By: Alisha Sedor
If you’ve ever felt inadequate even though everyone around you says you’re crushing it, or that you’re about to be “found out” for not being as good as everyone thinks you are, then you’re suffering from what’s often referred to as imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome keeps us from being our best selves at work (and in life) - it can keep us from speaking with confidence for our ideas, taking risks that could move us forward, and generally cause stress and anxiety.
What exactly is imposter syndrome? Technically, it’s not a “syndrome” at all, as it doesn’t fit the criteria of a psychological syndrome. The good thing about this is that it’s not something you’re “afflicted with” - you can simply recognize it’s happening, note it, and move on from it! (Easier said than done, Alisha.) Personally, I like to use the phrasing “impersonator experience” defined as the experience of feeling like you’re not actually good at something; you think you’re pretending you’re someone who is good at something and hoping no one notices.
That said, for purposes of this post, I’ll use the phrase imposter syndrome since that’s the common term used. To get more specific, The Muse highlights this definition:
“Imposter syndrome occurs when we feel like a fraud—when we feel that our successes are undeserved. We convince ourselves they’re based on luck, timing, or other factors outside of our control, instead of embracing the fact that we’re actually responsible for having made those successes happen.”
Interestingly, it’s most common in high-achievers and “frequently rears its head after an especially notable achievement like winning an award, passing an important exam, or earning a promotion,” according to Psychology Today.
Where does it come from? The Muse notes it can be rooted in a few things:
- Over-praising early in life, which causes feelings of inadequacy when you’re not getting that praise as an adult
- Not having role models, mentors, and leadership that are like you. It can be hard to see yourself as deserving if you feel like the only one like you in a space.
- Meritocracy as you rise through the ranks can also have an impact: when you’ve been the best your whole life and you’re suddenly in an environment where everyone is the best, it can really clip your ego.
So how do you combat those feelings of “I’m not as competent as everyone thinks I am…” There are lots of tactics out there, so pick the ones that resonate with you and try to practice them regularly! Here are some of my favorites:
- Identify what’s shaking your confidence and then ask yourself, “is that real or am I psyching myself out?” Sometimes just naming it can make a difference!
- Use your support networks. Find a safe space to talk about falling short, failings, feeling like a fraud. And then those people will tell you you’re being silly.
- Remind yourself of your achievements regularly. Keep a brag book.
- Trust your superiors. If you’re feeling insecure at work, remember that your bosses are competent people and they put you here for a reason. If they’re not competent well… that’s a different discussion, let’s talk about that after.
- Think about the language you’re using - are you using language that’s devaluing your opinion or recommendations? Try Just Not Sorry to identify places where you’re hedging in your language and decide if you want those words there or if there are some that you could pull to sound more authoritative.
- Try mentoring or get a coach - sharing your expertise can make it more apparent to you, and coaches are trained to help you identify your strengths and move you forward.
- Watch these TED talks to combat imposter syndrome.
Remember: You’re a badass at what you do. Everyone around you probably feels like they’re faking it too. And if you need some help working through your imposter syndrome, let’s talk.