Do You Suffer From “Imposter Syndrome”?
By Karin Eldor
Have you heard of the term “Imposter Syndrome”?
You know: that nagging feeling that for some reason, you’re going to be exposed for not being good enough.
Comedian Tina Fey tackled Imposter Syndrome in her best-selling book, Bossypants. Can you believe a #LadyBoss like Tina even confessed that she sometimes screams inside her head, “I’m a fraud! They’re onto me!”? (Pretty mind-blowing.)
What is Imposter Syndrome?
I don’t mean to get all psychological on you, but here goes: Imposter syndrome was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes, referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as "frauds". Despite evidence of their competence, those who are plagued by this remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.
Can you imagine how exhausting this must be?!? It means that when you go to work every day, not only are you thinking about your tasks and deadlines, but you’re also haunted by this feeling that you’re not good enough for your job. This kind of thinking can be detrimental to your career!
So let’s try to stop this right here, right now. It’s time to overcome Imposter Syndrome and own the fact that you, my friends, are the real deal.
Here is why.
Stops you from applying or even considering certain jobs
If you believe that you’re someone who has somehow managed to falsely convince everyone of your skills, you might hesitate to even consider applying for certain jobs. Talk about a career buster.
Hinders your leadership skills, as a manager
Ironically, Imposter Syndrome is common among high achievers. Because people with Type A personalities are hard on themselves and are their own worst critics (as they likely have high expectations of themselves), they might feel undeserving of their managerial title. This can impact their ability to make assertive leadership choices in their current job. The need to please and not rock the boat becomes a cover up for not being exposed as “frauds.”
Prevents you from negotiating
So when it comes to evaluation time with your manager, you might be afraid to ask for a pay raise, for fear of confrontation. This might also be impacting your negotiating skills when landing a new job. You might be so happy -- and perhaps also maybe a little shocked! -- that you got the job you were hoping for, that you don’t want to risk the potential of losing it by negotiating more vacation time or being eligible for a bonus.
Leads you to be a “yes” person - not always a good thing!
Knowing how to say no and properly manage your boss’, clients’ and even team members’ expectations is a learned skill and one that’s very important for your career development. (Quick tip: I highly recommend the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown - it will help you muster up courage to say “no” despite the fear of disappointing others).
Fills your mind and emails with traces of self-doubt
Feeling like a fraud might be causing your emails and even conversations to be filled with self-doubt and a constant pattern of having to apologize for being assertive.
Tip: Start by banishing the word “just” from your vocabulary.
Try to be mindful of this next time you’re writing an email: “I’m just following up on this request…” or “I just think…” (Believe me, you’ll start to notice yourself doing this from now on. And when you do, you can tweet me a thank you @alwayskarin.)
According to the book Playing Big by Tara Mohr, words like “just” make you sound apologetic, defensive and meek. As do words like “but”, “actually” and saying things like: “I’m no expert, but…” Why do you think you’re no expert? You likely are -- and honestly, if you perceive yourself as being an expert in something, then others’ opinions of you will follow suit.
This type of self-doubt might also creep into a lot of your decision making, which can become a real energy suck.
How to nip this in the bud:
- Stop comparing yourself: Don’t compare yourself to other people, like friends or coworkers who seem to have it all and have their act together. This will always become a “no-win” situation. If you find it tough to shut off the noise you see on others’ social media feeds, try to limit your activity there. And remind yourself that everyone is trying to make themselves look better and sell themselves - nothing is truly as it seems.
- Remember that no one else is YOU: It can sound elementary and Dr. Seuss-like, but no one else has your “brand DNA” and all the elements that make you, “you.” So use that to your advantage and start to recognize your worth. You are where you are because you deserve it!
- Celebrate big (and small) wins: Whether you keep a work journal or a gratitude diary, take note and celebrate your wins, big and small. Sometimes even a small reward like buying yourself a new pair of shoes or laptop you’ve been eyeing can give you the pat on the back you need.
- Watch TED Talks and podcasts during your commute or with your morning coffee, for some inspiration about self-worth and career advice. I recommend podcasts like The Lively Show and The Tim Ferriss Show for next-level career tips, and Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk about “power posing” for mastering confident body language.
- Focus on the value you bring: Again, try to hone in on the “value add” of your personal brand: what do your coworkers appreciate about you most?
Reveal your worth!
It’s time to shed this layer of self-doubt and realize that your success is not a result of luck, timing or chance. Only you are responsible for where you are, so own it. And if it means needing a quick pep talk from a close friend every now and then, go for it. We all have days when we might not be “feeling it”, but learning how to project confidence and “fake it” can do wonders in appearing confident.
The rest will follow.