I know imposter syndrome well. Each time I’ve started a new job, given a presentation or spoken up in a meeting full of people I consider “experts,” a voice of doubt and warning goes off in my head. It likes to say things like “you’re going to sound like you don’t know what you’re talking about” or imagine that others will secretly be shaking their heads and rolling their eyes at me.
Imposter syndrome is a variation on a theme of anxiety, with a dose of shame sprinkled in (“who do you think you are?”)
Even starting this blog has brought up some of those feelings, so I thought “what better time than now to write about it?”
Because here’s the thing.
Even though I still experience imposter syndrome at times, my relationship to it has shifted. I used to think that it was a warning sign that I really didn’t know what I was talking about, that I should probably just keep quiet and wait until I felt more confident and had X more years of experience. As I ventured into the world of self employment and starting my own business, I’ve come to view it differently:
Instead of seeing imposter syndrome as a sure sign that I’m on the wrong track, I now see it as a sign that I’m leaning into my growing edge, stretching my comfort zone as I try something new.
When we take a more open stance of allowing imposter syndrome to come along for the ride that is “doing new (read: scary!) things,” it loses some of its power. I’ve experienced this for myself, as have many of my clients who have learned to embrace (or at least welcome) imposter syndrome when applying for a job they’re not sure they’re actually qualified for or speaking up about something that matters to them even if there wasn’t time to prepare.
How to make sure imposter syndrome isn’t holding you back:
Understand You’re Not Alone and it’s Not Your Fault
According to the American Psychological Society, up to 82% of people have experienced the (unsubstantiated) belief that they are underqualified, haven’t earned their achievements or are a “fraud.” Imposter syndrome is even more common for BIPOC folks, trans and nonbinary people, individuals who fall on the spectrum of neurodiversity and folks with disabilities.
Since we often work and live in spaces that uphold the values of white supremacy culture (think perfectionism, sense of urgency, power hoarding and individualism), it’s no wonder that fears and faulty beliefs of not being/doing/achieving enough are so common. Add that to messages we may have received from our families (for example: “don’t show off”) and you’ve got the conditions ripe for breeding imposter syndrome.
Resist the Urge to Compare
It’s so easy these days to keep a close eye on what everyone else is doing and to end up feeling like you’re not measuring up (thanks social media!). However, when we compare ourselves to others, we often do not take the full picture into account. We might see the perfectly curated version of a coworker’s life on social media and compare that to our internal sense of self.
The next time you find yourself thinking “I really don’t measure up” to a colleague or friend, remind yourself that you don’t know the full extent of that person’s unique set of privileges, challenges and struggles. If it’s someone you look up to and admire, instead of getting caught up in feelings of unworthiness, try asking yourself “what can I learn from this person?”
Embrace Imperfection and Make Room for Failure
This can be a tricky one. It’s not uncommon for people who experience imposter syndrome on a frequent basis to identify as perfectionists. You may be a high achiever who has always put 110% into everything you do, or maybe feel like you have to carefully measure all potential risks before diving into a project that stretches your growing edges.
The fact is that we will all mess up and even fail at some point. Often, our trying to avoid this inevitability keeps us playing small and stops us from taking risks. Every person who has achieved great things has had their share of failures and setbacks along the way. Make room for the messiness of imperfection and remember that failure can open up new and unexpected doors – perhaps better ones than we could have ever planned for!
Recall Your Unique Strengths
When you are stretching out of your comfort zone, imposter syndrome likes to remind you of all of the skills you have yet to acquire, the experience you don’t already have. It can be helpful to shift your focus to the strengths and skills you already bring to the table in these moments. Don’t forget all the things you have achieved, the goals you’ve already reached.
All of your experiences, skills and strengths have led to this moment. Write them down so you can refer to them when you need to. Maybe reach out to a friend who can help remind you of why you in fact do have what it takes. Remember, you don’t have to be perfect or succeed every time in order to move in the direction of growth and success.
Talk to Someone
If you feel like imposter syndrome is holding you back from achieving your goals, it may be time to reach out to a professional counselor who can help you. Schedule a free fifteen minute consultation today!