A journalist friend of mine said she felt like an imposter at her old job. I said, “What on earth do you mean?” She said, “I had these feelings that I was not qualified to be here - to write and to be an expert in this field”. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. She was (and still is) an accomplished writer and investigative journalist. She felt like if she asked too many questions, she’d expose her ignorance but if she didn’t ask enough questions, she’d feel like she was trying to hide her mistakes (which she was).
In an article last year by Harvard Business Review called Overcoming Imposter Syndrome by Gill Corkindale, it explains imposter syndrome in detail. “It starts with recognizing it in yourself and others. Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. They seem unable to internalize their accomplishments, however successful they are in their field. High achieving, highly successful people often suffer, so imposter syndrome doesn’t equate with low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence. In fact, some researchers have linked it with perfectionism, especially in women and among academics. Some researchers believe it has its roots in the labels parents attach to particular members of the family. For example, one child might be designated the ‘intelligent’ one and the other the ‘sensitive’ one. Another theory is that parents can program the child with messages of superiority: the child is so fully supported that the parents and child believe that he or she is superior or perfect.
Guess What? We’re all Faking It
No one knows what they’re doing most of the time. For people who step out of their comfort zones frequently, uncertainty is a constant. Almost everyone feels like an impostor at some point in their lives. If you can focus on the fact that those around you are feeling the same sense of anxiety that you are, then pushing through the fear becomes easier. Instead of succumbing to self-doubt, embrace it. Successful people all “fake it until they make it” to some extent, so keep moving forward.
Being Wrong Doesn’t Make You a Fraud
Some people can let a mistake go and the criticism that may result from it. But for others, mistakes lead to longer-term harmful consequences such as self-sabotage. They become paralyzed by fear of making another error. They let their mistakes define them. Remember that everyone makes mistakes and that it doesn’t make you a fraud. The next time you make an error, experts recommend taking responsibility for it, learning from it, and moving on.
4 Steps to Combat Imposter Syndrome
- Be Aware: When imposter feelings come up, pay attention. Awareness is the first step to make a change. Ask what they are about and when do these feelings emerge?
- Reframe it: Remember that it’s normal not to know everything and that you will keep learning as you progress in life. It’s also a win to think of a failure as a learning opportunity instead of a giant mistake.
- Share your feelings: Share these imposter feelings with a close friend. To combat these feelings, it’s much better to discuss it with someone and release those negative thoughts.
- Envision success: Instead of envisioning something bad coming out of a situation, envision success and that can help keep refocus on a positive outcome
Reviewed & Recommended:
Top Books on Imposter Syndrome
Here are the top books on how to combat imposter syndrome and why it happens in the first place.
Tedx Talk: Do you have imposter syndrome?
Phil McKinney, retired Chief Technology Officer for Hewlett-Packard suffered from imposter syndrome. In this Tedx talk, he shares a secret that he kept hidden for 25 years and the result of that secret being revealed on the front page of a national newspaper.
Podcast by Dr. Caroline Leaf: Cleaning up the Mental Mess
In this episode, she interviews master life coach Kara Loewentheil on how to overcome imposter syndrome, defeat self-doubt, boost your self-confidence, and deal with past hurt and rejection. Kara gives some great tips on how to "unf*ck your brain!"
Kara Loewentheil is a Master Certified Coach with a B.A. from Yale and J.D. from Harvard Law. In the last three years after pivoting from a legal career, she has grown her life coaching business from 0 to 7 figures.
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Emily’s vision for illume hire developed as part of her journey from a startup-curious sales and marketing professional to co-founder and CEO. Her passion is to provide the tools and community to support other mid-career professionals to maximize their mid-career momentum. In addition to her work with illume hire, Emily is part of the founding leadership team of Age Equity Alliance, a non-profit focused on age diversity in the workplace