Do you ever feel like you have absolutely no business doing what you do? Like, at any moment, someone is going to figure out that you don’t belong and escort you out of the building?
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: every time I sit down to write a blog, there’s a tiny part of me that says, “Who in the world do you think you are? You have no right to share your dumb opinions. You’re not an expert on anything, and your linen closet is a mess! You’re a total fraud!”
That, my friend, is Imposter Syndrome at work.
The Origins of Imposter Syndrome
Imposter Syndrome is such a great name that I had to see where it came from. Two clinical psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, created the term in 1978 to describe the feeling of not deserving our success and the accompanying fear of being found out. It’s important to note that while it is a prevalent feeling, it is not an actual clinical disorder. I think everyone I know – particularly every woman I know – has this little nagging doubt that somebody made a mistake when they hired us. It doesn’t matter how much you have, or what your title is, or what your Instagram squares look like (especially when compared to other people on Instagram!) – we all go through phases when we think we just got lucky, and we’re about to be found out and humiliated.
You would think that by the time we hit midlife, we would have enough real success under our belts that we’d start to believe we are worthy. I haven’t found this to be the case for myself or the women I know.
Why is this? My very non-clinical opinion is that as girls, we’re taught to be so modest that we downplay every accomplishment. We’re humble to a fault. We insist that we were in the right place at the right time, or for some other reason, fate smiled on us one day and threw us a bone. Every time we are given credit for something, we give a little caveat: “Thanks, but I just got lucky. It’s no big deal.”
Humility can be endearing. And it’s totally appropriate, when you’re a leader, to give credit to your team when you have a win. The problem is with what we tell ourselves. If we start to believe that little nagging voice, we give in to the fear. Fear leads to anxiety. Anxiety leads to sleepless nights and more worry. It’s kind of an endless cycle.
What can we do about it?
Recognize it for what it is
When that little voice in your head starts taunting you, remember that it is just a manifestation of your insecurity – and not reality. It’s not based on anything except your own self-doubt. So change the script. Tell yourself that you have what it takes. Unless you blatantly lied on your resume and paid people to be your references, you were hired because you have the skills and experience and knowledge to do the work. Do whatever it takes to remind yourself of it! Keep a little file of positive emails that you can refer back to when you’re feeling insecure, or put a sticky note on your monitor that says, “I can do this!”
Remember, you don’t have to know everything
No one does, so don’t get derailed when faced with a new task that’s outside of your comfort zone. It’s totally okay to say, “I don’t know, but I will find out!” Remember, your boss or client is really only interested in your results, not how you got there. If you had to phone-a-friend or ask Google how to do something, it’s not a sign of weakness. You don’t have to be omnipotent; you just have to be resourceful.
Dare to be “flawsome”
I see this word a lot these days, and I think it’s terrific. We’re all human, and nobody’s perfect – so why pretend? The truth is, people will remember how you handle your mistakes more than how you handle success.
Let me give you an example: a friend of mine fell in a very formal, critical meeting. I mean, tripped over her own two feet, pinwheeled her arms around like a cartoon character, and did a spectacular ass-over-teakettle fall. Time stopped. People gasped, then ran to her aid. My friend laughed, dusted herself off, and then – in this roomful of gray suits and dour faces – took a full bow. She curtsied like she was the star of a Broadway show on a curtain call.
To this day, no one remembers what happened in that stupid meeting, but everyone remembers how she handled that embarrassing moment with grace. If you fall or otherwise screw something up, don’t start packing up your desk: just own it. Be flawsome. Say, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake,” and then go fix it.
Remember your “why”
Think about why you are doing what you do. As I mentioned, I fight Imposter Syndrome every time I sit down to write. I have to remind myself that the only qualification I really need to share my personal story is my own experience. I tell myself that if I’m open and vulnerable enough, maybe something I say will touch one person who needs to hear it – and that’s worth the potential humiliation of being “found out.” So, I keep writing.
Be a positive voice for others
Finally, since every woman we know is going through this, let’s lift each other up. Give sincere compliments to the women around you, and give kind, constructive criticism when needed. Remind them that they have what it takes, and they are worthy of success. Be a positive voice in their world and help drown out the insecurities.
Don’t let Imposter Syndrome rob you of the joy of your achievements. Remind yourself often that you have worked hard to get where you are! Get feedback from friends and loved ones – and believe them. Take a little pressure off yourself to be perfect, and trust that you have what it takes to figure things out. You are worthy, my friend!