You’ve finally achieved something you’ve been working toward for a long time. You’ve worked hard, sweat, given up time with your family and friends, and you’re finally seeing the fruits of your labor. Whatever that goal was – a corner office, the head chef position, landing that big client – you finally got there. So why do you feel as though at any minute, everyone is going to discover you’re a fraud? Like you’ve been faking your abilities the whole time and you’re right on the verge of being found out?
That’s imposter syndrome messing with your head. The term ‘imposter syndrome’ has been around since the 1970s, but it’s only in the last few years that we’ve become aware of just how widespread and insidious it is. It gets to most of us at one time or another, and women are especially susceptible to it. It’s not something anyone ever used to talk about, and why would we? Admitting we know we’re a fraud is the first step toward being found out, right?
Well, no. Not really. The thing to know about imposter syndrome is that it’s sneaky. It’s really good at getting into your mind and taking away all of the pride and enjoyment you should be feeling about your accomplishments. Dealing with it is easier said than done, but there are things you can to do overcome it and get back to feeling the way you should – like you just kicked butt and accomplished something huge.
Take a Moment to Breathe and Assess
First of all, recognize what you’re feeling. Realize that while your feelings are real, the imposter syndrome itself isn’t. When you start to feel this way, like you don’t deserve what you have, even though you know how hard you worked, call out the feelings. Acknowledge them, say them out loud, even write them down. Try to look at them from a different angle. Instead of thinking that you don’t know anything, consider that you just don’t know everything yet, that you’re still learning and that’s ok. If you start to think that there’s no way you can possibly do the work that’s required because you’re a giant phony, tell yourself that these are new challenges and you’re looking forward to taking them on and learning from them.
Track Your Wins
Keep track of your accomplishments. Write them down and keep them somewhere you’ll see them often, or at least can easily pull them out if you need a boost. Keep them in the notes app on your phone, write them on a whiteboard above your desk. Seeing in them in black and white will help them be more real.
Break the Cycle
We all know how this goes. You see someone at work, and she has it all together. Every project she works on is perfect, her life seems amazing, and she has everything all together. But you don’t see the hours of hard work and stress that go into making her who she is. And you definitely don’t see that she’s looking at you, thinking the same thing. She’s looking at your life, and the projects you lead at work and wondering why she can’t get it all together the same way you do. She’s looking at you and thinking that when everyone sees the two of you working together, she’ll be found out as the imposter. This is a never-ending cycle. The only way to break it is to actively recognize it and work to break it. When your thoughts start to cycle this way, make an effort to stop them and put your focus somewhere else. Don’t let the thoughts take hold in the first place, and over time it’ll be easier to keep them from upsetting your self-confidence and tricking you into thinking you don’t deserve what you have.
Know the Difference
Failure is not the same as being an imposter. Literally everyone fails sometimes. It’s not an indication that you don’t deserve to be where you are, or that you’re a phony who’s always on the verge of being discovered and booted. When you do fail at something, or it doesn’t go the way you had hoped or thought it would, don’t let the negative feelings take hold. Look at what happened and what went wrong. Take it as a learning opportunity. Every high-profile person you can think of, everyone you consider a great success has failed or been fired at some point. The trick isn’t to never fail. The trick is to take the failure as a learning experience and apply those lessons to your next project.
Taking the time to assess your feelings, reflect on your success and failures, and most importantly, realizing that EVERYONE feels this way sometimes will help you break the cycle and build confidence. You aren’t a fraud – you’ve got this!