Perhaps you’ve recently been promoted to a management position for the first time. Or, maybe you’re tasked with using your expertise to help your team understand a difficult concept.
Either way, your thoughts are the same: Can you really pull this off? Sure, on most days you consider yourself skilled and capable. But sometimes you question your own abilities. Sometimes you wonder what people see in you. Perhaps you have nightmares that your boss discovers you Googling acronyms from the morning meeting.
We’ve all dealt with thoughts and fears of being nothing but a fraud. Luckily, we’re not alone, and they have a name: imposter syndrome.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
The Harvard Business Review defines imposter syndrome as a “collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.”
Simply, imposter syndrome leads you to believe that you’re not actually skilled and accomplished—you’ve only somehow muddled your way through and tricked everybody else into thinking you’re awesome. You feel like you’re impersonating someone who’s worthy of that level of admiration and respect, and you’re waiting for the moment when you’re exposed as the fraud that you really are.
Needless to say, imposter syndrome is an unnecessary and self-defeating way to move through your career. Here are some ways you can face imposter syndrome head-on.
1. Take Note of the Positive
When you’re stuck in such a vicious loop, you can often get caught in your own thoughts. The simple activity of writing down some positives (think your most recent wins, successes, etc.) will divert your focus from your negative thoughts and toward the strengths that you bring to the table—which will immediately help to boost your confidence.
“Every time someone writes that I helped them online I take a screenshot and put it in my folder,” says writer and entrepreneur, Kyle Eschenroeder, in his blog post on imposter syndrome, “When I feel like a fraud I can go look through the stories of people I have helped.”
Doing this exercise also means that you’ll create a helpful resource that you can look back on whenever you’re feeling obsessive about your shortcomings.
2. Talk it Out
If you’re feeling so low and anxious that you don’t think you can talk yourself out of it, rely on a friend or a trusted mentor to reassure you.
Have a candid conversation and let out your feelings of inadequacy. Yes, it can feel strange to unload your emotional burdens on someone. But, it can also help you stare your imposter syndrome in the face and move forward with newfound confidence.
“In many (though not all) situations it’s better for you to discharge negative emotions than to keep them bottled up inside,” explains Dr. Leon F. Seltzer in his post for Psychology Today, “Whether it’s sorrow, anxiety, anger, or frustrations in general, repeatedly holding in what may need to come out has been related to compromised health—physical, mental, and emotional.”
Additionally, the person you confide in will likely be quick to empathize with you—or even shoot down your negative thoughts. Whoever you choose to vent to can help you put things in perspective and even refute those insecurities you’re obsessing over. Sometimes there’s nothing like an honest conversation to help you look at a situation (and your own qualifications!) through a totally different lens.
3. Accept Imperfection
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that—unless you’re completely flawless in your career—you’re an imposter. However, it’s important to realize that making mistakes or experiencing failure doesn’t automatically qualify you as a fraud.
In those moments when you’re beating yourself up over your own perceived inadequacy, remind yourself that some of the world’s brightest and most successful people have also made some blunders and had their confidence shaken every now and then.
Bill Gates’ first step into entrepreneurship was a minicomputer that completely flopped. Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school three different times. R.H. Macy started seven failed businesses before finally opening Macy’s in New York City. Even Maya Angelou was known to question her own success.
You wouldn’t consider any of those people imposters, would you? But, that doesn’t mean they never experienced their own dose of failure and doubt. So, in those moments when you’re feeling low, remind yourself that making mistakes doesn’t make you an imposter—it makes you human. And, as the above examples show, you’re in good company.
4. Stop Comparing Yourself
The comparison trap is a nasty—albeit, far too easy—trap to fall into in your career. You constantly match your own skills and successes up against everybody else’s to see how you rank. And, if you feel like you’re falling short? That only makes your imposter syndrome that much more severe.
It’s great to have mentors and colleagues you look up to from time to time. However, it’s also important that you don’t constantly use other people as your benchmark for success, as comparison is a natural gateway to feeling inadequate.
So, try your best to avoid pitting yourself against other people and seeing how you compare. If you can stay focused on doing the best work that you are capable of (rather than trying to achieve the best work that somebody else is capable of), you’ll be that much more self-assured.
Imposter syndrome is frustrating. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to nip it in the bud. Put these tips into action, and you’ll move through your career with the self-assuredness you deserve.