When InvestmentNews asked me to contribute a column about an issue women face within the financial advice industry, I immediately thought about the topic of “impostor syndrome.” It’s that feeling of inadequacy in the face of success.
It’s that voice in your head that says, “You’re fooling everyone. You don’t actually know what you’re doing and you don’t belong here.”
You can call it self-doubt, lack of confidence or — as RuPaul would put it — your “inner saboteur.” When I’m not careful at keeping it in check, then the more attention or praise I receive, the less I feel like I deserve them.
Nearly three-quarters of people experience impostor syndrome at some point in their lives. It’s something that I’ve felt throughout my career — first as a teacher, and again in financial services. I’ve learned a lot about how to manage self-doubt as a trainer of new financial coaches, and especially while running my solo RIA and financial planning practice since 2017.
As an educator and financial planner, my job is to help people reach their fullest potential. I picked this topic because I’ve seen too many female colleagues and clients shy away from wholeheartedly and widely sharing their unique gifts and expertise.
I didn’t know until recently that there are different types of impostor syndrome. Dr. Valerie Young identified five types. The Perfectionist sets impossible standards for themselves. The Natural Genius tells herself that everything must be easy or else it’s not worth doing. The Superperson feels that they should be excellent in everything they do. The Soloist believes work should only be accomplished alone. I’m often the fifth type, the Expert.
When I’m stressed, I feel as if I need to know everything and feel shame when I don’t. Hopefully the following suggestions can help you or someone you know let your inner boss shine without reservations.
Build up a group of personal supporters and let them help dissect your negative self-talk. I’m lucky to have built a community of people, both in and outside financial services, whom I can lean on when impostor syndrome occasionally creeps back. My community cheers me on better than I can myself. When I can say aloud my negative self-talk that plays like a feedback loop in my head, they help me squash it.
They are the ones who taught me how impostor syndrome was holding me back from sharing my voice and taking risks in my career.
KNOW WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW
It’s OK to be honest about what you know and what you don’t know.
The most common question I get from new advisers is: “What do you do if a client asks you a question you don’t know how to answer?”
Be honest if you don’t immediately know how to answer or solve an issue. Tell them that you want to take time to research their question. Use this time to build your knowledge and access help if you need it. This will actually build your clients’ trust. They might even feel proud about stumping you with a great question.
RECOGNIZE THE PRESSURE
Our world can exacerbate self-doubt. Know that it’s not just in your head and that wrestling with impostor syndrome shouldn’t just be on you. Our society puts different expectations and stereotypes on people depending on their gender identity, race and age, among other factors. Generally, women often feel as if we need to be perfect and to make it all look effortless.
It doesn’t help that women, and especially women of color, are seriously underrepresented in financial services. Being the only person in the room who looks like you can build an unspoken pressure to be an excellent representative for your community.
In addition, people around you might not champion your successes and could possibly feed your misguided feelings that the achievements you’ve earned are undeserved.
If this is happening in your personal or workplace relationships, please don’t internalize that negativity. Gather people you trust and talk it out, or even journal it out. Consider moving yourself out of that environment if you can. Do anything you can do to truly know that you belong and that your successes are deserved.
Phuong Luong is founder of Just Wealth and was InvestmentNews’ 2019 Rising Star.
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As our second lead editor, Cindy Hamilton covers health, fitness and other wellness topics. She is also instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. Cindy received a BA and an MA from NYU.