Imposter syndrome is the sense or feeling that you don’t belong wherever you happen to be. At some point, most people will deal with imposter syndrome. Most times it is unmerited. Even the most successful experts deal with this. The important thing is to move forward despite the imposter syndrome.
Many of the strategies we will explore are from Valerie Young, an expert in imposter syndrome. She has a great TED Talk about this phenomenon. Here are some tips to help you.
Stop Thinking Like an Imposter
Easier said than done, right? So, how do you do that exactly?
The first step is to recognize imposter syndrome when it starts. The minute you walk into a room and get that feeling that you don’t belong, remind yourself that this is, in fact, imposter syndrome. If you feel lucky to be included somewhere when you’ve actually worked hard to be there or if you have a hard time accepting praise, these are signs that you are experiencing imposter syndrome. Other signs include apologizing excessively, even for things that aren’t your fault, holding yourself to an impossibly high standard, or a paralyzing fear of failure. You may also avoid expressing confidence because you’re afraid people will see you as arrogant or obnoxious. If you’re convinced you’re not enough, this is another sign. Recognizing these signs is the first step to putting a name on your imposter syndrome.
After you recognize imposter syndrome for what it is, own it. Expressing those feelings can help dispel them. You’ve probably heard that the first step to recovery is admission. It’s the same thing. Letting those feelings out can alleviate the sense of shame that can come with imposter syndrome. Lean into those feelings and own them.
Separate Your Feelings from Fact
You may know this already but it bears repeating. Everybody feels dumb sometimes. You may look around and assume someone knows more than you, has more experience than you, or is better than you. Feeling dumb doesn’t mean you are dumb. Your perception of reality is just that: YOUR perception. It doesn’t necessarily make it true. You have to separate the fact from the feeling. Sometimes it helps to stop, take a breath, and remind yourself how long you’ve been in your field, what your experience has been, and walk yourself through all the reasons you actually do belong. It’s very helpful to separate the facts of what your circumstances actually are from the feeling that your surroundings are giving you.
Know You Are Not Alone
Everyone feels this way at some point in their life. Even author, poet, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou said, “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.” It may be hard to believe that these accomplished, super credible individuals would ever feel this way, but they do.
Focus on the Positive
Mistakes are going to happen. Everyone makes mistakes. Forgive yourself and move forward. Until you forgive yourself, it will be very difficult to move forward. You’re not an imposter just because you made a mistake. It means you’re human.
Be Kind to Yourself
If you don’t win, you learn. Don’t berate yourself. Your inner dialogue forms who you are. It forms your habits and actions. A good personal rule is if you wouldn’t say it to a 7-year-old, you shouldn’t say it to yourself. You wouldn’t walk up to a 7-year-old and say, “You’re an idiot. I can’t believe you did that” because it’s cruel. Why would you say it to yourself?
This ties in with the last point. To be kind to yourself you have to be aware of that inner dialogue. Positive affirmations really do work and flipping that mentality changes everything. There’s a big difference between “Everyone here is so amazing and I’m not” and “Everyone here is so amazing and I’m going to learn a lot”. That shift can be super helpful for you.
Celebrate Your Success
When you have a success, measure it and celebrate it. Own it. If you get a certification, finish a program, or land a great client, celebrate those wins. It helps affirm that you deserve to be where you are.
Fake It Until You Make It
Don’t wait until it’s perfect. The situation will never be perfect. Do it now. Don’t wait. Valerie Young says, “Don’t wait until you feel confident. Start putting yourself out there. Courage comes from taking risks. Change your behavior first and allow your confidence to build.”
One of the best things I did when starting my business was when someone would ask if I could help them with a problem I’d always say that yes, I can. If I didn’t know how, I would go learn. I would practice until I felt like I knew what I needed to know. Understand there is a difference between someone asking if I can do brain surgery (no, I can’t) and the things I was being asked to do. If it’s out of your wheelhouse, it’s ok to turn it down. However, if it’s something within the scope of your business and you’re just not confident in it, it’s ok to lean into it. Many people won’t apply for a job because they do check all of the boxes. Well, the ones who get it are the ones who apply.
You’re Not an Imposter
Imposter syndrome is real and it happens to everyone. Women seem to struggle more with it than men and especially female entrepreneurs. If you are in the midst of a battle with imposter syndrome, try these tips and recognize the amazing person you are.