I can’t tell you how many times in my Executive Search career I have heard leaders admit in private that they are “way over their skis,” including me.
Uncharted territory can be a common occurrence unless you are with a long-established company, and even then, new innovations and technology have caused all of us to have to learn on the fly.
This phenomenon is known as “imposter syndrome”. Imposter syndrome, plain and simple, is the presence of doubt in your life. This not only includes your career, but can exist as a parent, academically as a student, etc. Doubting the capacity of your abilities all relates back to imposter syndrome.
It’s rarely talked about, but imposter syndrome is something that is rampant in the workplace. It is hard to admit weaknesses, especially as the leader that is expected to “pave the way.” While it is extremely common, the people experiencing these emotions feel alone and often think they are the only one who feels this way.
Imposter syndrome is not good, however there is one silver lining. It does encourage people to continue to work hard and stay humble. A person feeling the need to continuously prove themselves is motivated to provide grade-A work rather than becoming too comfortable. But that one positive is wrought with many negatives.
Imposter syndrome can facilitate a major blow to one’s confidence. Not feeling deserving of any recognition or positive feedback can leave a person feeling insecure. It also can create communication issues as people don’t want to “let them see you sweat,” therefore they do not ask for direction when they need it most. While everyone struggles with insecurity at one point or another, if left to fester it can affect performance.
This is not something people often talk about. While “fake it till you make it” is a popular method of achieving confidence, it leaves many people feeling like everyone else has their shit together. The honest answer is a lot fewer people have it all together than we’re led to believe, trust me. Even the most successful and put-together people struggle with comparing themselves to others, have difficulty in pulling the trigger on decisions, among a slew of other day-to-day struggles.
One of the “side effects” of imposter syndrome is a troubling increase in stress levels. Assume you constantly feel you have something to prove. Not only does this make you feel as though your work is never good enough, but it also makes you believe you don’t have job security. Left without proper communication, this could quickly spiral into further mental health issues.
Ok, so what do we do to combat imposter syndrome? Here is a list to start…
- Speak Your Truth: Other people feel the same exact way you do, I promise. By expressing your feelings, others will likely communicate similar feelings and concerns within their own experiences.
- Understand Your Worth: This step is easier said than done, but it’s important to recognize how you got to where you are today. Success and recognition do not come exclusively from the help of others or pure luck. Recognize that you have the biggest part to play in your own life. If your imposter syndrome is work related, know that you were hired because you are a worthy employee. You were recognized for good work because you truly excelled at something. If people don’t want to engage with you or lift you up, that’s ok. Assume any good vibes that come your way are well earned.
- Stop Comparing Yourself to Others: News flash, most people have feelings of doubt or feel insecure about almost every aspect of their lives. There are very few people in society who feel like they have all their ducks in a row. Who has life perfectly figured out? Even your mentor has flaws and makes mistakes, so if something happens that makes you feel unworthy of your current title or position, understand that you’re failing forward and are now more apt to do better in the future. Giving yourself grace is critical.
- Celebrate Accomplishments: Do not downplay the amazing things that happen in your life. Everything happens for a reason, so when something good happens why not do something special to treat yourself? You’ve earned it.
- Positive Self-Talk: Talking negatively to yourself is a great way to reduce your self-confidence, which will eventually begin to show when you engage with co-workers, bosses, even friends. Focus on the good things about yourself and how you can continuously improve without pointing out the flaws. Listen, imposter syndrome is so common! You will make mistakes, you will learn, and you will improve. Just believe in you… you’re the only you that we have. Be proud of yourself! We’re proud of you.