Earlier this year I had the great opportunity to speak about my professional background with a group of talented students at a reputable code school. The purpose of the talk was to share how the hard skills they were learning in a demanding 12-week boot camp were just one element of truly succeeding in today’s job market. Developing soft skills — communication, strategic thinking, self-management, teamwork, and leadership — is critically important to landing a job, keeping a job, and growing a career.
As my talk came to a close and the Q&A session began, a student in one of the front rows asked a question, “There is a lot of talk about Imposter Syndrome, especially for aspiring web developers. As someone who started her career as a web developer and has grown her career to running a company, have you ever felt like an imposter?” Yikes! Can the audience see the big YES across my forehead?
“Oh that? It’s no big deal.”
“What gives me the right to be here?”
“I got lucky.”
Ever uttered one of those sentences before? Neither have I, not out loud anyway. But the ability to downplay my success is something I can be very good at it if left unchecked.
With what I hope was expressed with poise and grace I shared some of my own experiences with imposter syndrome and how I dealt with it. The key take-away? Imposter syndrome is something many successful people feel and isn’t something to ignore or be ashamed of, it is something to recognize, share and overcome. Here are four ways to overcome imposter syndrome and beat those fraudulent feelings so you can feel more at ease.
A Bit of Background
First described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, the impostor phenomenon often presents itself among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. Accomplishments are more often attributed to luck rather than ability and a fear that others will eventually reveal them as fraudulent is present. Imposter syndrome generates feelings of self-doubt and can result in anxiety and, often, depression.
Who are the most hard-hit when it comes to this phenomenon? Believe it or not, those in the spotlight — CEOs, Nobel prize winners, actors, professional athletes, public speakers, and television personalities. The more successful one gets, the greater the inner turmoil can become. Looking deeper, imposter syndrome is rooted in a sense of perfectionism and a fear of failure.
The more I have to lose, the more I try to control in each decision I make.
Imposter syndrome does not discriminate; it can affect anyone at any age regardless of gender or race, and two things are certain — it is a normal experience many people have at times in their lives and it can be overcome.
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
If you are reading this thinking there is a possibility you might feel this way at times, there are tools you can learn that help.
Request Personal Feedback
When in doubt, reach out! Just as companies conduct performance reviews of their employees, you can solicit your trusted colleagues, friends, and family to tell you what you’re great at. One rule: ask them to only focus on the positive at first, until you are ready to hear the rest. Hearing the positive tends to lay a foundation and creates openings for deeper, more constructive feedback. How others view us is often very different than how we view ourselves, and for those struggling with feelings of perfectionism, the view from others is often more positive.
Recognize Your Expertise
Have you ever given yourself the chance to see your successes from the outside looking in? Take some time to write down a list of everything you have achieved to date in life and are proud of. You might be surprised to see how long the list is, and reveal successes you didn’t know existed.
Keep an Accomplishment Journal
If you are getting stuck thinking back to your accomplishments, start a journal and write down just one accomplishment every night before bed. Before you know it, the pages will be filled with big wins and little wins. The art of writing things down has a lot of power. Use the journal as a simple way to remind yourself of the occasional gap between who you are and who you think you are.
Change Your Thinking
Sometimes we need a way to reframe our experiences, including how we think about ourselves. Take a step back from your day-to-day routine and identify areas that might be impacted by fraudulent feelings. Here are two examples of how you can apply this approach:
Have a paper to turn in or an article to write? Start an outline, or a rough draft and solicit feedback. The entire publication doesn’t have to be perfect nor complete. Just get something down on paper and start doing.
If you are giving a talk on a particular topic, take a step back and ask yourself, “Why am I being asked to speak on this topic?” You must have valuable thoughts and ideas to share with an audience in waiting. Be clear that you were asked to speak and take time to realize the WHY before getting up on stage and sharing with them. You owe it to yourself — and your audience — to show up completely.
These ideas are simple but can be difficult to execute. If imposter syndrome is something you’re battling with frequently, there are ways to get help.
Coaching is one of the best ways to receive support in making the realignment between the achievements you are creating and your current mindset. An expert in the field of coaching is Career Coach Kyle Elliott. Founder of Caffeinated Kyle, Coach Kyle is helping thousands of Silicon Valley’s top talent thrive and “achieve the impossible.” He does this by helping his clients dive deeper into what is holding them back so they propel forward. Receiving support to help strengthen your authenticity muscles might be just what you need to beat imposter syndrome once and for all.