Have you ever been given a new or unexpected opportunity that made you feel intimidated? Perhaps you’re giving a presentation to a senior-level leader at your organization, or maybe you’re given a chance to pitch a key client.
Imposter syndrome is the feeling that you aren’t worthy or deserving of opportunities or advancement. Hence the name – it makes you feel like an “imposter” who is taking the job of someone more capable. It’s mostly used in a professional context, although imposter syndrome is common in creative artists in all fields.
Some people experience it more than others, but almost everyone feels some degree of uncertainty when moving to a new level at work or starting out in a professional field. In the worst cases, negative beliefs can begin to affect your performance in the real world.
Because it’s so common, imposter syndrome has been discussed and written about frequently – especially in the last decade, a time when society as a whole has made significant strides understanding mental health at work.
Below are four tips to deal with imposter syndrome and other mental roadblocks in your professional life.
1. Reframe your negative feelings
You may have heard or read an important quote about bravery: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” This saying has been attributed to everyone from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Nelson Mandela, but it makes an important point about what it really means to overcome fear and intimidation: You can minimize them, but you probably won’t be able to get rid of your negative feelings completely.
One good way of thinking about it is viewing feelings of nervousness or unworthiness as a sign that you are pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. In the world of personal and professional development, stepping outside of what you’re comfortable with is viewed as an admirable trait that can lead you to unexpected levels in your career.
Pushing yourself past your comfort limits is a habit touted by everyone from billionaire entrepreneurs like Bill Gates – who famously pulled all-nighters in his early days of leading Microsoft – to legendary cricketers like Virat Kohli who must push themselves every day in training and on the field.
So when you start to feel that little voice in your head questioning your abilities, or you feel hesitant after diving in on a project, remind yourself that it’s a sign of progress. There’s no risk in only doing things you know you can do well!
2. Learn about others fighting imposter syndrome
When dealing with feelings of inadequacy, it’s easy to feel alone. Your mind makes it seem like this challenge is completely new, something no one has ever faced before.
Of course, this isn’t the case. As we’ve mentioned, imposter syndrome is one of the most common feelings across several fields. Learning about people who suffer from imposter syndrome is one of the best ways to start feeling better about your own challenges with it.
Here are three people who faced imposter syndrome and still managed to be successful:
- Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, wrote about fighting imposter syndrome in her well-known book that helped change the way we view women in the workplace. She believes the issue is especially prevalent among women.
- Dave Grohl, an American musician best known for playing with acclaimed bands Nirvana and the Foo Fighters, has openly discussed having an emotional episode in which he “freaked out” during a 2008 show in front of 85,000 people at Wembley Stadium in London. This was after Grohl had already been in two different award-winning bands that had toured the world.
- Amitabh Bachchan, the legendary Bollywood actor considered by many to be the greatest star of his generation, said in a 2007 interview that he was still “petrified” before every stage show. It’s especially striking when you consider this admission came after he had already starred in over 150 films and spent multiple decades at the top of his field.
While knowing about others dealing with imposter syndrome is helpful, you can take it one step further with our next tip…
3. Find a sounding board
One of the things many people find helpful when dealing with imposter syndrome is talking about the challenge with others, especially those who have also suffered from it. There are many different options for people you can confide in when you feel imposter syndrome. Some people find comfort by talking about challenges with family or close friends. Others may feel more comfortable talking with a trusted colleague who can sympathize more with their feelings.
In today’s world, you don’t even need to be in the same physical place as the person you confide in when you start to experience imposter syndrome. Thanks to the prevalence of virtual communities and technology, you can send a quick message or chat to someone who can respond right away and help you feel more confident in yourself. Sometimes they don’t even need to respond – the simple act of talking to someone else about what you’re dealing with can be therapeutic enough to help you get past it.
4. Remind yourself of your positive accomplishments
It’s true that you often face imposter syndrome when you are dealing with new opportunities or projects and tasks you’ve never tried before. But that doesn’t mean you are completely new to pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone or challenging yourself to try something difficult.
When you feel intimidated or unworthy, try to think back to another time when you were able to overcome a similar situation. Even if it was in a different type of scenario or it happened many years ago, evidence of overcoming any kind of challenge is enough to help give you the confidence needed to tackle something new.
For example, you might remind yourself of when you studied hard and got a good grade on a test. Or perhaps you landed a job interview with a well-written cover letter or cold email. Whatever the case, acknowledging successes you’ve had previously is one of the best ways to create confidence from within.
Harnessing fear for success
Even though it feels crippling, dealing with imposter syndrome isn’t a bad sign. The simple fact that you are facing this issue means you’re challenging yourself to go beyond things you are comfortable with, which in itself is commendable. Many people go their entire lives without ever challenging themselves to find out what they are truly capable of.
If you’re looking to learn more about how to handle professional challenges while gaining access to a supportive community that will help you deal with imposter syndrome and other obstacles in the workplace, check out Stoa School. Our students learn the skills necessary to overcome feelings of unworthiness, jump into a new field, or ask for more salary in their current job. Download a brochure and apply today to find out more about how our program can help you conquer your professional fears.