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Imposter Syndrome: the lived experience

1 March 2021: Mental health speaker Nick Elston shares his experience of living with and overcoming Imposter Syndrome on stage and outlines what chartered accountants can learn from this.

At its worst, Imposter Syndrome can stop you from living life on your terms, running a business in the way you want to or destroy your personal and professional relationships. 

As I highlighted in my session for ICAEW Virtually Live last year, maintaining good mental health is one of the many challenges of this pandemic, and tackling issues such as Imposter Syndrome forms part of this struggle.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome is the belief that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be – or that your success is by luck, by accident – and not the hours of study, effort and commitment you have put into what you do.

When I first started my career as a professional speaker, every single time I expected the local constabulary to come and grab me when I came off of the stage. Not because I felt I was a poor speaker, but simply because my self-belief couldn’t keep up with the success I was gaining.

I felt I didn’t deserve to be there – compounded by my history of mental illness and poor mental health. Even though that feeling has subsided over the years, I still experience Imposter Syndrome – especially when I am struggling with the areas of life and business that I cover as a speaker.

I see a lot of Imposter Syndrome in the financial world, perhaps due to the traditional conditioning of the wider industry. Chartered accountants, who have undertaken thousands of hours of training and passed some of the toughest exams around, still struggle to accept that they deserve to be in positions of influence or responsibility. 

For me, it took hours of work, hundreds of free ‘gigs’ and a lot of personal and professional development to earn my place on that stage but even then, reality can very often be overtaken by our F.E.A.R. – false evidence appearing real.

In later years, with my speaking coach cap on, I learned I wasn’t the only one to feel this way. Lots of people from all walks of life also feel that they are not worthy, they do not deserve success – by their own definition or fall into the trap of feeling insecurity both personally and professionally.

According to a Harvard study – public speaking ranked above death when it comes to our biggest fears – we fear ridicule more than we do dying. So, it’s no surprise that we are conditioned to expect criticism, negativity, danger or dismissal.

However, in my years of coaching others to speak, it’s not the actual speaking people fear – it’s the fear of being judged, of not being good enough or rejected. In most cases, this is totally undeserved – it’s our confidence, courage and conviction that is out of sync with the reality of our successes and our deserved place in whatever sphere of work we occupy. 

Nick Elston is a mental health speaker and founding member of the Initiative for Financial Wellbeing. Watch his session for ICAEW Virtual Live: Good mental health for you and your teams.

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