Am I filling my boots? Changemakers battle with imposter syndrome

Am I filling my boots? Changemakers battle with imposter syndrome
October 2023
Bronagh Loughlin

Bronagh Loughlin Author

Journalist and columnist

Imposter syndrome is not a mental health issue but is a strong set of intrusive thoughts and feelings involving getting anxious and not experiencing success internally.

Usually, people experiencing this emotional whirlwind are high-performing in external, objective ways. However, they still feel like ‘a phoney’ or a fraud’ and question and doubt their abilities. They are continuously anticipating their fraudulence and inadequacy to come to light.

There is added stress with imposter syndrome to keep up the ‘charade’; that time is running out, and they will be uncovered.

Generally, imposter syndrome creeps up when you begin to appear publicly or in front of other people.

As a leader trying to make change happen, initiate climate action or raise awareness about societal issues, putting yourself out there into the world is part of the deal.

Some common characteristics of imposter syndrome include undervaluing contributions, self-doubt, and attributing success to external factors.

A survey by NerdWallet uncovered that 78 per cent of business leaders experience imposter syndrome, and it causes 59 per cent to consider leaving their role.

Sabotaging self-success, constant fear of not living up to people’s expectations, setting unrealistic expectations, and burnout are also known to occur.

Burnout enters the equation here because it is very common for people to push themselves too intensely to overcome a sense of incompetence.

Slowly, their work becomes more of a chore than a source of passion, purpose, creativity, and meaning because they are burning the candle at both ends.

Imposter syndrome drives anxiety and fear of not being good enough and can easily lead to burnout and mental health issues. Image: Pexels

If you are working in the sustainability or social justice space, leading an ambitious project, you’ve probably experienced imposter syndrome before on some level.

It is partly because you are not just exposing yourself but have the added challenge of trying to get people to ‘buy’ into your mission and, most likely, your passion.

You may think to yourself: ‘Why should they listen to me?’, ‘There is probably someone more suitable to drive them to make these changes’, the list goes on.

Imposter syndrome is something I feel regularly and has only intensified since I transitioned from a freelancer to a social entrepreneur by founding Purpose Content Studio, which set out to change the climate narrative. Now, I find myself feeling out of my depth and far outside of my comfort zone.

It doesn’t sound so bad when you see the word ‘owner’, but the title ‘CEO’, ‘Founder’, or ‘Director’ definitely causes some uneasiness, particularly for those who do not have the highest levels of self-esteem, like me. I think it is because a lot of pressure comes from these titles.

Especially when operating in arenas where change is vital, there is real pressure that because you are a ‘changemaker’ or ‘leader’, you must have all the answers and constantly achieve small or big wins.

Just as many are hesitant to adopt sustainable changes or take climate action for fear they won’t add up to much of an impact, those who suffer from imposter syndrome worry their contribution won’t matter.

Like most people reading this, I have put in the time, energy, and hard work to get to where I am today.

There’s much evidence to suggest I am wearing the right shoes, but still, my mind needs some convincing, and I worry I need to go up a size and a half.

Some may even think imposter syndrome is not a big deal, that it has more to do with self-image and esteem.

However, research has found that it can impact work performance and relationships, dripping into other areas of your life; in my experience, I’ve found myself suddenly not feeling competent or good enough in other instances.

The premise of imposter syndrome is that you are not good enough, and your current portfolio of achievements is the simple result of luck, leaving you with that little voice in your head of self-doubt despite success – washing away the enjoyment of your achievement.

Our minds are like sponges, and just as we can recondition to improve our well-being and self-esteem, continuously thinking poorly of ourselves can do the exact opposite.

Of course, ‘snapping out of it’, as some would say, is a lot easier said than done.

Despite imposter syndrome being incredibly common in the social entrepreneur and impact innovator community, many still feel ashamed to speak openly about experiencing it.

In saying that, silence and isolation are what keep these demons kicking.

You’d be surprised to learn how many people in your circle are dealing with these exact struggles, feeling inadequate and worthless. In order to deal with imposter syndrome and replace these feelings of incompetence with beliefs of adequacy and greatness, we need to encourage conversations.

Imposter syndrome has to stop being a hush-hush topic and be understood as something we all struggle with at some point, reframing it as a signal that it is time for growth and good things are pending.

Bronagh Loughlin

Bronagh Loughlin Author

Journalist and columnist