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Imposter Syndrome in the Fitness Industry - When You Feel Like a Fraud

Oct 05, 2021

Imposter syndrome can be a debilitating condition. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as a psychological condition that is characterized by persistent doubt concerning one's abilities or accomplishments accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of one's ongoing success. Any person struggling with imposter syndrome is at greater risk of developing additional mental health conditions. Understanding how it negatively affects feelings of self-worth is crucial to building a foundational belief in oneself. The future growth of one’s abilities requires recognition and release of these self-limiting beliefs.

Feelings of Fraud

Initially observed almost 50 years ago, imposter syndrome primarily affected high-achieving professional women1. Research shows that its prevalence has increased as more women and members of ethnic minority groups have entered the workforce.2,3 

Successful endeavors can cause a cycle of self-doubt and dysfunction for people with impostor syndrome. Unable to recognize their accomplishments, these individuals worry others will discover the truth about their abilities. Fear of not belonging and feelings of being a fraud is common for those that suffer from imposter syndrome, and sometimes, these feelings may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some research has suggested that pervasive stereotypes and systemic biases may be a part of it.4 If we are made to feel we can’t be successful, we believe we can’t be successful. If that is the case, surely the opposite is true too. 

Foundation Strength

Bias and exclusion often lead to self-doubt. Fitness professionals need to build a strong foundational belief in their abilities and recognize that they deserve a seat at the table. However, doing that alone or without a framework is hard. 

  • Belonging fosters confidence. Organizations like WIFA (Women in Fitness Association) aim to foster deep connected relationships and create supportive communities to raise each other up. Working with like-minded professionals can inspire growth and create opportunities. Where one voice can feel weak, the voice of many is powerful. 
  • Shift seclusion to inclusion. Share feelings and vulnerability with others in similar positions. Having authentic conversations with others can lead to collaboration and problem-solving.
  • Flip the script. Negative moods can deeply influence perspective. Before giving into feelings of anxiety and doubt, challenge the emotional response and aim to do the opposite.
  • Create a feel-good file. Have a physical or electronic space to store positive feedback and accomplishments. Many successful businesses provide testimonials for others to see. Make a point of periodically reviewing your achievements and testimonials to boost self-confidence.
  • Understand that failure does not mean fraud. When things don’t turn out, it may not be a reflection of who, but rather what. Where self-doubt may stop progress, idea doubt can lead to the refinement and advancement of products and services.
  • Know your audience. Being in touch with the needs of your target market will allow for tailored approaches and specific business opportunities. Success based on strong foundational practices can be carried over to other opportunities. 

Future

While self-limiting beliefs may never completely disappear, building your future self requires awareness, identification of potential triggers, and creating steps to deal with them. But what if it isn’t just in our heads? 

As we understand it today, the issue of imposter syndrome lies with the person and not with the environment. The solutions provided focus on fixing the individual rather than fixing the root causes. Biased practices frequently deter under-represented groups from achieving success. As imposter syndrome is primarily seen within the workforce, could it be that we feel we don’t belong because some people believe we never were supposed to belong? And if so, does that explain why people move from corporate positions to entrepreneurial ones?

This concept deserves space, attention, and action. We can do that but we must first have the conversation and work together to identify those barriers.

By Karyn Silenzi

Endnotes

  1. Sakulku, J. (1). The Impostor Phenomenon. The Journal of Behavioral Science, 6(1), 75-97. https://doi.org/10.14456/ijbs.2011.6
  2. Feenstra Sanne, Begeny Christopher T., Ryan Michelle K., Rink Floor A., Stoker Janka I., Jordan Jennifer. (2020). Contextualizing the Impostor “Syndrome”. Frontiers in Psychology, 11  https:DOI=10.3389/fpsyg.2020.575024
  3. Villwock, J. A., Sobin, L. B., Koester, L. A., & Harris, T. M. (2016). Impostor syndrome and burnout among American medical students: a pilot study. International journal of medical education, 7, 364–369. https://doi.org/10.5116/ijme.5801.eac4
  4. Gaerlan-Price E, Wardman J, Bruce T. Welcome to the Table: A Bourdieusian Take on Gifted New Zealand Young Women. Education Sciences. 2021; 11(3):106. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci11030106