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Podcast Transcript

Practically Perfect In Every Way

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  0:10  
Welcome to "Your Authentic Path to Powerful Leadership" with Marsha Clark. Join us on this journey where we're uncovering what it takes to be a powerful woman leader. Marsha, welcome back. And I'm feeling very Mary Poppins right now, practically perfect in every way. Yes. So this is our first episode, and I know we're doing three, where we're exploring Imposter Phenomenon. So I've been looking forward to this one. And I think this is a topic that's really prevalent and important to our listeners.

Marsha Clark  0:47  
Well, I agree, Wendi. And in fact, it's somewhat similar to this series that we did on trust. These are complex topics, right? They're not just hit and run or superficial. And we've actually decided to dedicate three episodes to it.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  1:01  
Excellent. Excellent. So today, I'm sure this is, as I said, first of three, and we're going to lay the groundwork and introduce everybody to the subject, right?

Marsha Clark  1:10  
Right, right. So we're going to be discussing the phenomenon. We also call it the syndrome. So how it shows up for people, the cycle that people go through, often go through when faced with new projects, and really a test that our listeners can take to determine the degree to which they may suffer from or experience the imposter phenomenon. And as a preview, just to let our listeners know what's coming, the second episode is entitled, "We Don't Talk About Imposters", which will focus on some of the behaviors related to and will refer to it as IP, imposter phenomenon. And that includes discounting praise, fear of failure, and surprisingly, fear of success. And then in the third and final installment of the series, we're going to take a look at how we can reclaim our power, you know, when we're experiencing IP in an episode titled "Taming the Imposter". So hopefully, that's a bit of a tease for our listeners.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  2:11  
I love this. Okay, so I love that we're gonna break this up, because this is such a big subject and do some deep dives into the content. So with that in mind, we have a guest here today to talk with us about imposter phenomenon. Marsha, why don't you introduce?

Marsha Clark  2:27  
Well, I'd be more than happy to do that. Today, our guest is Tracie Reveal Shipman. And as some of our listeners may remember, Tracie is the star who writes and researches our podcast episodes for us. And what they may not know, however, is that Tracie has been delivering the Power of Self program from day one. And of course, so many of our book is based on our Power of Self content and experience. And so her knowledge and delivery of that is important. And she's watched the Power of Self program grow and shift from what it started out as over some 20 plus years. And she even took the delivery of our in house program at Accenture in Manila, and coached all of those leaders there for the last two years of that program. So she is steeped in the content. And before the Power of Self, Tracie and I worked together at EDS for more than a decade. And we did a lot of really cool, you know, executive leadership initiatives.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  3:33  
Well, Tracie for me is the face of imposter phenomenon because she's the one who delivered this content to my class, Power of Self 18. So welcome, Tracie!

Tracie Shipman  3:45  
Thank you.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  3:45  
You finally get to talk.

Tracie Shipman  3:47  
Is that a compliment that I'm the face of IP? (I don't know.)

Marsha Clark  3:52  
Well, welcome, Tracie. I'm just glad you're here. I mean, you do such an outstanding job when you're delivering this material. And you have become our resident expert in all things imposter phenomena related.

Tracie Shipman  4:05  
Well, thank you, I in fact, I just got to deliver it this past week. So it's fresh, top of mind. And it's such an honor for me to be here. And I'm quite humbled, actually, by the opportunity to be here.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  4:17  
Well, awesome. So Tracie, I think our listeners will be really curious to know how you ended up as the subject matter expert on this topic. So share a little of that with us.

Tracie Shipman  4:27  
Sure. Sure. It was really more of a divine intervention, or like a divine appointment I think some people call it. The first couple of years we delivered the Power of Self Program we usually brought in the original subject matter experts whenever we could, and they were delivering their content firsthand. So the design team had researched this topic of imposter phenomenon. I thought it was a perfect addition to the program because it had such a specific and significant implication on why so many women weren't stepping into their power.

Marsha Clark  4:33  
Well, and I'd like to also thank Phil Novick, who was one of my classmates from my Master's program, because he's the one who actually introduced me to this whole topic. I'd never heard of it before. And he knew that we were doing work with women and he had come in contact with the content as well as the concept. And so a shout out to Phil Novick. (Shout out to Phil!) Yeah, that's right.

Tracie Shipman  5:22  
So I didn't realize that either, that he was the one who introduced us. So the original research on imposter phenomenon or IP as we're going to refer to it was originally presented by Dr. Pauline Clance and her colleague psychotherapist, Dr. Suzanne Imes back in 1978 article that they entitled "The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women". So that first year the Power of Self Program Dr. Clance attended and walked everyone through the background research, the findings, she offered the test for everyone to take to measure our own levels of IP, and then introduced us to what she called the Imposter Cycle.

Marsha Clark  6:00  
Well, and I love Dr. Clance. She's an amazing woman and Dr. Imes as well. And I remember her content on IP being one of the highlights of that first, really the entire program for many of the women because it was an "aha", where something that they had been feeling now had a name for it.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  6:19  
Yeah, it was a pretty shocking revelation for those of us who were in the room. I mean, was it for you, Tracie? Is that part of why you became a lead facilitator for this content?

Tracie Shipman  6:30  
Absolutely. Yes. So this is, you know, now 20 plus years ago, I was 40 years old. I've been in leadership development all these years. And yet, here I am at the back of the room, I was the module owner. So I was kind of like a program leader, director, pulling all these subject matter experts together right in session one. And I'm struck by Dr. Clance's description of an imposter. She's going through all of this description. And it felt like she'd been following me around my entire life and that she had written a book just about my own internal dialogue. And so I felt at that point in my life that I had been completely exposed as a complete fraud to the entire world after all these years. And so it was really a strange experience having this person stand up there and kind of lay my life out like that in front of everybody.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  7:16  
Yeah. So how did you end up being the subject matter expert?

Tracie Shipman  7:20  
Didn't you guys just talk about it?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  7:24  
Yes. Yeah.

Marsha Clark  7:26  
I think we could probably say that about every episode. Yes, we did just talk about that recently.

Tracie Shipman  7:30  
So for me, it really was kind of a combination of timing and and just being so personally intrigued and touched by the topic that we had. I think the second year, maybe it was that year, Dr. Clance couldn't make it. So we invited Dr. Imes. And she was equally charming and disarming, and knocked a few more participants off balance with the same presentation. So then I think by the third year, neither of them were available to travel to Dallas. And I distinctly remember Dr. Clance saying to me she had every confidence that by now I could deliver the content quite expertly since I was the walking, talking poster child imposter phenomenon, all by myself.

Marsha Clark  8:07  
And I remember when we decided to make that switch, and it made so much sense to me at the time, you know. We had wanted to bring more local delivery, if you will. And, you know, I just have to say, Tracie, of course your delivery skills are outstanding, and yet, it takes on a whole other level when it's in us, right. It's so personal. It's in us. And so you've been a favorite facilitator, not only on that content, but certainly as a person who can speak from firsthand knowledge.

Tracie Shipman  8:40  
Thank you. Well, I mean, it's, it's it's just a natural part of my own learning journey. And I love to be able to talk about it and share the best practices that I've researched myself and put into practice myself as well. Right.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  8:53  
Now I know there's a lot we want to cover in this first episode. So can we start with a definition of imposter phenomenon for anyone out there who's unfamiliar with the topic?

Tracie Shipman  9:04  
Sure, sure. So before we get to the official definition, I think one of the first and probably most important aspect of IP is that it affects high achievers far more than average performers.

Marsha Clark  9:18  
And I just want to say that's what caught our attention in the first place. One of the things because we knew that women leaders coming through our programs would be high achievers, they wouldn't have you know, reached the levels of success or even hierarchical levels and leadership in their organizations if they weren't high achievers. And so we really thought this was something unique for them.

Tracie Shipman  9:38  
Well, that's part of really what caught our attention specifically, because when Dr. Clance and Dr. Imes were conducting their research, it showed that not only did imposter phenomenon affect high achievers more often, but it was also it seemed to be showing up in females much more often, or at least to a higher more debilitating degree.

Marsha Clark  9:59  
Yeah, and I thought that part of the research was fascinating too, and, and how they even started to notice the impact of IP to begin with. And so Dr. Clance and Dr. Imes were basically comparing notes about the hesitancy, and even the resistance, of their top female students. And this was both at the undergrad and the graduate level, and asking them to, or expecting them to take on higher levels of research or pursue doctorate degrees or be training assistants or whatever. And they both saw these young women as highly talented and competent students, and even researchers, but they weren't the students themselves, the female students in particular weren't able to see it in themselves. And it wasn't about oh, humility or being lazy. The women were experiencing these high levels of the imposter phenomenon or the imposter syndrome, as it's also called.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  10:52  
Okay, so yes, I wanted to make a quick, make sure that we're all on the same page that we're using the term imposter phenomenon and imposter syndrome as the same thing, correct? (Yeah.) Okay.

Tracie Shipman  11:04  
And I think, again, because there's no actual clinical definition of this. So the terms do get used, especially over the past 20 years that we've been talking about it, they've been used synonymously, really in a lot of ways. So just two different terms for the same thing. And so specifically, then how Dr. Clance and Dr. Imes defined imposter phenomenon - and this is even something we have in the book, "Embracing Your Power" - the women exhibited a significant pattern in their students. They exhibited a significant pattern of dismissing accomplishments as some kind of fluke. They were incapable of internalizing positive feedback or external data that was a clear indication of their high levels of achievement or talent or intelligence. And instead of believing the external data or the feedback, they believe that somehow they'd fooled the other people or the entire system.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  12:00  
Why did Drs. Clance and Imes see this only in females, is this unique to women only?

Tracie Shipman  12:06  
They acknowledged that even then they did see it in male students. But again, not as often and not to the degree that it was preventing males from stepping into their power and taking on those higher levels of education or responsibility. So remember, this was the research back in the mid 70s. And they were presenting these findings in '78. But what we do know, in all the research on the topic, since that original set of results, that IP is an equal opportunity syndrome striking high achievers in all genders.

Marsha Clark  12:38  
Yeah and you know, I was, I too was fascinated by the way, I think about it in terms of some of the gender differences, as I think about what Dr. Clance shared with us is that women sometimes get paralyzed or frozen in it and they and they can't move. And so, you know, in addition to being high achievers, another one of the consistent qualities is they live in a state of wondering "When will I be found out" and, you know, frequently visualize this catastrophic consequence of being discovered. Sometimes when I am teaching this I give the visual of it's like people see me as I'm bigger, you know, I'm  more of everything than I see myself. So it's like I'm this giant in their eyes. And I'm this midget in my own eyes, you know, this very tiny person.

Tracie Shipman  13:33  
Yeah, it's, it's exhausting, you speaking personally. Experience, it is exhausting. And one of the other kind of qualities or descriptions that they offer up that I know is true for me. There's this perpetual self doubt, and even a ritualistic worry. So it's almost like it's almost a self fulfilling prophecy that never happens but you're always worrying that it's going to happen because I'm going to be exposed as less than capable than I really am. And it's all part of the fear that I'm going to be found out and today's the day. Like even being on this podcast, today's the day that the two of you are going to figure out that I have no business being here. That's it.

Marsha Clark  14:12  
I just have to say that even right now I'm having this experience of I'm looking over my shoulder, when are they gonna come? It's like it's happening. They're gonna find out or they're gonna come get me.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  14:24  
I know. And the term that you use Tracie, ritualistic worry, that's so heavy. Like that, just I bet there are some women listening to that right now going, aha, that's the name for that feeling that I have. So both you and Marsha have mentioned a test for IP and I know it's in the book in the section on Imposter Phenomenon in chapter two so our listeners can find it there. Is it online somewhere also?

Tracie Shipman  14:49  
Oh, yeah, absolutely. So Dr. Clance is delightful. I mean, she has actually put it on her website at or to be honest, you can just go out to Google and do a search on Clance IP scale, and you can find it for free.

Marsha Clark  15:11  
And, you know, it's a self assessment with 20 different questions, and you rate yourself on a five point scale from number one being not at all, in other words, a behavioral statement that doesn't describe me not at all, to true for me, to number five, very, very true. So you know, it's a typical five point scale. And so your total scores are a possibility of 20 to 100. You can't score less than 20, which in some way accounts for the idea that almost all of us, you know, might experience some impostor feelings some of the time.

Tracie Shipman  15:46  
Yeah, so we included the test and the scoring in the book. And Dr. Clance explains on her website, that if your total score is 40 or less, you really have few imposter characteristics. So meaning that you might feel a tweak of it every once in a while, especially if there's certain types of projects or certain key customers where you just don't have that same level of confidence. But for the most part, it's just not an issue for you, if you're at that 40 or below score level.

Marsha Clark  16:16  
And then the mid range of the scoring falls between 41 and 60. And it's always interesting for some people who take the test because they're trying to figure out just how much their IP might be creating challenges for them or getting in their way even.

Tracie Shipman  16:33  
True. And the other thing we find with people in that range is that they may have artificially lower scores because as they're answering those questions, they underscore themselves. Because if you think about the very nature of uncovering and owning our own impostor feelings and these beliefs is really threatening. So we've been taking a test, and it's a test that shines a light on the level of our imposterness and that can be scary.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  16:59  
Yeah so this isn't an assessment where you don't want to get the highest score, right?

Tracie Shipman  17:05  
It's the higher the score the more  problematic, right Marsha?

Marsha Clark  17:08  
That's exactly right. So a score higher than 80. So let's go. We've gone from less than 40, 40 to 60, you know. 60... and a score higher than 80 means that you can have some really intense IP experiences. And I think, Tracie, when you started your scores were up there.

Tracie Shipman  17:26  
Yeah, I was like, around 94. I was a hot mess. So it's not the kind of test where you want to be in that 90th percentile. So at the time, I had never heard about the imposter phenomenon. So it was really eye opening to have an entire list of 20 behaviors to then start whittling away at and try to gain some control over that.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  17:50  
So let's dive deep. What are some of the questions on the test?

Tracie Shipman  17:55  
Okay so I kind of picked some of my favorite examples. And I think they give people a pretty good idea of the kinds of behaviors or beliefs that the test can uncover. The one of them is now remember, this is a you know, from from one to five score, not at all to all the time. So one, I have often succeeded on a test or a task, even though I was afraid that I wouldn't do well before I undertook the task. Okay, so that's probably still a three or four for me. I avoid evaluations, oh, I can't even say this. I avoid evaluations and have dread of others evaluating me. Still a five. And it's hard for me to accept compliments or praise about my intelligence or accomplishments. That's gone from a five to a three for me. I've been working hard. Yay. Yay. And I tend to remember the incidents in which I haven't done my best more than those times when I have done my best. Probably still a four.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  18:48  
Yeah, I think that last one, I think that's probably true for all women to some extent.

Marsha Clark  18:56  
Yeah, well, and I think about avoiding evaluations or, you know, dread of others. It's like, we want feedback, but we don't. It's like, I want it - Oh, are they going to tell you? I mean, it's crazy. So, you know, the self assessment, you know, has been really illuminating for our program participants because some people have read about it, but didn't know really how to assess themselves in that regard. And so I was really honored that Dr. Clance allowed us to include it in the book. And I also want to add that the test really helps us differentiate what might be considered real IP, if you will, from the predictable nervousness or learning curve, you know, when you're taking on a new task or responsibility. Having that kind of learning curve was something new. We can expect that with almost everything. But the IP assessment really helps us to better understand the difference in even the frequency of that. And so, I also want to say that in addition to the assessment score, the self assessment score, we have another tool that can help our listeners determine how this imposter phenomenon impacts how they work and it's it's actually called the Imposter Cycle. So Tracie, will you walk us through that cycle?

Tracie Shipman  20:08  
Oh, sure, yeah. So probably for everybody listening, it's easiest to, if you haven't seen the graphic in the book, just imagine a circle, and almost like a clock right with 12 spots on it. So if you start right at 12, on the clock base, that's a spot at the very top where this this high achiever gets invited to a new opportunity. And that's where the cycle starts and then restarts every time.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  20:32  
Okay, so what do you mean by a new opportunity?

Tracie Shipman  20:36  
So it's, it's like an invitation, an invitation to start on a new project, or take on some kind of new or expanded leadership role. And so we've been describing in the book, as you know, we've got this high imposter phenomenon sufferer and they are, by definition, a high achieving performer who is being recognized by others for their competency. So of course, they're always getting offers to work on new projects, and especially projects that stretch them. And so that space is where that high IP sufferer doesn't already have a tried or true process for guaranteeing 100% success, perfection, right, practically perfect. So it's in those stretch areas where they're not already practically perfect in every way that the new opportunity has this high chance of putting that practically perfect reputation in jeopardy.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  21:29  
Ah. Okay, so that's where we're getting the title of this episode.

Marsha Clark  21:34  
Well, and in all honesty, doesn't the desire for perfection pretty much kick in all the way through the cycle, the need to be perfect?

Tracie Shipman  21:42  
Yeah, for sure. And for a lot of high IP sufferers perfectionism is pretty much a given. And now it doesn't hit 100% of everybody with imposter phenomenon, but it certainly shows up enough. It's highly correlative. Yeah. So correlative, right?

Marsha Clark  22:01  
Yeah, that's right.

Tracie Shipman  22:01  
So when you go back to the cycle, so you've got this person with high IP, who was offered this new opportunity, and from there, they enter into kind of at one o'clock timeframe on a clock base, they go to the next stage, which is the joy and good feeling stage of the cycle. And these are those initial positive, initial positive feelings of you know,

Marsha Clark  22:28  
They like me! They really like me!

Tracie Shipman  22:31  
And, and so those thoughts are swirling around in the back of their mind, and centering on how nice it is to be recognized for previous hard work.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  22:38  
Well, of course, that makes sense that they'd be feeling good about being recognized.

Tracie Shipman  22:43  
Yeah. And, and it's, it's reasonable to feel good. These are, you know, these are normally healthy people. But one thing that I discovered when working, when coaching clients around IP is that there's this also interesting thought creeping in that says, Oh, this time this project, it's going to be great.

Marsha Clark  23:02  
And I think that's one of the steps that you contributed to the imposter cycle if I remember, Tracie, is that right. And that's this idea of redemption.

Tracie Shipman  23:11  
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I guess I knew from for myself, that when I really started digging deeper into my own IP feelings and those limiting beliefs, I realized that part of what made me feel better about taking on a new opportunity, and especially if it had stretch or risk involved, it was going to be a way for me to kind of redeem any of my past errors or imperfections. So if we move from that kind of one o'clock, joy and good feelings, we then go into two o'clock, which is the where I added those words redemption and determination.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  23:47  
Wow. I mean, I never thought about there being a connection between taking on new challenges, and using those opportunities for redemption. I mean, that's such a loaded word. And, but yet, I can totally see how that would happen for people.

Tracie Shipman  24:05  
Yeah, it honestly took me a few years of working with the content to identify that that was a potential driver for people. For chronic IP sufferers projects eventually morphed into these little mini opportunities to continually redeem myself, this link between work and self worth for IP suffers is really strong. And so this sense of determination kicks in, as they or we, if I'll accept this offer to work on some new opportunity. And so then I can lean into those good feelings with a sense that oh, this time, we'll finally be the one where I get to prove to whatever imaginary jury is living in our heads, I'm gonna get to prove that I'm worthy of all this external praise and recognition that's happening.

Marsha Clark  24:54  
And you know, Tracie, I have to tell you and for all of our listeners out there, this is to me one of the most heartbreaking aspects of IP, especially as a leader of highly talented, high achieving women, because we see the toll that it takes on them both in the class and our coaching clients, and it's tough to watch and it's not really easy to coach them out of, you know. We're going to talk more about why that is in the next episode. But I'll give everyone a sneak preview when I say that coaching someone through their high IP beliefs and behaviors is not as simple as just telling them how awesome they are.

Tracie Shipman  25:31  
So I just delivered this and one of the women in the program had low IP scores, and she was saying, "Oh, I just have this song that I think to myself, it's like, I'm awesome, I'm awesome, everything's awesome." And, and she was so precious. And it was almost like, she was like "This is how I do it". And I was like, yeah, that wouldn't work for me.

Marsha Clark  25:52  
Or others? Yeah.

Tracie Shipman  25:55  
No, no. The others in the room that had the higher scores, they were all looking at her like, yeah, that wouldn't work for me. Yeah, it does. It isn't as simple as telling us how awesome we are. It's exhausting, because it's not just exhausting for the person with a high IP, but it's exhausting for the people around them, their leaders, coaches, mentors, you know, and even their loved ones. I know that it's a lot for people. So part of what's happening in this imposter cycle is that those positive feelings that come with accepting that new opportunity can be really short lived and for some of us sometimes only lasts like a few minutes. Because once that drive for redemption kicks in any joy associated with the project, it kind of evaporates. And so for the IP sufferer, their thoughts and feelings shift from joy and determination really quickly to doubt and dread, which is reinforced by all these internal beliefs like I should have never accepted this assignment, what was I thinking, this was a mistake, I'm never gonna be able to recreate the last success.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  26:57  
Wow. So in the chapter on IP in "Embracing Your Power" I thought it was really fascinating to read that so much of these thoughts and beliefs are running in the background, like an operating system, and that the IP sufferer doesn't even realize these things are going on.

Tracie Shipman  27:14  
Yeah, that's, I mean, that's part of what was so fascinating, especially even in the beginning. I mean, when I've been studying this now for 20 plus years and I have a grasp on what these behaviors and beliefs look like and what I need to be working on from my own list. And I still get caught up in impostor cycle on a very regular basis. And I usually don't even catch it until I kind of get to this, this next step, which is showing up at about three o'clock on our, you know, on our clock base here. And this is the phase in the cycle that is called Bad Dreams, Worry and Fear. And, and so, you know, how we describe it in the book is, since there's a lot going on for IP suffers that lies beneath the surface of our awareness so it's lurking in the subconscious, the source of feeling any worry or fear is often masked or completely hidden, right? It's kind of the water we swim in all the time, so we don't notice it. So this tape of doubt and dread is running in our heads for so long it's unrecognizable as a source of suffering.

Marsha Clark  28:18  
And you often share your own story. When you teach this, I've heard you tell it about how you start having nightmares when you're stressed out about a project and I think that was something that Dr. Clance even talked to you, something to watch out for.

Tracie Shipman  28:32  
Yeah, absolutely. In fact, I think it was that second year that I was supposed to be like two years into teaching this and I was still so intimidated by it all because I wanted it to be perfect, of course practically perfect. And so I was reaching out to Dr. Clance, calling her on a regular basis trying to wrap my arms around the research and findings and whatever new was coming out that we were on the phone a lot and she could tell I was stressed out so she was asking me how I was feeling and I'm sure I gave her this unconvincing you know oh yeah great, or some other feeble response and so she went straight to it. She was like, so how are your dreams? Are you having nightmares? Again, she's in my head, right? It was so creepy. And so of course I was having nightmares because I was in my full on IP cycle mode. Right? It was a big flare.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  29:20  
Yeah, this is definitely one of the things about IP for me that's so intriguing. "Most (and this is from again from your book, Marsha) IP sufferers aren't consciously aware that their worry and fears are connected to IP. The subconscious actually uses dreams to sort through their fears."

Tracie Shipman  29:42  
Yeah. And depending on that level of distress going on surrounding a particular project, the intensity of those dreams definitely will vary.

Marsha Clark  29:52  
Well and I know you've talked about yours get pretty bad and I've had clients tell me they get pretty bad as well.

Tracie Shipman  29:57  
Yeah. They they definitely do. And personally, remember I hadn't really been thinking about until I usually have these certain bad dreams show up so I use them as a wake up call that makes me realize like, Oh, I'm apparently trying to process some of my imposter stuff going on right now. And usually, like it's not just airplanes exploding in the sky and falling, normally it's like the airplane's exploding in the sky and falling on my children. Show now I'm like, the carnage of the airplane trying to find my body parts of my kids. I mean, that's how bad my dreams get - really, really awful. But it's a warning sign for me to go, Oh, you got something going on?

Marsha Clark  30:38  
Well, and, you know, I want to I just want to say, again, with the women in our programs, they begin to recognize this and go, Oh, that's what's happening, because it's a recurring event but they don't know  what's driving it or where it's coming from. And so, you know, that takes us then to the next stop around the cycle, which is the Immobility or the Procrastination phase. And, you know, this is where we've described it as something that freezes us in place, we can't move. So it's like we're in quicksand or something, and you just talked about this a couple of weeks ago, I think, even on Facebook, something about organizing your paper clip cup, or something along those lines.

Tracie Shipman  31:17  
I totally outed myself on Facebook. Yeah, it was about a month ago, and I had like four huge deliverables, all happening at the same time, I was completely frozen in doubt. So instead of doing something reasonable, like breaking the project into small chunks, and working through it, like a responsible grown up, I found myself sorting through an old EDS coffee cup of various paper clips and binder clips and organized them by color. You know, it was really important, had to be done that day.

Marsha Clark  31:45  
That day! And you may also remember, we've talked about this a little bit, too, I think, Wendi, that one of the ways that women deal with stress is in addition to the fight the flight, the phrases that we tend and befriend, right, so we organize the junk drawer or we, you know, organize the paperclip cup... Yeah, yes. Yes. Want a glass of wine...anything to keep us from doing those things.

Tracie Shipman  32:11  
Yeah, I was, doing both really, if you think about it, so I was tending to my paperclip cup and I was befriending because I was telling the world about it on Facebook, pulling everybody else in and commiserating on, you know, how tough my life was. So, you know, it was a bonding experience. People who went Oh, yeah, I'm right there with you, right there with me. And they were sharing their own personal favorite procrastination tricks. So it's from silverware drawers to reorganizing closets to cleaning. I got lots of suggestions.

Marsha Clark  32:43  
Oh yeah. And yet, what I think makes this different from what I'll call typical procrastinating, which, again, I think a lot of us do when we're avoiding something we didn't really want to do to begin with, but with IP, the procrastinating becomes sort of a, almost a twisted strategy to create some sort of excuse that if the project doesn't live up to those perfectionist, you know, expectations, you know I think Dr. Clance even referred to it as a superstitious pattern, right? I've got an excuse, or I've got something I can quote unquote, "blame it on".

Tracie Shipman  33:16  
Exactly. It does become that self fulfilling prophecy. So you know, if you think about it, I waited so long, and I created now this ridiculous time crunch to deliver on my promises. Now I have this built in excuse in case it turns out badly like I'm sure it's going to because I'm a freaking fraud. And this time, they're going to figure it out.

Marsha Clark  33:33  
Oh, my gosh!

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  33:37  
Wow! Okay, so thinking about going through this on a repeated basis, I mean, wow. Wow. It's a lot.

Tracie Shipman  33:47  
I think that's why it's so important to share this, especially the imposter cycle, so that people can start to recognize it and work toward catching it before it does become this vicious, vicious loop of really kind of destructive thinking and behaviors.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  34:01  
Okay, so we're at four o'clock right now at immobility and procrastination, four o'clock on the cycle spot. And now five o'clock is obviously Frenzied Work to make up for the immobility and procrastination, and the scrambling. So just what happens now in the frenzied work?

Tracie Shipman  34:22  
Yeah, I mean, so that again, is that I've got to now scramble because not only am I a high performer, right, so we know I'm going to deliver but it's also is a part of that kind of subconscious superstitious process of waiting till the last minute, because the last umpteen zillion times I did this I hit a homerun. You know, so think about like athletes and their superstitions, right. They sit there and they tap the bat on their left foot three times and their right foot one time and then when they get the hit, it's not because they're a great hitter, it's because they tapped their foot you know, in the right order. So the same thing with us, right? We have this superstition that Oh, since I've had this frenzied work and I hit a home run, I've gotta have frenzied work again in order to recreate that outstanding result. So, you know...

Marsha Clark  35:11  
There you go. And that's the superstitious aspect. So why mess with success? And I know there are many IP sufferers who also claim to be adrenaline junkies, right? I do my best work under pressure, I do my best work under a frenzy. And they believe firmly that they need that last minute shot of energy to do their best work.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  35:32  
Yeah, I, you know, I'm somewhere in the middle of all of this. Like, I try to take a message from procrastination, like, if there's a reason why I'm procrastinating from something, like for me, is that a message that I really don't need to be doing it? But yet, if there's a feeling underlying there that has to do with anxiety that's the thing that I think differentiates it. And that's what we're talking about.

Tracie Shipman  36:02  
So that that loop of procrastination, frenzied work, procrastination, frenzied work, right. There, people have lots of different justifications. And if so, I like you, Wendi,  I know for myself when I catch myself procrastinating, it is probably because that the anxiety of that imposters kicking in and there's some story rattling around in my brain that, you know, this is the time that I really am gonna let everybody down. And and so, and the kicker is, IP sufferers rarely let anybody down, right, they are high performers. (That's right.) So if we're still kind of on our cycle, right our IP cycle, we've made it to six o'clock at the bottom of the clock face. And that's where we get to the word Success. And so we've managed to deliver the project or do whatever it is, we're finally done. We've handed it off. Everybody's raving about how awesome it is. And so then, you know, Tra-la, success!

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  36:58  
Yeah, except it's not really a success, is it? I mean, doesn't the IP sufferer still have challenges with their impostor feelings showing up even after handing off a successful project?

Tracie Shipman  37:11  
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that's one of the things that you kind of, you know, you have IP when, right that even after you've handed something off and it's successful, it's still there, kind of growling in the background. So there is that immediate sense of relief that washes over, you know, the person with high IP, and maybe even some celebratory joy connected with the end. But it's just usually mostly a mental, huge mental sigh once we've managed to survive yet another exhausting project, and it's mostly exhausting because of the cycle. And so depending on how bad the IP is that's kicking in, that temporary joy or relief is quickly overtaken by this need to then track every mistake made during the project. And that's what I call the Tiny Failure Inventory List.

Marsha Clark  37:16  
Well, can I just say, we've gone from 12 o'clock on the face of the clock to six o'clock, this is all in an afternoon's work. Think about that when you just consider it in, you know, thinking about this cycle. I mean, it is amazing.

Tracie Shipman  38:17  
So the the tiny failure inventory list is something that I added to the original model. So Dr. Clance did talk about this, this internal critic and how it kicks in around this time, but it didn't really have a specific space for it on the cycle. So I added it because I live it. So if you think about we're at about seven o'clock, and this is where for chronic IP sufferers, they've been preemptively tracking their failures throughout the project. Even if it's not in writing, right, we've been keeping track of it in our mind so that when the shoe inevitably drops at the end, and everyone discovers that, you know, they're a fraud, they can at least be prepared with their own list of the many reasons why.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  39:00  
And isn't this the point where they bring back in their built in procrastination excuse also?

Tracie Shipman  39:06  
Oh, heck, yeah. It's the perfect time to remind myself that, you know, as I'm combing through my list of everything that wasn't perfect, part of the reason it wasn't perfect was because I procrastinated.

Marsha Clark  39:17  
And I know, Tracie, that the other thing you often point out when you're at this point in the cycle is that the high IP sufferer not only lists everything that they did or might have gone wrong on the project, but then they also start adding to the inventory everything else that has gone wrong in other parts of their life so dredging up all the memories that you know, have been a part of this experience.

Tracie Shipman  39:39  
Right, right. So I call those peripheral errors. Even if like if I had a flat tire while I'm working on a deliverable, now all of a sudden I add that to the tiny failure inventory because if I had paid more attention, if I had taken in my car and I had the tires checked, if I, if I... and so these are all the mistakes that really don't have anything to do with the actual project but I linked them in my brain because they are connected in the all other things that we didn't accomplish whatever high level of standards that we've set while we were working on the project.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  40:15  
Okay, so Tracie, give us some other examples of these peripheral errors because I want our listeners to possibly hear themselves in this and recognize what's going on.

Tracie Shipman  40:25  
Okay. Okay. Um, so let's think. So you know, even though the project itself was outstanding, right, so let's just put that aside, project itself was outstanding, everybody's happy high fives, but dot, dot, dot, maybe I didn't volunteer to be a field trip chaperone during the deadline while I was working on it. Tiny error. I ate nothing but carbs during my frenzied work. (Sounds way too familiar!) I missed acknowledging my friend's birthday on social media. That one hurts me. My kids now, I had to pull in... so this hasn't happened recently, but I remember, you know, when my kids were home, my kids ate fish sticks and boxed macaroni and cheese three times this week. So those are examples to me of peripheral errors, nothing to do with the project, but everything that I keep track of that I didn't do perfectly practically perfect while I was on the project.

Marsha Clark  41:18  
Well, and I, you know, often ask coaching clients, you know, did you do your very best? I mean, you know, it's just sort of a basic question. And, and they'll say, Well, no, if I, you know, if I had done this, this, this, this, this, this, this and this... And I say, but in light of all the things you had to do, did you do your very best, because if we only had one singular thing in life to do, we would be 1,000% every single time, but we have 87,000 things to do. Anyway. So I know we say this in the book, but I think it's worth repeating here is that one of the biggest challenges for women who do not have high IP symptoms is dealing with the women they know and respect who do have IP symptoms. It's like, it's a person's an alien or something. And so their first instinct is usually to respond with that encouraging supportive feedback - but you're so awesome, you've accomplished so much, you do well every single time, you're a rock star. And then they, you know, proceed to provide all the evidence to support these, you know, terrific statements.

Tracie Shipman  42:22  
I'm awesome. I'm awesome. That's it. So trying to convince somebody with high IP, and especially somebody who doesn't know that they have the IP stuff going on, they will not be able to absorb that praise. And not only can they not internalize it, but sometimes it creates an even deeper spiral of self doubt and shame, because they really don't believe they deserve it. Right. So even as you're saying, as you were saying that just now I'm thinking, oh, yeah, I would not be able to hear that, right. And it would make me feel worse. And it's the best of intentions. But it would make me feel worse. And we're talking about that next week because we're going to talk about in that episode about discounting praise and all of that. So we've kind of unpack that explain it. But to stick with the cycle, then if we move to that nine o'clock slot at the cycle where ,this is where the IP sufferer begins that process of filtering, and eskewing then any of that kind of external feedback. And so negative feedback that we might get reinforces the tiny failure inventory list, and it's filed away as valid. Oh, absolutely. You're right. You're right. That didn't happen. That didn't happen that. Yep, yep. And so it's processed and accepted as perpetually accurate, and attached to my story about myself. Yeah, it's not as an attribute of the project, but as a characteristic of our very own capability.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  43:44  
So if negtive or constructive feedback is absorbed like that, what happens with positive feedback?

Tracie Shipman  43:51  
For people with high IP, and again this isn't 100% of the time but it's with high regularity, any possible positive praise is pretty much discounted or denied as invalid. Feedback that's positive in nature, including actual achievements like degrees or certificates, certifications or awards, and it's so easily dismissed in the mind of the IP sufferer because it's tied to hard work or timing or luck or connections, but is not tied intrinsically like not linked to their own self worth.

Marsha Clark  44:26  
Yeah, and Tracie, you've used a few what I think are really helpful metaphors in previous times to describe what it's like for the IP sufferers to receive praise and one of the things that I think about is you've talked about it being like a hanging folder you know, that you would have in our file cabinets and we're you know, we might get thank you notes or at-a-girl letters you know, and we have that from bosses or clients or peers or friends and, and many of us have those but share what the difference is for people with high IP.

Tracie Shipman  44:59  
Yeah, so I mean, they get back again to that actual physical folder. And instead of it being an intact folder, it really has like a slit at the bottom. And so all these cards and notes and you know, words of praise, they just they go in the folder, but they slide right through. So praise doesn't really stick to them. And it is like, it's like that snowflake metaphor that we have in the book where for somebody with high IP, positive feedback or praise feels like literally a just a quickly melting snowflake that lands on a really heavy wool coat woven from the fibers of this tiny... and it''s all going to land and it melts. And so it's this exquisite, but very temporary moment of joy.

Marsha Clark  45:45  
And, again, it just makes me sad. But I want us to, really, and I want our listeners to know that we're going to dig in, and we're going to explore this idea of how we discount praise in our next episode. So let's wrap up today's session with the last two points on the imposter cycle, and that is Exaggerate Criticism/ Deny Success, and then Shrink Back/ Lay Low.

Tracie Shipman  46:16  
Okay, so yeah, there's a lot to unpack with the denying praise, so I'm glad we are gonna have that for that whole next episode. Yeah. And so if we, if we look back to our cycle at 11 o'clock is just where we are right now. That's where we land on that Exaggerate Criticism and Deny Success. And what Drs. Clance and Imes discovered in their research was that women, especially who struggle with high IP, often believe that, you know, whatever I'm weak in is what constitutes real intelligence. So like, for me, math is not a strength for me. And so to me, anybody who's really good at math is a genius. Right. So or I'm not, I'm not so good at... whatever it is, well those are really smart people. And then doing what I'm good at doesn't count. Because what counts is doing what I find difficult or challenging. So that's like, when I you know, when I was in college, and I became a marketing major because marketing was the easiest degree. And then in my mind, I was, I was already dismissing the value of a marketing degree. So graduating at the top of my class with a marketing degree, number one, wasn't really that important or valuable because it was marketing. And anybody graduated the top of the class in marketing, not right. And that would inevitably what I find hard when I do find something hard to accomplish, I then have renewed proof that I in fact lack intelligence. So these are all some of the beliefs that that reinforce that exaggerating criticism and denying success. So the inability to truly recognize somebody's our own natural gifts and competencies makes it really easy to discount achievements as as something that I own. And so denying success is less  about humility, and just more about believing in this false story about who I am.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  48:12  
Well, as Marsha mentioned, the final step along this IP cycle journey is shrink back and stay low. What happens in this phase?

Tracie Shipman  48:22  
So actually you both have alluded to what's happening in this phase, because it's exhausting to do life this way, working through this cycle on virtually every project, right on any given afternoon its what's going on. And so what happens here is that people, and practically perfect in every way type people, they shrink back and lay low as new opportunities are being handed out because one, they're not sure they deserve the new opportunity since they remember everything they didn't do perfectly last time, or two, they assume that this will be the time this time, it's going to be just as exhausting as the last of the zillion times that I've worked on something because it's always exhausting. Or even three, this will finally be the time, it'll be the final straw and everybody's going to discover that they are a fraud because this is a reflexive action of shrinking back and laying low. And it really gives people with high IP a bit of a rest away from the drama and the trauma of entering into a new cycle, this cycle that for most people unless they've listened to this or studied about it, it's invisible and inescapable. And it's that way until they know better.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  49:38  
When we know better, we do better.

Marsha Clark  49:40  
Well, we say that often. Yes, and I also want to just then tie this back to something we said earlier, which is why if women do get frozen or stuck in this IP cycle and this shrinking back, that's why they're not stepping up to research roles or TA roles, or doctorate or groups, or leadership roles, or running for a political office, or wanting to be president of the PTA, or whatever it may be, because we're shrinking back and laying low.

Tracie Shipman  50:12  
Yep, they are not stepping into their power.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  50:15  
Well, we've covered a lot of territory today between the definition of imposter phenomenon, the IP test preview, we gave some examples there, and the imposter cycle. This has been a whirlwind, ladies. So no wonder we're breaking this into three episodes.

Marsha Clark  50:31  
Yeah, and this has been such a, both a popular and a provocative topic for many of our program participants and coaching clients. And we really want to do it justice so that we're not kind of skipping across it. So thank you, Wendi, for keeping us on track. And for all your great questions. And certainly, Tracie, thank you for bringing your subject matter expertise and the personal experiences to this episode and helping us to do this deep dive on the imposter phenomenon. I can't wait to bring the information in episodes two and three, and hopefully our listeners will be with us to explore that.

Tracie Shipman  51:10  
Thank you. Thank you for inviting me. It's been fun to be on this side of the microphone. I do love talking about this topic.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  51:17  
Well, Marsha, do you have any final thoughts for our listeners today?

Marsha Clark  51:20  
Well, again, as I said, I do hope they'll join us for the other two parts in this series, because we really are just getting started. And second, I want to remind everyone that the IP test is both in my book, "Embracing Your Power" and with a lot of good explanations around it, and also on Dr. Clance's website at And this test can be really helpful to give one a sense of their level or intensity of IP, what their beliefs and behaviors are around that. And that then the cycle provides that strong sense of how it impacts our day to day work. And then third, I hope that what we've shared today is somewhat comforting. And I just can't begin to tell you how many times I've heard phrases such as, there's a name for this? And that, you know, other women have similar thoughts or experiences. Or even I'm not crazy because it can be crazy making. I mean, Tracie, you've talked about that. And recognizing that IP is a real thing and that you're you know, not the only one suffering from it can be a real relief. And finally, I'm really appreciative of Drs. Clance and Imes for their groundbreaking research and their advocacy on behalf of women. I mean, think back to where we were in the 70's. It was a really coming of age and some real advances for women. And this was a part of that, and really not just women here in America, but really all over the world who struggle with IP.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  52:57  
Well, thank you, Tracie for being with us today. We look forward to the next two episodes. Thank you, Marsha for bringing this topic to the forefront here as we keep going on our journey of authentic powerful leadership. So listeners, please download, subscribe and share this podcast wherever you like to listen. Please visit Marsha's website at for links to all the tools, the book. We even gave you the chapter of the book so you can look all of this up, and subscribe to Marsha's email list so you can stay up to date on everything that's going on in Marsha's world.

Marsha Clark  53:37  
Well, and I too want to invite our listeners to let us know what they're thinking and to connect with me via email or any of our social media channels. We want to be a resource for you whether it be on imposter phenomena or anything else as it relates to being a powerful authentic woman leader. And again, we hope you'll join us for our next episode. And as always, here's to women supporting women!

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