Unmasking the Impostor Syndrome

Do you go to work and live in fear of people finding out you are not as smart, talented or accomplished as they think you are? Do you question your value to a project because you think you don’t contribute on the level of others. Do you compare your efforts to others in the company? 

The Impostor Syndrome is a self-sabotaging condition we often experience that can hold us back from reaching new heights or “leaning” in to bigger challenges in our career.

 “There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert.  How do these people believe all this about me?  I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.” Dr. Chan, Chief of the World Health Organization

Let’s start by first stating that people who really don’t deliver or who are very busy tooting their own horns are not the ones that suffer from Impostor Syndrome. It is most often the high-achieving women in an organization who second guess their worth.

How to do we eliminate this feeling?

First – recognize the Impostor Syndrome for what it is – your own negative internal voice questioning your value. It has nothing to do with reality or what others think of you. The Impostor Phenomena is merely a symptom of a lack of self confidence.

Second – now that you know that – stop it! In the article Afraid of Being Found Out, the author, Margie Warrell says:

Overcoming the Imposter Syndrome requires self-acceptance:  you don’t have to attain perfection or mastery to be worthy of the success you’ve achieved and any accolades you earn along the way.  It’s not about lowering the bar, it’s about resetting it to a realistic level that doesn’t leave you forever striving and feeling inadequate. You don’t have to be Einstein to be a valuable asset to your organization and to those around you.  Nor do you have to attain perfection to share something with the world that enriches people’s lives in some way.

Third – Own your successes. Warrell reminds us that we need to take time to recognize what we have accomplished and what we contribute:

 “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ “ – Maya Angelou

But just as we must take responsibility for our failures in life, we must also take responsibility for our successes. Minimizing them serves no-one. So if you sometimes feel undeserving of your success, try writing a list of all the key things you’ve accomplished over the last 5 years. I would hazard a guess that even the fruits of your last 12 months’ effort will  help you to see how well deserved all your success.

Fourth – If you still feel you are lacking – learn something new. Gulnara Mirzakarimova (Hackbright Academy – spring 2013 class) talks about her experiences with Imposter Syndrome and offers a few great suggestions for overcoming this negative feeling. One of the most actionable suggestions is this:

Make a list of things that you do not know and the things you “think” you don’t know. Just learn them. You will be so busy you will have no time to worry.

“She explained that many people, but especially women, feel fraudulent when they are praised for their accomplishments. Instead of feeling worthy of recognition, they feel undeserving and guilty, as if a mistake has been made. Despite being high achievers, even experts in their fields, women can’t seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they really are- impostors with limited skills or abilities.” ― Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

 

Giving yourself a goal of learning new things is an empowering step in the right direction. In a recent article I shared business lessons from the award recipients of the Dr. Simonetti Business Achievement award and continually learning was a common thread among the honorees. In fact, Gulnara’s final lesson for those wanting to overcome the Impostor Syndrome involves learning:

Finally, there is so much I do not know yet, and it is amazing, because otherwise why to live if you know everything.

Lesson #5: Accept the fact that there are thing that you do not know, there are thing that you will never know and there are things that You Can Decide To Learn.

Know this – you are not alone. If you are constantly fearing people will find out you don’t belong in your position or that you don’t know as much as people think you do – take comfort that most of the greatest successes in the world have been in your shoes. 

Still need help? Check out 21 Proven Ways To Overcome Impostor Syndrome 

Keep a file of people saying nice things about you. I just started this earlier this year and it’s been amazing. Every time someone writes that I helped them online I take a screenshot and put it in my folder. When I feel like a fraud I can go look through the stories of people I have helped.

-JJ DiGeronimo is a speaker on leadership for women, uses her background as a woman in technology to educate, motivate and enlighten professional women.