How to beat imposter syndrome
Karen Beaven, March 06, 2019
In a new series of wellbeing columns Karen Beaven offers advice to others in HR
We’ve all had a dose of ‘imposter syndrome’. Maybe you have it right now? If you do, know that you’re a member of a very popular club and the way you’re feeling is completely normal. I’d even go so far as to say it’s a good thing because it can catalyse positive change.
But still, there are a few things you can do to help shift your thinking. Let’s start with an obvious one: other people. You need to consider the impact that the real or perceived views of other people are having. You also need to identify who you think it is that is about to ‘out’ you as being a fake, and what it is that you think you’ve done that would cause them to do that.
The easiest way to do this is to write down a list of all the people you think may consider you to be an imposter. Take some time over this and keep going until you have exhausted all possible options. Then next to each name write down why you believe this. Finally write down one thing that you could do that would affect that person’s perception of you in a positive way. Now you need to be proactive and take the actions you have identified.
On the topic of other people, it’s important to note that another factor can be a habit of comparing yourself to others. This is another normal facet of human nature so don’t beat yourself up over it – but do know that it’s not helpful in the context of kicking imposter syndrome. Everyone’s journey and definitions of success are different, and through this our motivations for operating in the way we do in the jobs we do is also different. I can also guarantee that others are probably working through their own imposter syndrome challenges too. So I want you to focus on your own ‘motivation’.
When we’re passionate about the work we do we take more action, we’re in a state of ‘flow’, and we’re happier and get better results. It’s less likely that we’ll feel like a fake. So it’s a good exercise to write a list of the things that motivate you in your current role and compare this with a list of things that you find demotivating. Next it’s just a case of identifying what you can do to address these.
One of the reasons imposter syndrome can have such an impact is that at its core it’s driven by fear: fear of being branded a fake, loss of professional credibility and maybe even loss of a job. The stakes are high so it’s no surprise that the more successful someone is the more they feel it. Public success lifts you higher and makes you more visible, meaning you potentially have further to fall and that there will be a larger audience to see it when it happens. This is when imposter syndrome really kicks in. It causes people to be more hesitant, to retreat and eventually become less visible. Exactly the conditions that feed and perpetuate imposter syndrome.
If you’re motivated and in a state of authentic and positive action it’s incredibly hard to feel like a fake. You need to move forwards, engage, act on things and reconnect. Start by working on small things within your comfort zone but complete and finish these to a high standard. Then stretch and start to pick up the bigger things, again building your confidence with small wins along the way. Tap into your network and engage with people. Find your voice again and keep talking and sharing. Ask questions, focus on service and why you’re doing what you’re doing. Ask: what can you do to support other people and a purpose that you believe in?