Why Impostor Syndrome Is Killing Your Vibe and 7 Ways to Manage It
Have you ever felt like you are going to 'get caught' because you don't deserve to be where you are? Ever receive a promotion that you feel like you didn't really deserve, or that you weren't ready for? Think about your job, your lifestyle, your family life, etc. any part of you that is constantly questioned. Are you putting so much pressure on yourself to be the best that it is literally paralyzing you from taking that next step?
You are not alone.
I can remember the first time feeling this way when I received my first big promotion and after talking to many of my friends about it, I realized that they have gone through this before without even realizing that it was actually a thing. Many women go through what is coined, 'impostor syndrome' which is a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud".
70% of millennials in this country have had feelings or symptoms of impostor syndrome, which include anxiety, perfectionism, self-doubt, and fear of failure. The good news is that it is possible to deal with it and not let it control your life.
Here are 7 Tips for Managing Impostor Syndrome.
1) Know when it happens and catch yourself.
It can be pretty easy for us to overlook the signs of impostor syndrome that come up in our day-to-day lives. However, recognizing these signs is the first step toward overcoming them. A few common symptoms of impostor syndrome look a little bit like this:
You feel like you "got lucky" when you actually prepared well and worked hard to get where you are.
You find it hard to accept praise.
You apologize when you didn't actually do something wrong.
You hold yourself to incredibly high standards. Sometimes, too high.
You find the fear of failure paralyzing.
You're convinced you're not enough.
Pay attention to the words you use, both when you're talking to other people and when you're talking to yourself -- especially when it comes to talking about work. If you find your own success or the recognition that others give you uncomfortable, it's time to self reflect. Where are those thoughts coming from? What does this mean for your professional life? I like to take time writing down some of these thoughts in my journal so I can actively work through these areas and end with positive affirmations.
When you have impostor syndrome, some of the most important encouragement comes from realizing how many hugely successful people, both male and female, have built amazing careers even while regularly coping with it. You'd be surprised to know how many highly accomplished people have spoken about their impostor syndrome. Here are a few quotes from The New York Times and Forbes:
Author, Poet & Civil Rights Activist Maya Angelou: “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.'"
Chief of the World Health Organization Dr. Chan: “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.”
Actress, Writer & Producer Tina Fey, from her book Bossypants: “The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.”
2) Humility does not require fear.
There's taking humility in your hard work and accomplishments, and then there's feeling overcome with fear because of them. Sometimes, simply being good at something can cause it to discount its value. But as Carl Richards wrote in a New York Times article, "After spending a lot of time fine-tuning our ability, isn’t it sort of the point for our skill to look and feel natural?" We all have many individual strengths and talent that may come more naturally for us than it does for others.
It all boils down to feeling unworthy. I like how Seth Godin said it in a blog post: "When you feel unworthy, any kind response, positive feedback or reward feels like a trick, a scam, the luck of the draw." Think of the last time someone complimented your work or accomplishment. Were you waiting on the "but.." to come?
It is possible to feel worthy without feeling entitled, and overcoming impostor syndrome is all about finding a healthy balance between the two. Godin goes on to write, "Humility and worthiness have nothing at all to do with defending our territory. We don't have to feel like a fraud to also be gracious, open or humble."
3) Let go of your inner perfectionist.
Many people who suffer from impostor syndrome are high achievers; people who set extremely high standards for themselves and are committed to doing their best and being the best. This isn't a bad way to live, but you want to be mindful of the fact that perfectionism only feeds into your impostor syndrome. When you feel like a fraud, it's usually because you're comparing yourself to some perfect outcome that's either impossible or unrealistic.
Not only can no one do everything perfectly, but holding yourself to that standard can actually be super counterproductive. At some point, you need to take a step back and ask yourself: When is good enough good enough? Take a look back at everything you've been able to accomplish. Was it absolutely perfect getting to the end result? There were likely many bumps along the way, and rather than trying to dodge them, leaning into the bumps can actually help you get a little closer to you end goal much faster than constantly playing it safe.
One of my favorite books to recommend that help with this is Failing Forward by one of my mentors, John C. Maxwell. You truly can turn your mistakes into stepping stones for success. Lean into your failures and you'll be surprised at how quickly you're able to recover and turn it into a success.
Impostor syndrome often manifests itself as a negative voice in our heads, inundating us with negative messages like "you're not smart enough" or "you're a fraud." Negative self-talk is an awful habit, and it can heavily influence our stress and anxiety levels. "Being kind to yourself" simply means changing the way you talk to yourself in your head by practicing positive self-talk. It can help you build the courage to do things that'll bring you greater rewards, help you reduce stress and anxiety.
Try to catch yourself whenever you have a negative thought. When you do, turn around and challenge yourself. If you find yourself thinking, "I just got lucky," challenge that by thinking, "What steps did I take and what work did I put in to get to this point?" Then, you can answer your own question using affirmations, which are short, focused, positive statements about a goal you have. In this case, one might be as simple as, "I worked hard – and I always work hard."
Psychologists have found that repeating affirmations like this can improve stress and anxiety levels, perhaps because these positive statements build a bridge into your subconscious mind.
5) Track and measure your successes.
When you feel like an impostor, one of the hardest things to grasp is how much of a role you have in your own successes. It's easy to think that you just got lucky, or it was only possible because of someone else, but whether or not you want to believe it --- your own work, knowledge, and preparation had a lot to do with it.
To help show yourself that you're actually doing well, keep track of your wins in a private document. There are a lot of different ways to track these successes, and the metrics you use will depend entirely on your job. If you take a look at your routine, what are some of the simple things you've done that help you to show up best in this world? Whether it is drinking your plant-based Vega Essentials shake, going for a morning workout 3x per week, or starting each day with a devotional, these all can equate to a more successful you.
In the same vein as keeping track of your success metrics, keep a file on your computer of wins and positive reinforcement both at work and in your personal life. One of the best things I've done is created a folder on my work account called "Kudos," where I've stored praise from my colleagues, bosses, and clients. Whenever I need a lift, I open that folder and scroll through them.
6) Talk with your mentor or coach.
No one should suffer in silence. It's not uncommon for us to keep things to ourselves because of the shame or guilt that we experience. Sharing your thoughts and experiences with someone else will make you better equipped to deal with your impostor syndrome. I recommend sharing them with both a mentor and your direct manager (if you're in the 9-5 biz world).
Your mentor will be able to help you talk candidly about your struggles with impostor syndrome, while giving you a more objective point of view. When you share your experience with them, you might ask if they've ever felt that way, or if they know someone who has. The best mentors are forthcoming about the struggles they've gone through and the mistakes they've made in their careers, and you may find that they have some helpful stories or advice for how to deal with what you're feeling. If you're looking for a mentor, I am always open to having a conversation with you to see how I may be able to help.
7) Embrace the feeling, and use it.
It's really hard to get rid of impostor syndrome completely -- especially if you've had it for years and years. The fact that wildly successful people like Maya Angelou felt that way after all she had accomplished is evidence that it can sometimes be a lifelong condition.
I like the way Richards put it: "We know what the feeling is called. We know others suffer from it. We know a little bit about why we feel this way. And we now know how to handle it: Invite it in and remind ourselves why it’s here and what it means." Fail forward and lean into it.
Richards says he's been invited to speak about his work and career all over the world, and yet he still hasn't been able to get rid of his impostor syndrome. What he has learned to do is think of it "as a friend." Whenever he hears that negative voice in his head, he pauses for a minute, takes a deep breath, and says to himself, "Welcome back, old friend. I'm glad you're here. Now, let's get to work."
If you’ve experienced impostor syndrome at any point in your career, you’ve at one point or another chalked up your accomplishments to chance, charm, connections, or another external factor. How unfair and unkind is that? Take today as your opportunity to start accepting and embracing your capabilities. You have too much to offer this world and can only give your best when you truly believe in yourself.
Brittanni Below, MBA is a coach, speaker, and trainer based in Houston, TX that provides services to help fierce and self-driven women to live a more balanced, healthy, and more fulfilling life. By fully understanding your unique talents and gifts and what is distracting you from being successful, Brittanni helps you transform fear, lack of confidence, and life challenges, into lessons that push you to crush the goals that you've set for yourself. If you're interested in business or career coaching, book your first coaching session with Brittanni here.