive, at first it is hard to distinguish. But it is absolutely there.
Once you start to notice that it is talking, you can start to “reframe” it into a much nicer voice. The way to do that is with some gentle questioning. If the voice is telling you “You can’t do this; you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Ask yourself “Why do I think I can’t do this?” Ask yourself “Is it true that I don’t know what I’m doing?” Through this process, you’ll start to realize that the voice of the Imposter isn’t true. You’ll start to find evidence against what the voice is telling you.
Going back to the story that I shared about how I felt like I was in a movie (that surreal feeling I had) while I was at work and struggling with Imposter Syndrome, the voice inside my head said “I can’t do this.”
I was doing it. I was legitimately doing the work that the voice was telling me I couldn’t do. So, I should have been asking myself “Why do I think I can’t do this? It seems like I am actually doing the work.”
A third step is to talk to people that you trust either at work or that you admire about how you are feeling. Tell them how full of doubt you are.
This is the time to vulnerable. Since Imposter Syndrome is so wide spread, you’ll be surprised at the response you get, because most likely the person you’re talking to will be able to relate.
They will share with you how they felt like a fraud in their lives. You’ll most likely be looking at them and thinking “Wait. You are so successful! You’ve felt this way too?!”
I have had friends and clients who are incredibly successful tell me about how the Imposter appeared in their life. These are people that other people look up to and admire — successful business owners or employees, some of whom have won awards or are “top producers” and they too have felt Imposter Syndrome in their lives.
A fourth step is validate your own success and achievements, no matter how small. It is useful to keep a “Successes” journal that you write in either every day or at the end of every week. Write down your accomplishments, not matter how “small.”
People with Imposter Syndrome really discount their work. They make excuses for why their successes “don’t count.” They attribute the success to luck, or to other people’s role in the situation.
If you want to get past Imposter Syndrome, you have to start acknowledging how much you do know and how much you have achieved and continue to achieve.
I had a really big success at the job where I had Imposter Syndrome. That was a huge turning point for me. I recognized the accomplishment and I thought to myself “You did this. This was all you. If you did it once, you can do it again.”
A fifth step is to learn to ask for help whenever you feel like an Imposter. If it is at work, ask a trusted colleague or mentor for their opinion about what you are doing, or ask for them to share their knowledge with you.
People with Imposter Syndrome are afraid to ask for help because they think it will make it look like they don’t know what they are doing. If they feel like a fraud, they think that asking for help will only prove to someone else that they are a fraud.
This just isn’t true. I’ve found that people actually love to help other people because it makes them feel smart and validated.
People are usually more than willing to help and ultimately, it is good for them as well, because someone in a “teaching” role is usually getting something for themselves. They are learning through the explaining.
If you ask for help, you will be able to implement the knowledge that was shared with you and you’ll be able to move so much faster than if you try to “go it alone.” It makes it so much easier on 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. 🙂
My movement would be called the “You Are Good Enough.” Since I’m talking to you today about Imposter Syndrome, I really want your audience to know that they are good enough. They have accomplished enough and already have expertise.
They don’t need to look for external validation. The need to acknowledge themselves constantly for all they achieve, no matter how “small” the achievement may seem.
That self-validation is the constant reminder that they are good enough.
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 🙂
Brene Brown is amazing. She is real, vulnerable and has loads of wisdom for us all. It would be an honor to meet her.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!