Have you ever been in a situation where this thought comes over you? “I don’t belong here and they’re going to find out.” Maybe you’ve landed a new job or taken on a new role at work and your first weeks are met with anxiety you can’t explain. “They’re going to find out I’m unqualified for my job and fire me.” “How on earth did I ever trick them into giving me a promotion?” If you’ve had one of these or similar thoughts, then you might have experienced imposter syndrome.
In May of 2017 I landed my dream job. I had all the experience and qualifications to land the job I had originally applied for. I interviewed for the role and after my first initial interview decided that maybe this particular opportunity wasn’t for me. I had something more to offer than what this position called for and I was fortunate enough that the founders of the company saw that too. They created a role for me that they didn’t intend on hiring for initially. This isn’t a bragger’s tale so much as it is a real-life account of how quickly confidence and validation can be turned into anxiety. I now was heading into a role that even though I knew I could do, went to school for, and have had a ton of hands on experience with, BOOM – imposter syndrome!
The expectations I put on myself were high and I was met with moments of doubt and guilt.
While most experts on the subject will give you advice on how to overcome imposter syndrome, I’m not going to do that. The internet is saturated with articles, blogs, podcasts, and motivational videos on the subject. There are even articles referencing other articles. On top of that, I’m certainly no expert on the subject, and if I was to even try to write one I would only be regurgitating what I’ve read. It’s not lost on me that my own reasoning for not writing an article on imposter syndrome, “I have no right to do so as I’m not an expert on the subject,” is in itself self-referential. I even had a good chuckle at that one. In the mountains of material on the subject are polarizing opinions on imposter syndrome; some say overcome it, some say embrace it. So instead, what you’re about to read on the matter is actually to acknowledge your imposter syndrome. Not overcome, not embrace… acknowledge.
If you embrace your imposter syndrome, then you don’t come across as a cocky, arrogant, egocentric jerk. Sure, but does that mean if you overcome it, then you’re a cocky, arrogant, egocentric jerk? Is embracing imposter syndrome a magical gateway to being humble? Does overcoming it allow more doors to open, take more pride in your work, and feel more fulfilled in your job? You can absolutely embrace and overcome your imposter syndrome, and there are great arguments for each. I personally don’t believe it’s one or the other. By acknowledging you have it, you can come up with a game plan for achieving your potential, while staying humble and confident.
5 Steps to Acknowledging Imposter Syndrome
1.) It’s totally okay to be “the new guy”.
Before you take on something new that might trigger your imposter syndrome, acknowledge that all new things come with a learning-curve. What is actually triggering your imposter syndrome is the fear of the unknown. When taking on a new job, ask questions and ask for help. Get clarity from your manager on what the expectations are in the first week, month, and year. Asking for feedback if you’re really feeling unsure is also a great way to get over the anxiety of the unknown.
2.) You are the master of your own success.
Hello!? Did your mom, the pope, or the mafia call your new bosses and demand you get the job? No, they didn’t! You got the gig because you proved yourself in your resume, interview, references, personality, skills, and many other things. Own that! You were given an opportunity others weren’t, so something about you is special right there. Acknowledge that you landed here all on your own. Go you!
3.) You’re in good company.
People who you probably think are exceptional have, at some point, experienced imposter syndrome. Scientist Albert Einstein, actor Meryl Streep, activist and poet Maya Angelou, and author Neil Gaiman have all experienced and discussed their anxieties that we can equate to the term imposter syndrome.
4.) Call it what it really is.
Giving life and a name to your internal dialogue can be helpful in acknowledging what is actually going on. Instead of saying “I’m a fraud”, try saying “I’m a perfectionist” or “I’m an overachiever”. None of these things are bad, but you’ll be able to know exactly which door the imposter is entering through and be able to recognize quicker that you’re not a phony.
5.) Look for other imposters.
Talking about your imposter syndrome with others will help other imposter syndrome affected friends, coworkers, and teammates come out of the woodwork and offer support and validation. It will also help remove any hold it might have on you or your ability to move on from it due to fear. #safetyinnumbers