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Top tips to overcome the dreaded Impostor Syndrome
When you receive a compliment about a job well done, do you immediately respond with, “Oh, it was nothing”? Do you really think that it was nothing and believe that anyone else could’ve done it better than you?
If you constantly feel that what you do is not good enough, you may have impostor syndrome, which is a psychological term describing a pattern of behaviour where you doubt your accomplishments, and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.
As a career coach, I come across this frequently, especially with my clients – both male and female – who have experienced a redundancy and are in between roles, as their self-confidence is usually at a low ebb.
I’ve found it doesn’t matter how powerful anyone is, they may still experience impostor syndrome.
Whether they are the managing director of a company, someone who has won many awards, delivered multiple presentations or secured great wins – regardless of what they’ve achieved, how much respect they command, or how much good work they’ve done, they may still wonder if they are good enough.
And, despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments, they’ll remain convinced they don’t deserve the success they’ve achieved.
They may call their success lucky or just good timing, and dismiss it, believing other people are better, more intelligent or more competent than they are.
How to spot if you have Impostor Syndrome
- You are about to deliver a presentation, and you secretly think you’re about to be found out for how hopeless you really are.
- You finally get the promotion you’ve wanted at work, and your inner narrative tells you they must have been short on candidates, or that you didn’t really deserve the promotion. You’re convinced you won’t live up to expectations.
- You’re sitting in a big meeting and you just know that your manager will walk in any minute, tap you on the shoulder, and tell you that you really aren’t qualified for the job (even though you’re the most experienced person in the room).
Often people with impostor syndrome are perfectionists who have a huge fear of failure and constantly undermine their own achievements.
This can be debilitating, causing stress, anxiety, shame and low self-esteem.
Case study: Self-limiting beliefs
Two years ago, I worked with a client, Mary*, a very talented designer who has won numerous awards for her work and is well respected in her industry. However, despite all the accolades and awards, she always felt that she was only as good as her next achievement. Of course, she had no way of knowing when public recognition would come next and Impostor Syndrome set in.
Mary she doubted her ability and all the awards meant nothing to her as she called herself “unemployed” following major restructures in her company which led to an unhealthy work culture.
I started working with her to identify her personal and career values, we set out in detail her achievements – and specifically what actions she took to get her stellar results – where we discovered her true ‘career anchor’, skills and knowledge, personal preferences and work motivators and de-motivators.
What Mary really wanted was to be autonomous, to be the master of her own destiny and to not have to answer to a manager who did not respect her work, all within a toxic work culture.
Her dream was to set up her own business and this is what she has done – she is now designing and creating what she loves most. Because of her talent, her work is a true reflection of who she is, and she no longer has impostor syndrome because she is now honest with herself about who she is, and the value she brings through her work.
*real name not used.
Tips for overcoming Impostor Syndrome
- To deal with fraudulent feelings it helps to voice your fears with a mentor, or a safe peer group as you will find you’re not alone – impostor syndrome is more common than you think!
Write down a list of your achievements, skills and successes regardless of how big or small they are. This will prove you do have concrete value to share with the world. Use this method to document your accomplishments:
- Identify the problem or situation that required you to take a specific action, or lead your team to take a specific action
- Identify each action that you or your team, under your leadership, took
- Identify the tangible result of your action/s (for example streamlining of processes, profit improvements, cost savings, risk management outcomes, perceived benefits)
Make sure you include these accomplishments in your resume as a reminder of the value you bring to your role.
Build a strong support system with people you respect – mentor, peers, family and friends – and ask for ongoing feedback that validates your efforts and outcomes.
- Create a strong pitch for yourself – it’s empowering to know what you to say when someone asks what you do. Use this suggested template to create a brief pitch:
I’m [name] and I’m a [area of expertise]. I help [people or companies] to [outcome of your work] by [how you do it].
- Impostor syndrome happens when you underestimate how good you really are and when you believe you have to know everything. Allow yourself to continue learning and accept everyone has their vulnerabilities. An excellent read is Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly. Accept there is power in vulnerability.
How to get ‘match-fit’ for work
To get yourself match-fit for work you must choose an environment which matches well to your values and personal preferences. Conduct an audit of what is important to you and compare it to what you are offered at work. If there is a discrepancy, identify specifically what it is and take action to resolve it.
Here’s what you must do:
Conduct a values assessment
- How closely do your values match with the environment you are in? Do you believe in the business, are you surrounded by like-minded professionals?
Identify your personal preferences
- What motivates and de-motivates you at work? What are you willing to tolerate and what is not acceptable? Decide what you are going to do to change what can be changed.
Assess your skills and knowledge
- Are your skills up to date? Do you need more experience in a specific area? If you need additional training and experience, strategise how you will get it. The world of work is changing and in order to stay on top of the game you must keep your skills up-to-date.
Find a mentor
- A mentor may be within your organisation or outside of the business. They must understand the industry and provide objectivity when you are not able to see the forest for the trees. They will be the ones who lift you when you are unsure of what to do next.
Acknowledge your achievements
- Write them down. Make them tangible, as dollars or percentage improvements are proof that what you have achieved has value. Also acknowledge your intangible results, which are perceived improvements (employee morale, a team that is motivated, et cetera.) They’re not always quantifiable but can be equally important.
Take care of yourself
- Eat well, sleep well and look after your physical health through exercise
- Take time to meditate, use positive affirmations and acknowledge your strengths
- Look to this quote by author Marianne Williamson: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us … We are all meant to shine.”
These tips will help you identify when your self-talk starts to undermine your confidence, causing that ugly impostor syndrome to rear its head again.
Remember you are good enough, that you are enough, and next time someone compliments your good work, say, “Thank you, I appreciate that!”