Five Tips to Overcoming Imposter Syndrome (Presented by SoFi)
Do any of the following sound like familiar things you do?
• Downplay your achievements.
• Discount praise.
• Crumble when you receive negative feedback.
• Dwell on mistakes.
• Constantly apologize.
• People please.
• Afraid to take risks.
• Strive for perfection.
• Feel immense pressure to prove yourself.
If you found yourself nodding to any of them, you may have imposter syndrome, the belief that you are not as smart or good or competent as you’ve presented yourself to be (and afraid that you’ll be found out). While it may feel like a personal failing, it’s an internalization of larger systemic inequities. For example, as women, it can sometimes be hard to feel like a leader when there are so few of us in leadership (there are more men named John who are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies than there are women CEOs) .
Imposter syndrome and how it’s manifested can have serious consequences on our career. It can lead to being discounted, overlooked, and talked over, which in turn means fewer promotions, smaller raises, and missed opportunities.
Here are five things you can do right now to kick imposter syndrome to the curb:
1. Track it. For two weeks, keep a diary of your imposter syndrome. Anytime you experience the symptoms listed above, write down all the details: what happened, when did it happen, where were you, who was there? Treat yourself like a social experiment with the goal of getting as objective as possible. As simple as it seems, writing things down can lead to major discoveries. James W. Pennebaker, a social psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin who is considered the pioneer of writing therapy, says that keeping a journal is not only cathartic, it also helps to organize an experience in our mind. In other words, it can help you make sense of something that feels out of your control. Articulating your thoughts enables you to take what’s swirling around in your head and make it objective. This is particularly important when dealing with chronic self-doubt that has begun to spiral—writing it down gives you the space you need to get perspective and actually do something about it.
2. Stay grounded. If the negative script in your mind is louder than everything else, try to identify something that stops the script in its tracks. Be ready with something on hand—an image, mantra, an email you’ve saved of someone singing your praises—anything that will remind you that this is your imposter syndrome taking over, so you can let it go and get back to your work.
3. Shift the focus. Instead of making your work about what you’re trying to accomplish, shift the focus to the value you’re providing or the things you’re learning. In other words, focus more on the process and less on the outcome.
4. Phone a friend. Having someone to reach out to when your imposter syndrome is kicking in will give you the support you need to get out of your own head and back in the game.
5. Reframe the imposter. The only way to grow—and succeed—is by challenging yourself to do things you’ve never done before. An inescapable part of this experience is feeling vulnerable and being aware of your inexperience. That means you may always be in a position to feel a little bit of that imposter syndrome. Instead of letting it hold you back, look at these feelings of vulnerability as an indication of your courage and your growth.
It can be difficult to discern imposter syndrome from simply not knowing something. Maybe you’ve never done a particular task before, or maybe others really do know more about something than you do. How can we feel more comfortable in these situations and not misunderstand them to mean that we are surely more ignorant than everyone else? First, you shouldn’t want to be the smartest person in the room. If that’s the case, you won’t be challenged, which in turn means limited growth or progress. The key is finding a way to see the knowledge of others as a source of inspiration and not intimidation. People are wells of information and as long as you stay focused on how you’re improving, you can take solace in the fact that you’re doing a great job.
Imposter syndrome may not be something you can entirely overcome. What you can do is become better at dealing with it. Now, instead of spending a day kicking yourself for a minor mistake, maybe you’ll spend an hour (and hopefully as you continue to work on it, it’ll be fifteen minutes). Something to remember is that whenever you’re feeling like you’re the only one experiencing this, take solace in remembering that there are thousands of others out there who may feel the exact same way. Open up to a friend. Share your story. Experiment in being vulnerable and you’ll see that you already have a community of people out there waiting for you.
Moving away from chronic self-doubt and toward experiments in vulnerability will help you emerge with a boldness that will push you to seize opportunities in your career, further building your confidence and your resilience when you encounter obstacles. Because that’s what a big life and career is—overflowing with all kinds of obstacles. It’s up to you to navigate around and through them. And the only way to do that is with a deep belief in yourself and your capacity for greatness, which may be even larger than you realized. You essentially have two choices: focus on how you’re falling short of the image you’ve projected—or that has been projected onto you—or turn your attention to what you’ve learned and feel proud of your growth.
Photo of Claire Wasserman courtesy of @caraasport
Guest Participation: The individuals interviewed for this article were not compensated for their participation. Their advice is educational in nature, is not individualized, and may not be applicable to your unique situation. It is not intended to serve as the primary or sole basis for your financial decisions.
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