What is Impostor Phenomenon?
Impostor Phenomenon is when people struggle to internalise or accept their achievements, and therefore worry about being ‘found out’ as a fraud. Those who struggle with this may feel that they do not deserve to be in the position they are in, or may feel they are not as skilled as others give them credit for. Anyone within a position of success can fall victim to these feelings, because ‘success’ is totally subjective to each individual. They may believe that they have got to where they are through luck, deception, or simply excellent timing.
Here are some signs of Impostor Phenomenon:
- Not believing in your achievements
- Worrying about failure
- Rebuffing compliments or praise
Unsurprisingly, Impostor Phenomenon is common among high-achieving women (although research has stated that this is NOT a gendered issue. I do believe this information is still pertinent). As a society we often elevate men’s achievements, whilst questioning women’s credentials or expertise. This is evidenced in the wide-spread concept of ‘mansplaining’, where a man will seek to explain a concept to a woman in which she is an expert. No better was this demonstrated than when a man tried to explain a book to a woman, when in fact she was the author. There are countless other examples of this, with many professional women stating that they are often questioned more rigorously than their male colleagues. Trans men have even reported being better respected at work after transitioning and once they are perceived as ‘one of the guys’.
In short, Impostor Phenomenon is that itchy feeling that maybe you don’t belong, and maybe everyone is going to suddenly discover that, well, you aren’t actually that good.
Impostor Phenomenon differs from the popularly known ‘Impostor Syndrome’, in that the latter is a clinical term representing the most serious manifestations of the symptoms. If you believe you could be dealing with Impostor Syndrome, please visit your General Practitioner for further advice.
Impostor Phenomenon in the pole world
Being a female dominated industry, as well as an industry where we are overwhelmingly self-employed and ‘self-made’ within our roles, we are rife with Impostor Phenomenon.
It isn’t really ‘out in the open’, mostly because people are ashamed of these feelings, and genuinely do believe they are frauds, and therefore will not openly speak about it for fear of being ‘found out’. I am certain however that there are plenty of Pole Stars who worry that they are not ‘the most talented’, and question whether their titles or performances are earned, or whether they should be selling workshops.
An example of this may be someone who gets booked for a workshop after performing in a competition, who then worries the workshop attendees will think that she isn’t nearly as good as her performance suggests. This is particularly as we often train extremely hard for competition, we highlight our strengths and minimise our weaknesses through our careful choreography. You may worry that people will ‘discover’ your weaknesses and therefore believe that you do not deserve your place.
Peach The Impostor
So… here’s time for my vulnerability. I may not be a ‘Pole Star’, but my blog seems to be pretty popular and my confidence workshops are selling out, and here I am… My name is Peach, and I experience the Impostor Phenomenon.
Having found my niche within confidence coaching my struggle with Impostor Phenomenon has alleviated somewhat, as I am far more confident in my coaching than my pole. However, I still deal with Impostor Phenomenon, especially when I am competing or performing.
When I first started performing I worried people would realise I ‘wasn’t that good’. I don’t have the strongest tricks, or the most flexibility, and I worried that people would look at me like ‘what does she think she is doing?’, and maybe some people do 😂😂😂 (that’s the Impostor talking, you see? Even in a blog I’m writing about it!).
Honestly though, I get amazing feedback – as an instructor, as a confidence coach, as a dancer, so I know that it is all within my head – but that is exactly what makes Impostor Phenomenon so pervasive and insidious. You can acknowledge the irrationality and STILL have that tiny voice in the back of your head saying, “yeah, but what if they actually are thinking that you’re shit???”
It doesn’t matter how often other people assert your value, if you are struggling with Impostor Phenomenon, the only relief is by dealing with the doubts within yourself.
How can you manage impostor feelings?
So, I’ve been managing my Impostor feelings far better now than I was before. Of course, having people tell me how much my work has helped them definitely contributes to this, because it provides me with real, tangible proof that what I am offering is worthwhile. However, if you are to overcome impostor feelings long-term, you need to incorporate your own techniques, rather than relying on external validation.
OK, I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but often Impostor Phenomenon can be linked to perceived self-importance and ego, which is something we all struggle with at some time and another. Being humble doesn’t necessarily mean being self-depreciating of your skills, but rather, accepting what you are good at and what you are not good at. It can also mean accepting that you are perhaps not as important as you think you are!
Feeling like a ‘fraud’ or ‘impostor’ within the pole world because you are selling workshops also suggests that your status has been elevated somehow. That being ‘pole famous’ is something ‘better than’. In reality, you are a big fish in a small pond. You have worked hard to get to the position you are in, and be thankful for it, but don’t buy into this perceived status change. You are still just a human being, working with other human beings, who value your services.
Handling Impostor Phenomenon is not about having confidence in your status, it is recognising that your status has not really changed. People think your services are valuable, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you are a god. If you are just a person selling your services, you can’t be worried about being ‘found out’ about anything.
Accept your role in your success
Of course, some people are born with more privileges than others. Some are born with more money, better health, more time (which really means more money), and so on. These privileges can mean you feel as though you do not deserve your success.
However, you could have just sat on your ass, you could have said no to opportunities which you took, you could have not pushed yourself. You still trained, you still worked, you still marketed yourself. Work still went in to getting to the position you are currently in, regardless of the privileges you have.
Having said that, help others who do not have your luck
Lamenting your own luck is only self-indulgence. Feeling guilty because you’ve had it good does nothing for those who are not as fortunate as you. So, rather than wallowing in feelings of Impostor Phenomenon, why not work on lifting others up?
Help to promote a Black Girls Pole event, or ensure that there is good representation in your competitions and showcases. Perhaps help someone out who would love to compete, but cannot afford to pay for regular 1-2-1 tuition or rehearsal space. Answer that Facebook message from the girl who loves your work and wants advice on something you are knowledgeable about. Spread the love. See how fortunate you are, and give back.
It’s not about you
Once again this phrase of ‘self-indulgence’ comes to mind. Impostor Phenomenon is all about YOU.
What will THEY think of ME?
What if THEY find out that I’M not that great?
Do THEY think that I charge too much?
This paranoia is all based on how your ego may possibly be bruised within these interactions. Rather than worrying about what others think about YOU, concentrate on what YOU can do for THEM. Concentrate on offering the best possible service that you can. You have been provided this platform, and you can now use it to help people out. Whether that is teaching them a cool new trick, providing them with your professional advice, or being a bad ass instructor.
Likewise, if people communicate the fact that you have helped them or they enjoyed their time with you, accept this information. Your products and services are obviously good enough if your clients are happy! Don’t kill yourself chasing perfection when everyone is telling you what you are offering is fabulous. If you aren’t happy with your product, and everyone else is, you are only working yourself into the ground for your own satisfaction. It becomes about YOU, not them.
You aren’t alone in this
If you are having feelings related to Impostor Phenomenon, chances are you are not alone. The other pro pole dancers you see have undoubtedly dealt with these feelings themselves. In fact, some theorists believe that up to 70% of people will have these feelings at some point in their life.
You need to stop comparing yourself to other people. You may watch another pole dancer performing and selling workshops at the same level as you and think ‘wow, they are amazing, I don’t deserve to be on the same level as them’. But, you don’t know if they aren’t just thinking the exact same thing about you!
Truth is, none of us know what we are doing. If there was a formula for success we could all just follow the set rules and make it, regardless of talent or skill. We are all just fumbling along doing what we can, trying what we can, and creating as best as we can.
If something is not a success, it does not mean you are a failure
If you are making money from pole and struggle with Impostor feelings then you need to treat it like a business. In business if an idea doesn’t work out you don’t quit the whole business or think you don’t deserve to be there, you pull yourself back up and realise that it wasn’t the right product – you try something new.
If a specific performance doesn’t do well, or a workshop doesn’t sell, or a lesson falls flat, this doesn’t reflect badly on you, this doesn’t reveal what a ‘fraud’ you are. This is not a failure, it is feedback. It tells you what works and what doesn’t. It allows you to improve your product for next time.
Be really honest, allow yourself to be vulnerable
For me, I only started overcoming my impostor feelings when I got really REAL. I TOLD my friends and followers about my struggles with flexibility. I admitted that I wasn’t as sure in my pole skills. I talked openly about the skills I lack compared to the skills I possess.
When I did this I wasn’t met with hatred or rejection, but quite the opposite. When people realised that I felt exactly the same way they do it made THEM give a sigh of relief. We are all in this together!
It can be extremely challenging to openly admit what you are not good at, especially when it pertains to your job. You can worry that it will damage your career, that in order to be successful you must always be seen to be perfect, excellent at everything related to pole. This simply isn’t true. Everyone has a gift to provide the industry, whether that is teaching the trending tricks, entertaining with pro-performance, or, like me, offering workshops of a different kind. Stop worrying about being great at everything, and concentrate on cultivating more of what you are truly talented at. There are people out there who will appreciate the honesty, and actually love you more for it.
I hope some of this advice has been useful for you. This blog post ended up being far longer than I anticipated.
Have you experience Impostor Phenomenon? What are your top tips for dealing with it? Leave yours in the comments below.
*If you are struggling with mental health issues please seek advice from your doctor. This blog is based upon a complimentary therapy model, which means it should only be used in addition to the help from a mental health professional.*