4 Ways to Manage Imposter Syndrome
July 29, 2020
A colleague shared an article last week with a group of us regarding self-doubt. We all question ourselves from time to time, but when these feelings of doubt invade our minds making us question our worth in an organization, it becomes known as imposter syndrome. Psychology Today defines it as “a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.” While me might assume women suffer more from imposter syndrome than men, according to an expansive study published in 2019 in Journal of General Internal Medicine it was common among both genders. In the study’s literature review, the gender results were all over the place, suggesting that on average, both men and women experience imposter syndrome. Some studies in the review, however, found that women and men coped differently.
Regardless of whether one gender experiences it more than the other, it is important to note there are no cures. Psychology Today makes the point that Imposter Syndrome is not a disease. But it is real, and it can wreak havoc with productivity and thus a career. In other words, the self-deprecating monster within can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you allow you inner voice to continually tell you that you are not truly qualified, that you are not good at what you do and so forth, it becomes harder and harder to realistically see your successes and achievements. Over time, this can lead to depression and anxiety disorders. The continued cycle undermines not just your confidence, but also your career.
There are ways to manage Imposter Syndrome before it gets the best of you. I do want to note that if it has taken a strong hold and has had a significant impact on your productivity, attitude, relationships, career, etc., then it is likely time to seek professional help. For those of you who experience doubt upon occasion, or it lingers in the back of your mind, here are four ways to manage:
Find A Mentor
A mentor is someone who is in your corner to help you advance your career. While they must be honest with you, they are also there to serve a cheerleader and remind you of your accomplishments and talents.
Every person should keep a file of their accomplishments. It doesn’t matter if it is a paper or digital file. The point is it is a place to keep that email when a senior leader reaches out to tell you what a great job you did, when a client emails you to tell you that without you their project would have crashed and burned, or when a colleague thanks you for stepping in to help them meet a deadline. You can refer to this as you prepare your annual performance review, but you can also review it when you are feeling as if you are not contributing.
Embrace Failure as Part of a Process
The Dyson vacuum cleaner commercial used to highlight how many prototypes it took to create the highly rated vacuum. If you can’t embrace that failure is part of process, then you are destined to fail. When you embrace it, you are much more likely to move forward and find meaningful solutions, and perhaps more important – you are less likely to view the failures in a self-deprecating manner and thus fueling an imposter syndrome. You can also look back at those less than successful moments and then see the trajectory.
Reflect and Write
I am a huge fan of reflection. The process of honestly looking at where you are, where you’ve come from and where you want to head is enormously beneficial. It is also a receptacle for your successes and an opportunity to write about those successes and achievements. In addition, it provides you with the chance to write about less than stellar outcomes and examine where things went wrong and how to adapt or shift in the future. For me, when I reflect on an achievement, I try and let myself enjoy the moment and see the accomplishment for what it is – often hard work and persistence. I also look at the elements of the accomplishment, so I can repeat those elements in the future. For example, the first time I negotiated my salary – I made a point to acknowledging it was not that difficult, I examined the words, body language, and reasoning I used, which was helpful when my next opportunity presented itself.
Again, everyone has the occasional battle with their inner self propagating some self-doubt. It is important in those moments to stand up and tell yourself that you are not an imposter, you earned the praise, the promotion, the raise, or the new opportunity. The people who raised you, promoted you, gave you the raise, and presented you with a new opportunity, clearly have faith in you and see your value, and you should allow yourself to see your value as well.
Stay safe and healthy,
Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies