What to do about your imposter syndrome
Imposter syndrome is a relatively newly understood phenomenon. It’s the secretly nurtured fear that the only reason we’re here is that someone made a mistake and that any day someone is going to point to us and declare “you don’t belong here”. It leads us to self sabotage because of the emotional energy we spend being on edge. Waiting for the revelation and rejection of those around us. It’s a lonely road to walk. Everyone around us seems so accomplished, so together that we must be the odd one out.
When I walked through the door at Google I felt this acutely and continued feeling this every day for the following ten years. I also came to realise I wasn’t alone. Nobody really felt like they deserved to be there. I was in a presentation on the topic where it was introduced to me for the first time and I saw a room full of senior people start nodding their heads. As 300 people collectively had the same epiphany “so this is why I’ve been feeling this way” then looked around and realised they weren’t alone any more. It was then I realised that the people who don’t feel this way are the ones you have to worry about. Anyone who operates without self doubt is also likely to operate without conscience.
Having imposter syndrome doesn’t mean you’re broken. It just means you’re human. That still means we have to walk the lonely road. With lockdowns all over the world this road feels that much more lonely. The lack of regular direct human contact exacerbates these feelings. Here are some tips from my journey that might help you help yourself and others.
- Reflect on your values and who you aspire to be as a person. The first person you have to make happy is yourself. If you are acting in line with your personal values then your sense of self worth and security are enhanced. This makes you less reliant on the fickle opinions of others. It’s the looking in the mirror test.
- Reflect on the journey you’ve taken to get here. Ask yourself how you overcame challenges to get here. Use this foundation to move forwards. You haven’t stopped being the person who got here. And the speed bumps along the way made you what you are. Accept yourself.
- Be active in seeking feedback. With remote working we don’t get the same number of reassuring interactions. It’s human nature to assume the worst. And our brains are capable of imagining the very worst of our fears as truth. Be deliberate in getting feedback from your peers. Be deliberate in giving feedback. If you don’t it won’t happen and that vacuum will be filled with imagined horrors.
- Create a support network. Who are the people you can confide your fears in? How do you distance yourself from work. What are the things you do to feel good about yourself. Having outlets means the pressure can be released. Resilience is about recognising this and deliberately taking care of yourself.
- Make vulnernability a super power. I was asked recently how a company might promote mental health for its workers. And it comes down to vulnerability being a cultural norm. No one should have to suffer alone. It can be terrifying taking the first step here. If your leaders don’t model this behaviour then you will struggle to make this step. I remember breaking down in tears doing a talk on diversity and inclusion where I talked about being bullied as a teenager and what I learned about my mother’s battle with cancer. How I learned how terrible it is to feel alone in a crowded room. My vulnerability made it more acceptable for others to express theirs. The act of expressing it can free you of some of the fear. This can backfire if expressed insincerely — a senior exec sharing because someone told them to comes across as manipulative. Start with Brene Brown’s TED talk.
You do belong here. You’re not alone on this journey. Everyone around you is likely to be on a similar path. Anyone who tells you they aren’t are either kidding themselves or some kind of sociopath. By being open about your own vulnerability you take away its power to hurt you and you find and become the support network for everyone around you.