When does your imposter strike?

When I was asked to host a group coaching session for SheSays on Imposter Syndrome, I wasn’t expecting the unleashing of my imposter.

Over the last few years my professional life has become closer to my purpose and in particular my coaching work with WOMBA where we help workplaces become more gender equal. The invite to host a coaching session for SheSays, a networking organisation focussed on the advancement of women in the creative industries, was a purpose bullseye. Shockingly only 12% of senior creatives are female. I felt excited and energised by the opportunity to host this session; to help these women understand and manage their imposters, to help them realise their potential.

However, my excitement quickly turned to anxiety. “How many people do you think will come?”, I asked. “We normally have around 100” replied the organiser. Anxiety turned to panic. I’d never tried a group coaching session with anything like this many people.

I was well aware of the irony of feeling like an imposter whilst preparing to be an imposter expert. I decided to inquire into my imposter as I was preparing for the session.

My imposter made me doubt myself and my abilities. I experienced a sensation of crumbling from within. Reasoning with it wasn’t effective. This was an argument I wasn’t going to win with rational, logical debate. My reaction was to over-do. Over-working; over-researching; over-planning; and over-thinking. I recognised the familiarity of my reaction yet still couldn’t help myself. Imposter syndrome could now be my Mastermind specialist subject!

More worryingly, I’d designed a coaching session with every moment full – there was no space for anything to emerge. On one level this was reassuring: how could anything possibly go wrong with this degree of planning? On another, I knew this wasn’t the session I wanted to host. It wasn’t the experience I wanted the attendees to have.

I shared my experience with my fellow WOMBA directors. Dan gently observed that I was trying to prove myself by putting everything I knew into the 90-minute session. And just being me was good enough and to trust myself. Helen asked how it would feel if I were to enjoy it. And wouldn’t it be a great outcome if everyone just took away one thing from the session.

It felt like a weight lifting. I started to feel more playful, experimental and open. Let’s see where the session goes, what we can co-create, work with what emerges. This was the approach I took and at the start of the session I invited those in the room to do the same.

It was the most remarkable evening and one of the most inspiring learning experiences I’ve had. We connected with our imposters through mindfulness, brought them to life through drawing, changed our conversations with them – and shared, laughed and were moved by each others stories.

I felt fortunate to spend the evening in the company of such an incredible group of creative women. And thank you to the senior women from Wieden + Kennedy and Fabiana Xavier from SheSays for sharing their imposter experiences.

One of the insights that emerged during the session was we can’t get rid of our imposters, in fact sometimes they’re helpful. But we can make them less powerful and self-limiting. The session was a chance for all of us to do this by bringing our imposters out of the shadows and into the light.

Alison Green is a proud mother of two, senior marketing executive in the creative and health care sectors, and past member of Axa UK Diversity and
Inclusion Board. Alison is an Accredited Executive Coach with Ashridge Business School, and a Director at WOMBA, and is passionate about helping clients realise their potential.