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EP17: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Do you question whether you’re deserving of accolades and accomplishments? Do you feel like you’re faking it? Interestingly, imposter syndrome largely affects high-achieving people. Coach Suzanne is a mindset coach who helps her clients transform their bodies and minds to create lasting changes in their lives. She explores what it might mean for you if you did acknowledge your achievements, and why your accomplishments may look profound to someone else—just not to you. With her own powerful story of transformation, Suzanne unpacks some of the reasons we may fail to accept or feel worthy of our success.

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Victoria: Imposter syndrome is loosely defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. It largely affects high achieving people, potentially, but I may come back to that point, who find it difficult to accept their accomplishments and many questioning whether they’re really deserving of their accolades and their achievements.

So it’s a conversation that I would love to explore here today with one of our extraordinary coaches on Hello Coach, Suzanne. Now, Suzanne has an incredible background, which I would love to share. In addition to her years of experience and qualifications as a coach, Suzanne has a Bachelor of Medical Science and a Certificate III and IV in fitness, and she’s certainly no stranger to achieving some incredible goals herself. And in fact, it was while working with a mindset coach on achieving her goals, that she became truly inspired to become a coach and then share what she had learnt with others and to help others. So today I’d love you to welcome to the show, again, Suzanne, lovely to have you here.

Suzanne: Thank you, Victoria.

Victoria: So imposter syndrome, this is a widely talked about topic. It feels it’s always trending. It never goes away anywhere. And there are so many different levels of imposter syndrome and, for once and for all, I would love to unpack, really, what the symptoms are. Firstly, so for anyone listening, whether they can identify that they may actually be suffering from imposter syndrome to then explore some solutions and strategies that help people ultimately embrace every part of who they are, no matter what, flaws, warts and all to really embrace their authentic self. So I’m looking very much forward to having this conversation.

Suzanne: So am I.

Victoria: Over to you. I would love to know with your years of being a coach, how, what are some of the signs and symptoms when clients have come to you that they may not have the label of imposter syndrome, but you know, that what they’re sharing with you are direct signs that they are dealing with some serious imposter fraud syndrome going on?

Suzanne: I think one of the biggest things is not acknowledging what they’ve achieved. And I can talk for myself for this, as well, because when we do something to somebody else, it might look profound or amazing or life-changing. But because we have lived through the entire process, we don’t see it as that. So like for myself, having released 78 kilograms, a lot of people, a lot of people are like, that’s more than I weigh.

That’s more than that, you know, that they’re blown away by that. But I lived it, so it doesn’t seem like it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. And for me, like, the biggest thing that kind of made me understand imposter syndrome is a quote and it’s, Neil Gaiman – Neil Armstrong at an event. I can’t remember the exact quote, but he’s like Neil Armstrong’s looking around and he’s like, I don’t, I don’t feel like I belong here.

And it’s like, if the first man who walked on the moon, doesn’t feel like he belongs in this room, like to everybody else – that’s such an achievement. So I think what leads us to whatever we call it, you know, imposter syndrome or something is that we don’t really acknowledge what we have achieved.

Suzanne: And I think the reason for that. Perfectionism. So it’s I didn’t do it perfectly or it wasn’t you know exactly. So me with a weight loss thing, if I’m truly honest and we were talking about radically honesty, before that I got that big in the first place. So, you know, like I allow myself to get to that stage. So that’s what holds me back in ways from acknowledging the journey to release it.

So I think a lot of people don’t realize what they’ve gone through because they’ve lived through it. It didn’t happen when you hear someone’s story, you hear an instant. Wow. that was three years of my life, or 30 years, if you look at how my weight went up and down, so it’s a lived experience.

It’s not instant. And, we maybe haven’t taken time to reflect on it.

Victoria: This is an interesting question. I might deviate for a moment. I’m wondering whether – we’re both coaches – we’ve both been coaching for a very long time, but this question I still wonder… I’m curious as to whether any imposter syndrome symptoms are triggered or driven as a result of if we do acknowledge our achievements – what now?

Suzanne: Yes.

Victoria: Like, I know we were talking about this before you came on, but I think that there is a definite connection or a driver or a trigger that if we were to really celebrate our achievements, A) what would that mean about us? Would that mean that we are fear – our decisions largely motivated by fear… would that mean then that we would become complacent?

Would that mean that we might or fear that we might lose our motivation to go onto other goals? And therefore, we also then next it might have a conflict with, ‘Are, we really entitled to then keep going after other goals?’. I have, there’s this almost duality that happens that either keeps us in imposter syndrome so we can either stay there, or if we did embrace our acknowledgements and our achievements, another layer then comes up and I don’t want to complicate the conversation here, but another wave then comes up. If we do acknowledge our achievements, what then does that say about me? How then would people perceive me if that was important to you?

How would I perceive myself? How would that then change? Would it change who I am or how I lead my life? So I’d love to unpack that a little bit more with you. And I know mindset is a huge part of imposter syndrome and the beliefs that we have around us. But I’m curious what drives someone to feel that they are experiencing this fraud-like personality?

Suzanne: Yes, fraud, like, that’s a nugget I can go on to because if or when you achieve your goal, whatever your goal is, I’m thinking here more like artists. If you write a song that becomes a bestseller, or if you write a book, there becomes a pressure. Like people are waiting for the next hit, the next book, the next thing.

And, sometimes it can almost be better not to achieve in the first place, because you’re always like I could have, I could have been one of the greats. And then once you are, there’s this expectation, like what are you going to make next? And what happens? What happens If this thing you make next doesn’t land with the same people or in the same way?

So the pressure is not there initially, but it is after some form of achievement.

Victoria: So what, when we have imposter syndrome, how does that display in our bodies? How does that display in our day-to-day world? How does that show up? For someone that may be experiencing this, but isn’t really clear of the checklist, if there is such a checklist, if we could create a checklist, what would be some of the signs that you can say ‘Yes, that’s me. Yeah, that’s me too. Oh yeah. That’s a little bit of me there too’.

Suzanne: I think it would very much vary from person to person, but for the clients I tend to work with it would be not speaking up. So like I say, you see a discussion or you see something that you really like to contribute to, but maybe your opinion is different to the majority there so you don’t want to like, a fear of confrontation.

That’s a more clear way of saying it. Maybe not wanting to be seen as the authority, because sometimes we can feel almost bully-like, ‘I’m the authority on this’. we don’t want to own that thing because other people’s experiences will be different. Like I know for me, we’ve weight release.

Other people haven’t had the journey I’ve had. So stepping into saying, this is the way to do it. They have different bodies, different genetics, different histories, different, that kind of thing. So, um, acknowledging people’s differences can make you question whether to like to stand up and own that.

And I think the third thing would be, maybe not wanting to,Well, Like you can get defined by what you’ve done. Like I’m sure we’ll talk about Neil Armstrong earlier. He’s ‘the man who walked on the moon’, like forever. and people like the weight-loss coach. So sometimes I don’t even have a name it’s ‘oh, she’s the weight lady’. And she’s the person who does weight.

So it’s you don’t want to be pigeonholed into that thing. You want to be more connected and totality of all of who you are. And also it might not give you a position to perhaps explore something else. Cause people are always wanting to ask you about that thing that you have done before.

Victoria: That’s really interesting. I wanted to go back on something that another sign, or a fear that may be driving your imposter syndrome, where you commented around having a fear of being seen as being in the role of authority, then that goes back to another podcast conversation, I do remember a while ago, around fitting in and belonging.

So there is this underlying, if I do this, there’s going to be consequences. And if I don’t do it, there’s going to be consequences. And which path do I choose? And ultimately, yes – we want you to choose the path where you are constantly having that, because I do love what you said, radical honesty with yourself, no matter what.

And it needs to be a mantra every day of who you are, obviously there are ways to express that radical honesty. However, it’s having almost an internal code of ethics for yourself, as I’ve explained it to many years with my own clients, that when you’re clear on your own code of ethics and your own internal value system.

And if you choose to have radical honesty as a part of that, then no matter what happens, you will be grounded in that. And you’ll be solid in that. No matter others’ opinions, perceptions, whether you, and it helps quiet down your other fears around not being able to speak up, fear of being seen in a position of authority and how then others may react to you differently. And a lot of our decisions are based on fear

Suzanne: Yes.

Victoria: And if you can isolate it and call it out, the other question really is an opportunity. And I know Marianne Williamson, I’ve read her stuff for so many years. Oh my God. Like 30 years. And she has this incredible saying of, you know, it’s not the fear that we fear, it’s the light that we have within us.

And I know that sounds a bit corny, but I hope everyone would just bear with me. And it’s the… we actually fear our power and what we are capable of. And yeah. What those changes may or may not bring about, but we have a duty to ourselves as human beings on the planet. We have a choice that you can, I have lots of sayings, but you can shrink or you can choose to shine.

And often, sometimes having that internal question. When you are faced with challenging situations and I’ve used this myself, we just stop, reflect and ask ourselves, is this a situation that I’m actually shrinking right now? Or if I chose a different response and I chose to shine, what would my language display?

What would my mindset be? What would my decisions be? And therefore, what would my actions be?

And it’s quite a powerful exercise to help squash the imposter syndrome. I mean, that’s just something that I’ve used over the years and I would love to know some solutions. That you have shared with your clients where they have come back to you the next week or the session after and said, oh my gosh, I went and did this.

And yes, it had the result that I wanted to, and suddenly that monkey on their shoulder, the imposter monkey, the voice becomes a little quieter.

Suzanne: I love that question. I love the shrink-or-shine analogy. So something I do with my clients, which is similar is… I personally don’t uphold the fake it till you make it thing, because then you are faking it. And the whole thing with imposter syndrome is you feel fake. So people often go, they go, oh, I know I have to fake it till I make it.

And I’m like, no, no, no, no, hold up. But a reframe for that is ‘act as’. So, you at your highest and best, ultimately, I would like to appear happy, confident self-assured, whichever it is, what would that version of you do and ‘act as if’. So you’re not faking it, you’re not pretending to be someone else.

You’re not ignoring the fact that, perhaps your mouth is dry or you’re sweaty or whatever, but you’re ‘acting as if’ it’s the highest and best you is there. And for me, with my own radical honesty, it’s saying the things, because people love that because everybody tends to feel it. They just don’t say it.

And so if you get up in front of a room and you’re feeling like, and you comment that, and it’s like this, just take a big breath together and everybody does it. You can just feel tension to the room or that the mood of the room calm. With a lot of my clients, if they have something that they’re really anxious about, or nervous about, we would do a process in a session where we take them to where they’ve already achieved. and we kind of rewind and what did they do to prep? What did they say? What are the potential pitfalls? Not to be afraid to go there. What’re all the things that could go wrong, not to live there, but to go, ‘but I overcame’ so if you envisage the thing you want to do and this could happen and this could happen?

How did you get around it? So it’s, you know, instead of ‘fake it till you make it’ act as if, and then on the back of that, once you’ve done it often, it’s ‘Oh, it wasn’t that bad’. Like I got all in my head for nothing, or, I actually don’t want to do this, so I want to do this instead. So be open to the path meandering rather than being stuck with, you know, how, because the way I released 78 kilograms, it’s not the way I thought at the beginning.

So taking that step reassessing, with your coach, or journaling taking the next step and realizing this is a whole journey, rather than putting everything onto that one thing that you’re trying to do in the moment.

Victoria: That’s really interesting. I was reading some research recently that up to 82% of every human being experiences, an element of imposter syndrome in their life at one point. Some may experience it multiple times in multiple areas of their life. So it’s good to call it out that you’re not unusual. It’s quite common, but we have a choice around how we tackle the feelings or the restrictions that mindset is actually having on us and what we can do to move out of that imposter syndrome mindset, which is the most important thing.

I was curious, did you, because you do have such an extraordinary story around your own body transformation and weight loss, did you experience an element of having being a fraud or being an imposter in your new body? Not what, not when you were losing weight, but when you actually achieved your accomplishment and your target of that weight loss?

Suzanne: All the time. So it’s, it totally is a new identity and it’s a shift and it’s a process and something, with… with learning, personal development, coaching, whatever we do, a breakthrough can happen in an instant. You can be listening to this podcast and have an aha and go, oh my gosh, that’s amazing.

That’s your breakthrough. But it doesn’t become a transformation until you apply it consistently and persistently and for myself and for the people I work with, there’s often a lot of fear. Like what if I gain the weight back? And I can’t say that fear has ever gone away, but what I do have now is a strong sense of, I have the skills, I have the capabilities, I have the know-how I’ve done this before.

So it’s not that the fear is not there, but it’s that you, Okay. You walk with both because the thing with imposter syndrome or however you want to word it, we know who we are at our worst. When we’re sitting on the couch and we’ve got dirty clothes on and the sink’s full of dishes and we can’t be bothered and we going to eat chocolate and just not care about the world, we all have those moments.

We don’t share them publicly, necessarily, but we feel like what would people think if they knew? Chances are everyone has their own version of that, their own thing that they keep really silent. The thing is not to abolish that or make that wrong or get rid of it. It’s to find the you that you want to become and walk with both rather than I have to get rid of this before I can become that.

You have the aspects of both. You already know who you are at your most, not wanting to be seen, instead of moving that away or getting rid of it, explore who you are your best and allow both to co-exist.

Victoria: There is a constant pull and push scenario when we have a driver of a fraud, personality or fraud, imposter syndrome. And if we remove that, then what happens to us?And going back to what you were mentioning, we all have had moments and we will continue to have moments, particularly whilst we have been in lockdown for the last two years of moments on the couch, where we are sitting there, binge-watching Netflix, Netflix is getting a big promotion today, and you know, you’re sitting there with your ice cream or the chips or whatever it is. But in some respects, as I have the 80-20 rule, 80%, you really on it and you, following what you need to thrive in the world. And then 20% of the time you loosen the dial to allow your human self to come forward, to switch off, to disconnect as long as it’s 80% on your routine and your rituals and your best self coming forward.

And 20% where you relax a little bit and you have some downtime and you are kind and compassionate in that moment and you don’t beat yourself up. If you do, if you are on the couch with your Uggies and your tracksuit on, and there’s dishes in the sink, it’s just like, you know what?

I’m actually okay with this right now. Because the other part of it is if we keep striving and I’m all for accomplishments, I’m all for seeing what you can create in your world. And I see life as a big playground, in many respects, but there also needs to be done in a way that doesn’t sacrifice you.

Suzanne: Mm.

Victoria: Let me unpack that a little bit more.

It doesn’t impact your health, and it doesn’t impact your work-life balance, it doesn’t impact your relationships and suddenly, you know, when you are on that path of accomplishments and achievements, if the scales are not balanced, there are – consequences feels a really inappropriate word, but it’s all I can think of right now – but there’s a cause and effect that when you strive too hard, the other part of the scales will eventually topple over.

So it’s also, as you embrace your acknowledgements, enjoying the journey for a moment of however long, that moment is like enjoying that loss of 78 kilos. Enjoying that before you go right now, I need to go on and my goals and other 10 kilos and you miss the celebration. And that’s, that’s what the imposter syndrome, in my experience… it rips you off.

It’s like the, uh, the thief of joy that takes the way, any presence or mindfulness to that incredible achievement that you’ve just created in your world and let it breathe. Let it have space before you then literally set the next lot of goals. And I think that this is an important part to talk about on the journey of coaching and outcomes and goals and all of that, because I think it’s wonderful, but part of that wonderful journey is being able to acknowledge the small steps as well as the big steps, along the way, and sitting in it for a while…

Suzanne: Mm.

Victoria: …and acknowledging it and being grateful and saying how clever you are in that moment, and really reaffirming how extraordinary you are to have reached that point. That takes effort.

Suzanne: There’s so much in there. What you said that the biggest standout for me was the difference between the human being and the human doing, like, I know, when we’re stuck in imposter syndrome, it’s almost like you can’t take a break. It’s like, I’m not doing enough. And then when you take that break, you can feel guilty.

So in what you’re trying to achieve, it’s like if you’re climbing a mountain, what’s the point of climbing. If you get to the top and you don’t stop to enjoy the view, life is a mountain with no peak. There’s always going to be like… you can’t see it when you’re at the base, but you get to the top and you, and then you see another mountain.

So you’re like, I’ll go and climb that. And then you see another mountain and you can get stuck on this journey of forever climbing and doing. But if you like, okay, I’ve done this thing. I’m going to pause. I’m going to enjoy the view. I’m going to allow the feelings to settle in. And like I did this, it’s funny I wrote a book recently and I published it and…

Victoria: The book is called?

Suzanne: It’s got an inappropriate title. The beginning is…

Victoria: We love that, what’s it called?

Suzanne: Oh, ‘The Beginning is Sh*t’

Victoria: Excellent!

Suzanne: And I write my book and I published it. I immediately started writing my second book and it was really funny. People were like, and somebody brought it over. And like, now that we’re open, can you sign it? And I was like…

Aye. Aye. Aye. That moment signing that book, I was like, I’m really an author now. I hadn’t even acknowledged that I was already on. So they’d say you teach what you most need to know, but like writing that book, that moment of holding it in my hands, flipping through the pages, smelling it, having a tangible thing.

That was the best part, then selling it and promoting it never crossed my mind, but it’s kind of like the thing that you’re doing, whatever you’re engaged in, what are you hoping to feel? How can you save at that moment at the end, rather than like tick – next. And it’s something I have to remind myself of constantly.

Victoria: And it becomes very much a cerebral journey rather than a heart-led journey, which I think is a really good distinction in that great example of you writing a book. And they’re the sheer blood, sweat, and tears that it takes to write a book, not only with a full-time coaching business and raising incredible children and being a mom and wife and sister and friend, and all the other thousand roles that we have in our world to then carve out such special time for your message.

And then to let that really settle in. And when people come up to you and have said, Hey, can you sign my book? That, that Suzanne in that moment, I know that it was… you did the book for you. Yes. But you also did it to share your message. And I, we, you and I speak about this a lot that if you can. You teach what you most need to get, but if you can, alchemize your own mess and turn it into a profound message to then help others.

Then this is why we’re on the planet. And in that moment, that was your opportunity. I’d love to know what you did with that next, but your opportunity to really take a breath and drink it all in. That you had made a profound difference in someone’s world somewhere. And this is why we do what we do as coaches, I do believe.

Suzanne: Hmm.

Victoria: And it’s about having, making a difference in people’s world and helping them break down really sometimes complex things or what they think is complex is really quite simple. And it’s having a cheerleader, but you made a very good point. They also need to be your own cheerleader first.

Then you can be a cheerleader for the masses

Suzanne: Yes!

Victoria: And it’s helping others in that moment learn how to be their own cheerleader. I hope you celebrated that book, girl!

Suzanne: When it came, I had a little process. I did it, I held it, I smelled it like, you know, but it had never occurred to me. Maybe this is my own imposter syndrome that somebody else would want it signed. Like it just. It makes sense when I think about it, because if I’ve meeting an author or some, I’d love to have it signed, but just as like, would you sign my book?

And it was really bizarre. And then I ordered some to give to my clients and I might have had a slight photo part and thought I was ordering 20, but ended up with 200. So when the person came in and bringing all these boxes and I’m like, what am I going to do with these? So I was like, oh, well, I’ll offer them out as like a signed copy.

And people were buying the book who already owned the book because they wanted a signed one. And it was. It was the most fascinating thing because that had never occurred to me. And it’s just kind of like as a coach speaker, author, people always on their own journey and they have the responsibility, but sometimes our words are that, ignite or that moment, or they realize that they’re not alone.

And I think that’s the, underneath, like the other side of imposter syndrome, it’s allowing people to realize that they’re not alone and the thoughts and the things that we share my book was very raw. that was the things that aren’t talked about. And then you can have a real conversation and.

Yeah, we don’t get to choose or control how other people are going to receive that. And then it just opens new doors. Cause I was like, oh, okay. It’s I don’t, I can’t describe it. It’s very new. You’re still processing for me, but it was an amazing moment to, um, to write a little message and sign it for someone.

Victoria: I’m curious, what was the ultimate message that you wanted to create from going on the journey of writing a book? What did you want the end person to walk away with?

Suzanne: That they weren’t alone, that they weren’t the only one. And that, the, like my ultimate thing was, life isn’t Disney princess, like before and after and before it’s terrible. And then after you meet the prince and you run off into the sunset, the reason that Disney princess stops there, is because then there’s a sequel like, oh, and then this happened, you know, and that’s a real frustration of mine with a lot of the things I read.

They don’t talk about the messy middle. Ha. So the thing of the story was, you know, life isn’t a before and after let’s go on the journey of the messy middle, because you’re not alone. And I think I really nailed that. So, yeah.

Victoria: You have nailed that. And thank you so much for sharing your story. I think this is a great conversation around feeling as though you may have imposter syndrome or let us support you in that to say that there is a way out of it, and it’s not a condition that you have to deal with for your whole life.

And in fact, it could actually potentially be holding you back from sharing your story. I mean, I know you wrote a literal book, but there is so many other opportunities out there that if you can harness your imposter syndrome and alchemize it, and find a way forward, with some of your solutions around, acting as if I love that. and I still come back to the radical honesty piece, because if you can learn to harness that and understand. How to move closer to radical honesty within yourself in your life, then that will free you up enormously that I do not believe that you will then have this imposter syndrome hanging so much on your shoulder.

And you don’t have to pretend because when you are pretending there’s a lot of weight (no pun intended0 with like, what’s the right thing to say, or what’s the right thing to do? And, you know… but if you just be radically honest act as if, and, you know, be you, um, so much less energy because you don’t have to pretend to be yourself.

Victoria: Just be you. Hmm, I love that conversation. thank you, so much. Again, I love our chats.

Suzanne: Thank you, Victoria.

Victoria: A wealth of wisdom and knowledge. And if you would like to work with Suzanne, all you need to do is just pop over to hello-coach.com and you will be able to find Suzanne on our platform. So, thank you very much. Lovely to see you again today and be here in conversation with you.

And I look forward to having you back again.

Suzanne: Same. Thank you.

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