Feeling Like a Fraud
At the moment I am avidly reading Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. In it she examines women’s progress in achieving leadership roles, why it has faltered, and offers suggestions to empower women to achieve their potential.
This subject is dear to my heart, and my copy of the book is already covered with underlines, exclamation points, notes and post-its. And I’ve only read three chapters so far!
In Chapter Two Sandberg looks at the “phenomenon of capable people being plagued by self-doubt” (something, I admit, that I am personally familiar with!) which is apparently called the “impostor syndrome.” While both men and women are susceptible to this, it is women who “tend to experience it more intensely and be more limited by it.” (1)
According to Sandberg women consistently underestimate themselves, and even more so if we have to evaluate ourselves in front of others. In fact, multiple studies show that women often judge their performance to be worse than it is, whereas men judge tend to judge that theirs is better than it is! And when women receive negative feedback, our confidence and self-esteem drop to a much greater degree, too. (2)
Sandberg describes personally “feeling like a fraud” when she was at Harvard despite all she had actually achieved academically. She talks about the moment in her senior year when she had the realization that, “the real issue was not that I felt like a fraud, but that I could feel something deeply and profoundly and be completely wrong.” (3)
I was struck by this as it relates very much to a key principle we teach in the Alexander Technique, often known as “faulty sensory awareness.” Faulty sensory awareness refers to a situation in which we think we are doing one thing, but are actually doing something else. For example, we might feel we are standing up straight, but when we look in a mirror we can see that in fact we are leaning to one side – our perception of what we are doing does not actually match the reality – it is wrong! The main reason this happens is that habits built up over time create a kind of short cut in our awareness, and is one of the reasons habits can be so hard to break – we don’t even notice we’re doing them! Alexander Technique has a brilliant methodology for dealing with this.
Point straight up to the ceiling with your finger directly in front of your face. Now look closely. Is your finger actually pointing straight up, or, if you’re like me, is it pointing a little bit forward? Now you’re really looking can you adjust things so it now really points directly up?
This is a very simple example of faulty sensory awareness, and one that may not be terribly important in the scheme of things, but demonstrates the principle. And I hope that once you really took the time to notice and move your finger more consciously you were able to change it. Other habits may not be so easy to notice. In a business situation it is important to show yourself to be confident in what you do. Your body language, however, might not necessarily reflect that. You may even think and feel you are being confident, but, because of faulty sensory awareness, actually be coming across as timid, cold, defensive or even aggressive. Having a more accurate sense of ourselves can be hugely important.
Alexander Technique is, in one sense, about learning to notice, to tune in what we are really doing, which then gives us accurate information so we can make informed choices. These principles are more typically applied to how we are using ourselves physically, (our posture, our body language, the way we coordinate ourselves). Sandberg, however, discovered this same principle when she realized she could feel something deeply and profoundly and be completely wrong.
Alexander Technique is not only superb at helping us sort our our physical issues, it also gives us profound insights into our thoughts and emotions. We learn to be aware of them and their impact on our physical well-being. We become more discerning about what is helpful and what is not, what is based on reality and what is not. Another principle of the Alexander Technique is that there is no separation between physical and mental activity, between mind and body. If, then, we “feel like a fraud” (even though it is not true) that will somehow manifest itself physically too – in my experience by a contraction or shrinking in on oneself.
When I think about my own thoughts and feelings around “feeling like a fraud” there are many areas where this shows up, particularly in relation to my professional life—as an Alexander Technique teacher, a blogger (!), and a woman in business (am I experienced enough, successful enough or outgoing enough, for instance?!). Learning to keep an eye on these thoughts, and understanding that they do not represent the reality of the situation, empowers me not to get sucked into them, to recognize them for what they are (false!), to keep going, to serve my students, my clients and continue to build my business. The Alexander Technique has not only enabled me to do this with more discernment, but also helps me let go of the physical shrinking into myself that accompanies these feelings, and which would, unchecked, only feed the negativity and stress they cause.
This discernment is incredibly helpful to anyone in business, and, based on the research, for women especially. It’s part of what I call body intelligence! We need to own our accomplishments and strengths, and be comfortable and confident sharing them in an authentic way.
Does this resonate with you? Do you sometimes “feel like a fraud” or have “impostor syndrome” despite your capability and accomplishments? Have you read Lean In? Or has the Alexander Technique helped you with faulty sensory appreciation – mental or physical?
As always I’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments in the space below.
- Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013) 29
- Ibid., 30
- Ibid,. 30
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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Thank you !
Great honest blog Imogen, the more we women have this courage to share our inner landscape the more we realise we share so many challenges and the less power we mis-attribute to such concepts of ourselves . I share like you that when I had or have such thoughts that they are just noises not to be believed . I am now inspired to write blogs in the future in this genre because of your courage and beautiful vulnerability.
Oh thank you, Lizzie. That means a lot. There is definitely power in knowing we are not alone. Your last sentence really strikes me, as another book I’ve been totally inspired by recently is Daring Greatly by Brene Brown – which is all about vulnerability and courage. I am obviously taking it to heart 🙂
I am glad , I have Brene’s TED talk ony links she is wonderful !
This is a wonderfully insightful post Imogen. I totally relate to the “feeling like a fraud” syndrome. I actually thought I was “tricking” everyone in college (peer and professors) into thinking that I actually was smart and a good student and I was sure I was to be found out sooner or later! (I never was…Hah) How lovely to link this situation to faulty sensory awareness. Thank you.
Oh, thanks so much, Lauren. Glad it resonated. It’s strange the stories we tell ourselves!! It does seem to be a kind of faulty sensory awareness to me.
As a man – this made me resonate. Even before reading this I had become aware of how much my computer was taking over my life (through practising Alexander Technique). I had begun to use it as a primary tool for human interaction. This remains invaluable as I am somewhat isolated (!) but I see the error in my thinking very clearly. Imogen your blog and Alexander Technique has reminded me to be more aware of my usage. Isn’t it funny how right use can turn a perceived ‘bad’ into a supreme good.
Actually – for me, signing up to the news letter may not be helpful at this time. It may get lost in the mountain of information that arrives. (Nearly summer here but I could still get the spring cleaning done). I am very grateful for all the help received.
Thanks for your comments, Paul. Glad it resonated – and yes, definitely not just for women! 🙂