On holiday recently I had a wobble. Sitting by the side of a lake with my family, I suddenly felt overwhelmed by feelings of shame and failure.

I plunged into the lake. The icy water was bitingly cold. An instant tonic to my negative thoughts.

As I swam, the “Wall of Achievement”, that Stephanie Hopper of “The Geek People” introduced me to, suddenly floated into my head. I started to think about it.

Stephanie had recommended the “Wall of Achievement” to me as a technique to counterbalance “Imposter Syndrome”. A syndrome common in female leaders especially.

I had just been reading about this in Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” when we spoke. Sandberg describes it as the sense that one day you will be “found out” , that people will finally realise what a fraud you truly are. These are feelings that are shared by many “successful” people, Sandberg, Kate Winslet and Maya Angelou, included.

A great article in Forbes by master coach and author of “Playing Safe”, Margie Warrel, suggests that

“Imposter syndrome is the domain of the high achiever. Those who set the bar low are rarely its victim.”

And that:

High achievers tend to focus more on what they haven’t done that on what they have.”

Although these feelings are more common in women, they will probably familiar to many male and female medics. Such feelings of self-doubt at best limit us from taking opportunities, and at worst can negatively affect our mental wellbeing.  As Claire Cohen points out in her article

“There’s a fine line between self-deprecation and self-destruction.”

This feels very true to me. And I am sure that many of you reading this will have also had your own “Imposter Syndrome” moments.

However, as Margie Warrel says,

“Giving your best is not the same as being the best.”

And that

“Overcoming the Imposter Syndrome requires self-acceptance… It’s not about lowering the bar, it’s about resetting it to a realistic level that doesn’t leave you forever striving and feeling inadequate.”

This makes sense. However, that self-acceptance is often what is so hard to achieve.

So what is the “Wall of Achievement”?

It is a virtual wall where each brick represents an achievement that you are proud of.

This might be something physical like a box where you keep things that make you feel positive and proud about yourself or it might be a sketch or something that you just keep in your head as a reminder of all that you have achieved.

What made me feel positive again was how different my wall looks today to how it would have looked 6 months ago.

We have all achieved to become doctors, but it is all too easy to forget that and compare ourselves to others which is rarely helpful.

But, as Margie identifies

“When you refuse to let your doubts dictate your choices, you open new doors of opportunity and discover just how much you can really do.”

And this has also been true for me.


If you have any thoughts or ideas relating to this, please do comment below. (You will need to sign in here to do so if you don’t already have a WordPress account.)




3 thoughts on ““Imposter syndrome” & the Wall of Achievement

  1. Imposter syndrome really struck a cord with me, I regularly read the obits in the bmj and feel inadequate. I have a great job as a gp but am never going to chair an influential committee, do pioneering research or change government policy. It’s time to build a walk of achievement!!

    Liked by 1 person

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