Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as a Coach

Niki & CJ discuss overcoming imposter syndrome as a coach. The address what it is, why it’s normal, when you may be beyond your abilities, and practical tips to deal with it. Learn more about overcoming imposter syndrome as a coach.


Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as a Coach

Doubt, fear, and anxiety is normal. With coaching, or really any venture, you will likely experience internal self-doubt but may also have a fear of being discovered or exposed as a fraud or imposter.

This appears and persists despite evidence to the contrary. Regardless of accomplishments, success, credentials, you still have a feeling of not being qualified.

You’re in good company, as this feeling is nearly universal. This is a sign you care, and literature suggests that those who face these feelings are less likely to cheat and more likely to work harder to improve.

These feelings have become so prevalent that an entire industry has arisen to overcome imposter syndrome.

These feelings appear or heighten especially around 2 phenomena: challenging obstacles & stress accumulation.

Feeling Like a Fraud with Novel Challenges

When a client quits, you get a client who is a bit outside your comfort zone, or you’re asked to do something novel but generally within the realm of your skill set, these feelings will likely arise.

Obstacles are opportunities for growth. If you successfully overcome a novel challenge–heck, even if you fail but try your hardest–you will learn and improve as a coach.

It is true, of course, that there are challenges that are truly beyond your abilities. How can you think about these?

You can ask yourself: Am I as qualified and ready as I can reasonably be? You could also add a “…yet.” For example, “I’m not qualified to coach professional powerlifters…yet.” This allows for the possibility for growth.

Normal Emotions & Pathologies

Stress can accumulate, create heightened negative emotions, and leave us with feelings of being a fraud or imposter at work. You may feel like you’re in a “trough of despair.” What can you do?

First, think about the immediate stressors. You the helpful HALT acronym. Are you any of the following:

  • Hungry
  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Tired

As Niki says, you can deal with these through lunch with a friend and a nap.

You can think about conditions generally in your life. CJ discusses how as an early coach he took on too much work, which prevented him from addressing his own nutrition and training. He felt worse physically, and that carried over to how he saw himself (plus, he actually didn’t look the part of a physical trainer or coach).

Lastly, there may be actual medical issues like anxiety or depression, outside of coaching or your professional pursuit, that can be addressed and improve this element of your coaching.

Admitting You’re Human

This is hard to discuss. You can’t and really shouldn’t address this with your client. That being said, you should admit when you don’t know something and look it up. You can admit to not feeling great and that you’re not 100%.

Consider your coaching more of a collaboration than a mechanic working on a car. Explain your thought process. This can help get buy-in.

Discussing this with colleagues can come with the fear of them denying any feelings of fraud. Talking to someone in another career field can leave you with the easy excuse that “it’s different for that professional field.”

Lastly, while the fake-it-til-you-make-it mentality isn’t wrong, it can go too far. You shouldn’t necessarily take on every client. You may be honest with clients you’re on the fence on and develop a 3-month test run. This enables you to see if you’re up to the challenge while being upfront and honest with the potential client.

Because, if you truly fake it–not simply fake some confidence, but lie about your abilities and credentials, you’ll likely come to believe the lie yourself. The uncomfortable feelings of imposter syndrome should result in growth or–if grounded in lies and deceit–will enable you to overcome these feelings through buying your own lies.

Overcoming imposter syndrome as a coach or overcoming imposter syndrome at work can be challenging. Try some of these tips and approaches out.




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