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How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Black and white photo of a woman holding a piece of paper with a smiley face on it over her face

Imposter syndrome is a phrase that has become popular throughout the working world. It’s especially prominent when talking about women and the difficulties they face when trying to move up the career ladder. But before we talk about how to cope with imposter syndrome, let’s be clear on what exactly this “syndrome” is.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

According to Psychology Today, “People who struggle with imposter syndrome believe that they are undeserving of their achievements and the high esteem in which they are, in fact, generally held. They feel that they aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think - and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about them. Those with imposter syndrome are often well accomplished; they may hold high office or have numerous academic degrees.”

The article also states that imposter syndrome is not any type of clinical diagnosis, although people who suffer from imposter syndrome may also often have anxiety or depression.

Women in particular struggle with imposter syndrome more often than men. There are a few reasons why this could be the case. For one thing, women have fewer role models in upper levels of management to help them transition into new leadership roles. This can lead to them feeling less sure about how to act and doubt whether they are good enough for the position.

Most of us [women] have been raised to be modest. Bragging or sharing successes wasn’t seen as “lady-like." As a woman, I’ve worked alongside men in a senior leadership role, and when they touted achievements, it felt as though applause was expected; however when I shared a success, I was bragging or being “too” confident.

Sometimes the problems that women face are less about imposter syndrome and more about the lack of equality in the workplace. Many women feel they must work twice as hard to prove their worth and still don’t feel like they’re good enough. Because of this many women don’t even raise their hands and when they do, it can feel like a much steeper climb because of our inner critic combined with the outer critics.

Personally, I’ve sought out and acquired different credentials to have more credibility, and I still feel like I need to do more. Working on both those inner and outer critics can help us feel like we are enough.

How to Beat Your Imposter Syndrome

There are a few different ways you can fight against your feelings of being an imposter.

1) Remind yourself of your achievements

Whether your achievements are big or small, we’ve all done something worth being proud of. Considering many people who struggle with imposter syndrome are actually well accomplished, you likely have a nice long list of things you’ve achieved already.

Taking the time to write what you’ve already done is a reminder that you can do it. You’ve already done all of these great things. And if you feel like you haven’t done anything lately, even small achievements can be part of your list.

You wouldn’t have gotten this far if you were truly an imposter with no skills. Just look at everything you did so far! The journey to this moment has prepared you for what is around the corner more than you realize.

Take the time to reflect on your achievements and remember that we learn from wins, but many times, it’s the mistakes that teach us much more.

Once an executive leader chuckled about my “kudos” file I kept in my email. That file saved me on days when I felt I couldn’t do anything right. My niece recently graduated from Advanced Individual Training with the Army. During her training, they created an “I Love Me” book. I love the idea of having an established place to keep accomplishments.

If you don’t have a file, book, or some type of running list of all the amazing things you’ve done in your life, I encourage you to get one started today! Here’s a great tool we use from the Institute of Social+Emotional Intelligence®:

Achievement and Success Log-2
Download PDF • 198KB

2) Talk to a friend

Chances are, you’re not the only one feeling this way. While the numbers vary, every article I’ve read on the subject lists the number of people who have experienced imposter syndrome as at least higher than 50%. Talking to a trusted friend about how you’re feeling may help you work through those feelings.

It’s also nice to know you’re not alone, so sharing the burden of imposter syndrome can be a big relief. Your friend can also help boost your confidence to keep going.

I’ve loved having an accountability partner that provides balanced feedback. Someone that can look at what you’ve done and help you see the reality of your accomplishments is important. Because imposter syndrome is driven from how we think, which comes from our belief system, it’s super helpful to have someone you trust help you with that reality check.

We’ve shared in the past about mindset. Your mindset is what you should evaluate when you are having those “Imposter Syndrome” feelings.

3) Find a role model

As I mentioned in the beginning of the article, a lack of female role models can contribute to more instances of imposter syndrome in women. To help overcome your own imposter syndrome, intentionally seek out a role model to learn from. This role model may come in the form of a mentor or sponsor.

While you may not find a role model within your organization, the good news is that there are plenty of women you can follow online. Podcasts, blogs, or social media feeds can offer wisdom and guidance through some of the struggles of women in leadership.

In addition, look for women’s organizations or organizations that actively mentor their members. I’ve shared in the past that I’m a member of two such organizations locally. My experiences in both Toastmasters and The Junior League have included learning from others that have gone before me. Although Toastmasters is an international organization for members of all kinds, my club caters specifically to women interested in leadership.

In addition, seeking out leadership roles in women’s organizations can be the building block that will help you gain some confidence and work on the self-doubt that feeds imposter syndrome.

4) Recognize your feelings

I feel the most important thing is to listen to yourself. Your body gives you signals that you’re feeling like an imposter before you recognize it. You might find that you’re feeling a little tense between your shoulder blades or that you are more tired than usual. These might be signs that you are stressed or that you are experiencing a little depression.

Listening to our bodies helps us recognize our feelings. Other signals that we might be experiencing imposter syndrome can come from our behaviors.

I know that when I’m doubting my ability, I find myself procrastinating. Sometimes the feeling that what I’m working on isn’t good enough is so strong that I just don’t start. When I recognize and acknowledge that my doubts are causing the procrastination, I then know what to do. I can revisit how I’m feeling, my mindset, my past accomplishments, and the work I’ve done.

Not acknowledging feelings eliminates the opportunity to address the root cause. You want to address that root cause to build your confidence back up.

Where does imposter syndrome show up in your life? How do you beat imposter syndrome? We want to know. Share in the comments by becoming a JennQuest site member.

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