I’ve been blessed with a preponderance of confidence when it comes to most aspects of my life. Thus, even in grad school when the topic of “impostor syndrome” came up with regular frequency, I found it difficult to relate. I knew what I’d done to get to that point. Even when I looked around and recognized that I could be working harder and could be producing better work, those were judgments comparing my work to my potential.
For impostor syndrome, you don’t compare your output to your potential. You compare your output to everyone else–and usually find yourself wanting. You feel like an impostor. Like you don’t belong. And like everyone will soon know you’re a fraud.
I was always a know-it-all growing up, a fact that will surprise very few of those who know me. What will surprise them is how much I’ve dialed it down. Multiple times a day I find myself piping up with a fact or story that doesn’t serve to further the conversation but only demonstrates a facet of my knowledge tangential to the topic at hand. And many of those times, I squash the desire to provide this unrequested input.
My first run in with impostor syndrome was a bit of a shock to the system. Where did this voice come from that was telling me I’m not good enough, that I don’t belong, and that I wouldn’t keep fooling everyone for long?
More importantly, how do you stop yourself from believing that voice? Here are four tips to get you started on breaking impostor syndrome’s hold.
1. Pay attention to the way you talk to yourself
Anytime you start telling yourself that you aren’t good enough or that you don’t belong, reevaluate your language to yourself. Talking positively to yourself has the added benefit of encouraging you to talk positively about yourself to others. A few years ago I was stunned to find that a whole group of people thought I was bad at math. I’m great at math. When I’m bored–driving or at the gym mostly–I will create mental math word problems and solve them to keep my brain occupied. Why did everyone think I couldn’t do basic percentages? Because of me. Because I’d made enough jokes about being bad at math that other people had begun to believe them.
This was a valuable lesson, because I have a habit of self deprecating humor that I’ve had to work on. When you tell people who you are, often times they believe you. They don’t always examine how your actions counter what you say. Talk positively to yourself and to others about your talents. You know yourself. You know that you’re kind or generous or an amazing flutist. But if you’re always making jokes about being mean, miserly, and a miserable flutist, other people may take you at your word. Then, when they act in accordance with that belief, it will only perpetuate your impostor syndrome.
2. Focus on your accomplishments
Yesterday I berated myself mentally for being lazy. I told myself I hadn’t accomplished anything and lamented where the hours had gone. I did not account for the 9 hours I’d worked my butt off at the office, the planning I’d done for a trip with a friend, the errands I ran after work, the dinner I made, the emails I sorted through, the bathroom I’d cleaned, the dog I walked, etc. My focus was entirely on what I had yet to do.
Celebrate your accomplishments. There’s no better way to eliminate impostor syndrome than celebrating all the little successes that have brought you to that point. If you’re always looking for what you haven’t yet done, you’ll let the joy of what you have pass by. Not only does that perpetuate impostor syndrome, but it’s also just a miserable way to live your life.
3. Remember that someone thinks you can do it
You would not be in the position you’re in–graduate school, job interview, new responsibility, etc.–if someone didn’t believe in you. If you’re faced with an overwhelming situation, know that someone saw your value. A close friend is dealing with this as she takes on a project management role in an unfamiliar and complicated field of engineering. As she’s learning the ropes and acquiring knowledge needed to do her job, she needs to remember there’s a reason they put her on this project. It’s because she’s an amazingly talented, hard working, capable, and impressive project manager. You may not see exactly what it is that makes you qualified, but someone does.
4. Fake it until you make it
Maybe you can’t bring yourself to talk positively about your skills. Maybe you can’t fathom why someone thought you could be in this position that’s giving you impostor syndrome. And maybe looking at your own accomplishments just reminds you that you’re behind others. (If the latter is the case, we need to have another talk about the problems with comparing yourself to others!)
If all of those are true, just start trying. Start pretending to be the expert. Embrace the attitude of little, young know-it-all me, squash the self doubt that comes up, and pretend you know what you’re doing. You may have missteps. You may have many missteps. But sometimes missteps are better than taking no steps at all. At least you’re learning and developing.
More often than not you’ll become the talented expert everyone thinks you are and realize you weren’t really an impostor after all.
Have you dealt with impostor syndrome? What are some tips and tricks you have for overcoming it?