Did you know that the term “imposter syndrome” isn’t correct? It’s really called the “imposter phenomenon” because syndrome means that it’s a diagnosable disease, and it’s not. It’s a phenomenon. Everyone has imposter syndrome, even the greatest minds. We all have inner critics, so how do we get rid of them? Listen to today’s episode to find out as Elizabeth Bachman interviews Jen Coken. Jen coaches executive women to embrace their genius, shatter their limiting beliefs, and surrender to the extraordinary power of living an authentic life. Today’s episode will teach you how to fight imposter syndrome and discover how amazing you really are.
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Kick The Imposter Syndrome Habit With Jen Coken
This is the show where we interview experts from around the world on presentation skills, leadership, visibility, how to move forward in the world, and the communication challenges that come up around that. If you’re curious about how your presentation skills are holding up and where you might need a little bit of help, you could take our free four-minute assessment at www.SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you could see where you are strong in your presentation skills, and perhaps a little bit of support could get you the recognition and the results that you’re looking for.
My guest is Jennifer Coken, the wonderful Jen as she’s universally known, who is an expert in helping kick the imposter syndrome habit. Jen Coken has helped many of us, myself included, with being able to step into your greatness and truly live an authentic life. The official bio is that Jen Coken coaches executive women to embrace their genius, shatter their limiting beliefs and surrender to the extraordinary power of living an authentic life. As an International Executive Coach, Fortune 500 speaker, Imposter Syndrome Expert, speaker and author, Jen is on a global mission to empower C-Suite-level executives and their teams to have the audacity to be themselves and lead without limits. She is the Creator of Dream Xcelerator Academy for leaders who are ready to be held to account to design a life and business they deserve, and to achieve the results that they want.
I’m so excited to have the amazing Jen Coken here as my guest. You will see how fabulous she is. Jen Coken coaches executive women to embrace their genius, shatter their limiting beliefs and surrender to the extraordinary power of living an authentic life. She is an International Executive Coach, Fortune 500 Speaker, Impostor Syndrome Expert, speaker and author. She is on a global mission to empower C-Suite-level executives and their teams to have the audacity to be themselves and lead without limits. Jen Coken, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
The reason I wanted to interview you is I’ve published an episode of the Speakers Who Get Results show called Are You Erasing Yourself From The Picture? The reason I wanted to talk about that is because I work with helping high-level women become more visible and valued, especially women who aren’t being heard. Part of it is teaching people how to listen to you, the people who are not listening to you, but a large part of it is the inner game and mindset of women who erase themselves from the picture. I thought, “Who can I ask to give us some good comments about that? Jen Coken, there she is.” Jen, let’s comment a little bit on why it is that women forget to include themselves in the picture.
Number one, we are dealing with centuries of women not being in charge. I’ll say it, patriarchy. As females, when we are born, we are born into and carrying with us the historical nature of being a female from all our foremothers, our mothers and grandmothers before us. We are born into a construct where men dominate. I’m not blaming men for any of this, but we are born into a patriarchal society and system, and raised by other women who have had a particular role to play, women of certain age. I’m in my 50s. We are about the same age. Women in their 20s and 30s somewhat have a much easier time because society has become more bendable in a way.
For me, in my first jobs, I had to wear pantyhose, skirts below my knees and jackets because I was not allowed to show my femininity. Certainly, as a female, you’re never supposed to ask the other person out. I was never trained how to ask for what I want. In my household growing up, I was quiet because there was anger and I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of that anger. I was supposed to do what I could to help mom out. That’s the upbringing, but it doesn’t just stay in your childhood. You bring that mindset unbeknownst to you to the boardroom.Women were used to making requests, not demanding. Click To Tweet
In terms of the rules of the “patriarchy” is, in earlier centuries, there were very good reasons to have men be the hunters and the warriors, and have women be the gatherers and the ones at home in the days where you could have wolves coming in to attack your village or the feudal state next door coming to attack. It made sense that the men had to use their strength to protect the women. The women evolved learning how to defer to the men because, without the men, they would starve. Women learned how to caretake the children and were in that mode of protecting the children.
In my 30 years in opera, most of the texts of the 18th and 19th century operas, there’s a whole band of literature around women and servants manipulating men in order to get what they need because they truly do not have the power. If the count throws you out and fires you as a servant, you do have nowhere else to go. You will then starve. There was a long tradition of it. Breaking free of that tradition or learning how to live with that tradition is finding your own way.
In 2018, there were 25 women who led Fortune 500 companies and 23 men named John. When women get to that C-Suite executive level, they don’t see a lot of examples. Unbeknownst to them, they are bringing in that history with them. I was listening to your broadcast. From the beginning, I’m going to be thinking about bringing the marketing team along with me to ask them, “Let me give you the talking points.”
Let’s put this in context. This was the story of my client, Evelyn, who created a major merger. She had a major idea for her company. It is an idea that would create a partnership between two globally-known organizations. She worked on it for five years, but she spent so much time praising the team and not reminding people that it was her idea. When the time came to launch it, the marketing team forgot. They took her for granted. She was part of the scenery. They sent all the interview requests to a manager who had only been there for two months. It was her baby and they sent the request to someone who didn’t know anything about it but had a title.
Your comment about this was?
My comment about this was, did she from the beginning go to the marketing team or at some point where they knew the merger was coming, “I want to remind you, I’m the one who came up with the idea. I’ve been leading the team. Here are the talking points that are important that would be salient and why this is such a unique merger that would be very effective for the marketing strategy. My other question to you is, who is going to be your spokespeople? I want to be that spokesperson when the media request come in.” Maybe there were many she didn’t have enough bandwidth to go around. Women are used to not being demanding but making requests. That’s a nuanced piece, “You should give this to me. I’m great.” That’s the bragging, demanding or even the manipulation because we are trained to manipulate from the historical perspective that we’ve come from.
How do we make a request? When you make a request, people have an option: yes, no or maybe. To be able to say, “I’m requesting that I am a spokesperson when the media comes,” and stopping there. No need to explain, “I’m the expert. It was my idea. I’ve been leading the team. Here are the talking points. My request is I am the main spokesperson for the media. Would that be okay?” and then figuring it out from there, but we are not automatically thinking that way. It’s for men and women too. We think our work should be recognized. We should have been included.
It’s easy when you know what you’re doing. This is why it helps to have a coach like you or me on the outside who can say, “Here’s something you’re taking for granted because you know you know it,” but it’s not coming across, “How did you make that leap? How did you get from this point to that point? I don’t get it. Because it’s something that you assume, but you do have to tell us when you’re doing a speech.” What’s the difference between forgetting to include something because you know it well and being stopped by impostor syndrome? Being stopped seems like a lot more active. It’s more of an active thing. You’re the expert. Enlighten me about that.
Let’s give some baseline of knowledge for impostor syndrome itself. Using the word syndrome is a bit of a misnomer because it’s not a diagnosable disease. Impostor phenomenon, most people know it as syndrome. That’s the catch phrase. If you google that, there are 5.3 million hits on Google about impostor syndrome. It’s a phenomenon. It was coined in the ‘70s by Suzanne Imes and Pauline Clance. They found that high-achieving people doubted their success and wondered how they got to be where they got to, including people like Albert Einstein who said, “I am afraid people were going to figure out I’m an involuntary swindler.”
Margaret Cho, who used to have the World Health Organization, shied away from being called an expert. Maya Angelou, who had written a dozen books, on her twelfth book she said, “I feel like someone is going to knock on the door and say, ‘Who do you think you are? We are not doing anything with that twelfth book.'” Famous and well-known people have this experience of questioning and doubting themselves. How do they come by that? We all have this. It’s not just high-achieving people. I’ve coached almost 10,000 people and everybody across the board has impostor syndrome. How did they come by it? We all come by it very naturally.
Our brain is designed to keep the thing. It’s a brain of a lie, which is you and me. The brain is always determining threat, “Will it eat me? Can I eat it?” The guys have gone off to hunt, the wolf has come around and the brain is like, “Can I eat that wolf or is it going to eat me?” The brain can’t discern between a real threat and a perceived threat. For example, if you’ve ever gone to an IMAX theater, which none of us have in 2020. Remember watching a movie on TV and a roller coaster is a good example. If the camera is the point of view of the person going on the roller coaster, your stomach drops just the way the person who was on the roller coaster probably did because your brain is thinking, “That’s a threat.”
Your brain is constantly determining threat. The average brain has anywhere from 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts a day. 80% to 85% are negative and 95% are repetitive. When we are out and about, we are always thinking, “What is the level of threat?” What happens is certain very innocuous things happened to us in our childhood. It doesn’t have to be dramatic or traumatic. In that moment, we are embarrassed. We feel like we don’t belong. Some negative experience where we can experience it comes into play. We become a perfectionist.
I had a client, at age of nine, brings home a C. Her dad, “What’s up with a C?” Her, “Dad, it’s average.” “Give me 1,500 words on average.” She was shocked and embarrassed. She never wants to let that happen again, so she has got to get everything right, which propelled her to great heights. That’s the other thing about imposer syndrome, it is a superpower. It propels her to the top of her company, except it stopped working for her. She was miserable and unhappy, knew she was in her own way and didn’t know how she got there.
One aspect of impostor syndrome is this perfectionist tendency of getting it right all the time. There’s the individualist who can’t ask for help for fear they’ll be exposed as a fraud because they shouldn’t, “I should be able to do this myself. I shouldn’t have to rely on anybody.” These archetypes were coined by Dr. Valerie Young in her book that came out in 2008, 2009. Perfectionist, individual superwoman or superman, how I earned my feeling of feeling good about myself as working hard. The natural genius, which is the one I always identified with, things came easy to me.Even great people question and doubt themselves sometimes. Click To Tweet
If I can’t see my way clear from point A to point B, if you said to me, “Jen, I want you to give a speech. I’ve got a great speaking opportunity. It’s not in your wheelhouse, but I think it would be a great opportunity for you on Quantum Physics,” first, you would have to convince me that I had something to say about Quantum Physics. Secondly, I would likely procrastinate right in that speech because I can’t see my way clear. It causes me to procrastinate and stay within my comfort zone. Sometimes I don’t push boundaries to step onto that bigger stage because it doesn’t seem to be quite easy coming to me.
The fifth one is the expert, the person who has a lot of degrees and knows everything. I was talking to a client and she has been asked to speak on big stages, parts of panels, the expert in the room. She is wondering, “Who is going to raise their hand and say, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about?'” The inside doesn’t match the outside. An answer to your question, I’m going to land the plane, it’s always impostor syndrome running the show, unless you’re conscious that that’s what’s running the show and can discern between that voice in your head that’s the ongoing inner critic that sounds like your mom, dad or teacher, and the true essence of who you are. That still small voice within you is the one who is running their show. Mostly, it’s not.
You were talking about taking time to be still and to listen. What Jen is talking about is the inner game. I do a lot with the outer game. I like the strategy. I like helping you put together your script and helping you with your delivery style. If you are stuck on the inside, Jen is the person who works on the inner game and how to help you be ready to use the tools of the outer game.
Own the strategy because you can be working with somebody who is resistant and you probably have, to what you’re saying, who is resistant to truly owning their expertise. There are truly three parts of the inner game. It’s your mindset about your relationship to yourself. That’s the impostor syndrome. It’s your mindset to your relationship to your voice, “Do I have a right to be in the room?” It’s your mindset to the people who are in the room, “Even speaking up at a meeting, what’s my relationship to the other people at the meeting? Do I feel like I have agency to be able to be in this room with these other people?” I had a client who said, “I was asked to be part of a major Fortune 50 company, maybe even a Fortune 10 company, strategy session for creative. I don’t know why they asked me.” That was the first day we went to work on as her being able to own her genius.
My solution for all of this is finding the allies. One of the things that I help people with is to help them get the funding. They need funding allies and recognition. Funding being, whether it’s getting a raise, promotion or funding for your company. Allies are who are the people you want to work with. I go back to allies over and over again. If the impostor syndrome is talking to us so loudly, can you enroll an ally to remind you how amazing you are?
I freaking love that. I’m going to tell you why. That’s how you and I know each other is through a group of amazing female business owners and entrepreneurs. It is like nothing I’ve ever been a part of because there’s usually so much competition in a networking group or small group. Somebody said to me once, “If you’re the queen and your crown is off center, my job is not to tell everybody else what a goofball you look like when your crown is off center. My job is to straighten it without you even knowing.” You can have an ally who suffers from impostor syndrome just like you do. In that conversation, one of the things that people don’t realize, not just women, men, they don’t realize that other people think the way that they do that other people doubt themselves. They think they’re the only one, “My inner critic is so loud.” That’s what everybody says when I coach.
It’s interesting because one of the things I was thinking about when I was talking about, “Are you erasing yourself from the picture?” One of the strategies we used with my client, who was ignored when this giant collaboration was announced, is the repair strategy. It was to create little stories and places where she could drop a seed here and there to say, “This was my idea. I think back to five years ago when nobody thought this could ever happen. I’m so proud of how my idea came out. Thank you to the team and how amazing the team is.” Don’t forget to include yourself in the team. The other part about that is, as you tell these stories, you are reminding yourself as well if you practice the stories. I certainly know that when I tell about the success a client has had, I am reminded on a subconscious level. Those voices in my head are reminded, “I did make a difference. My advice made a difference.”
Many nutritionists say, “You are what you eat.” I say, “You are what you speak.” The things that I say to myself, I would never say to you. The things you say to yourself, you would never say to me. If we were to ever say those things out loud, the people around us would look at us like we are crazy. Sometimes those allies are the ones who need to hold the verbal vomit bucket. I had to do this. I called a friend of mine and said, “I need you to hold the bucket.” I had to share all the garbage that was in my head of, “Why I thought I was such a jerk, why I’ll never amount to anything. It doesn’t matter how successful I am.”
It doesn’t matter what level of success you get to. We still have doubts and questions. It’s just the brain doing its thing. The question is, “What are you going to be committed to?” Your commitment to show up as a leader, caring, compassionate, playful, reverend, smart and contagious, meaning not COVID, but contagious joy if that’s what you want. Are you going to be more committed to beating yourself up? Those allies I’m talking about, I have to have allies that will hold the bucket and then I’m like, “All this stuff is coming out of my mouth and it all comes down to how I kill plants. I have to stop. Thank you for holding the bucket.” “Are you complete?” “I’m complete.” “Good. Can we talk about how to move on?” Everything with me whenever I’m in a spiral, it all comes down to, which is crazy because I have a ton of plants in my house and I have a big green thumb, but it used to be how I can’t keep a plant alive and I’m a bad mom to my cats. It would spiral all the way down.
Jen, how can we recognize impostor syndrome when it’s getting in the way? How can we recognize that that’s what’s stopping us?
There are a couple of different ways. One is I would recommend people go take my quiz, JenCokenQuiz.com. You can get to better understand your flavor. You probably have one from column A, B and C, but one sticks out more than the other. The first step is to admit you have a problem. You identify your particular flavor. Then you become an observer in your life to see what triggers it trips you up and then we create a new neural pathway. Most coaches would give you tips and tools. I don’t do that because I could say to you, “Go catch it and then ask yourself how you want to show up,” which is you could do that and I tell people, “Notice when you’re at the effect of wanting to work hard to prove yourself or you don’t want to ask for help or you’re micromanaging.”
I used to be a massive micromanager, “Stop and pause,” I always do this. The brain takes about 500 repetitions to learn a new habit. When you introduce play, it is said it reduces it to 10 or 12. I can give you that, but that’s going to leave you managing your mind for the rest of your life. Instead, you want to find a coach like me or somebody else. The work that I do is I help people get to their originating incident because we all have that moment. We put it together. We identify and disrupt that mean pattern. We look at those trips and triggers and then for you, together, create that new neural pathway. How do you want to show up? How do you want to be known? We develop practices that you can experiment with. When I’m doing this free webinar, that’s some of the work I will be doing, although we won’t necessarily have a chance to dig deep to get back to the originating incident, but we’ll stick our toe in the shallow end of the pool.
Both of my questions were to recognize it and then to change the mindset. Being aware is also a huge thing. It’s one of the reasons why I spend six months with people. I am amazed that I can help someone in an afternoon. I spent six months with people because recognizing where you are sabotaging yourself or where impostor syndrome comes in happens over time. The more you’re aware of it, the more you can go, “Ah.” We had a conversation about me remembering in my 30s a moment where I recognized that I was walking into a trap with my mom. It was a trap I had always walked into before and I stopped. I have never forgotten that. I was like, “I don’t have to go down this path.” The same thing with the impostor syndrome, it takes practice.
We don’t do it in an afternoon. The impostor syndrome, there are two parts. I’m not changing anybody’s mind because when you’re changing the mind, it’s like putting icing on a mud pie. It doesn’t make a delicious pie. It’s still icing, hiding mud. What we are doing is excavating that behavior brain pattern. We are doing this over three sessions. This is just in impostor syndrome. Identifying and disrupting it is session one. Between 1 and 2, you’re identifying the trigger.You are what you speak. Click To Tweet
In session two, we dial those in, ask the question, “How do you want to show up?” and identify new practices that you can practice by session three. For some people, they’re good, except they’re not because you then need to practice and experiment with those practices. I work with people over six months because every time that new meeting, project or relationship is happening, you’re triggered. It’s all about practicing and creating that new neural pathway and those new habits.
Jen Coken, it has been such a joy to have you here. I’m thrilled. How can we find out more from you?
Thank you for asking that. It has been a joy to be here too. You can go to my website, JenCoken.com. To find out more about me, you can take the quiz, JenCokenQuiz.com. On my website, you’ll learn a lot more about me. If you want to reach out and email me, you can at Jen@JenCoken.com. I try to keep it consistent and easy.
Thank you so much for having been on the show. As a reminder, not only can you learn about yourself and your inner game with Jen Coken at JenCokenQuiz.com, but if you are interested in the outer game and how to get better results when you are speaking, you can take my quiz, which is the SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where your presentation skills are strong, and where a little bit of support could get you the recognition and results that you want. Thank you all very much. I’ll see you in the next episode.
- Are You Erasing Yourself From The Picture? – Previous Episode
About Jen Coken
Jen Coken coaches executive women to embrace their genius, shatter their limiting beliefs, and surrender to the extraordinary power of living an authentic life. As an International Executive Coach, Fortune 500 Speaker, Imposter Syndrome Expert, speaker and author, Jen is on a global mission to empower C-Suite-level executives and their teams to have the audacity to be themselves and lead without limits.