In our previous post, we introduced you to the concept of impostor syndrome—that nagging sense, shared by as many as 70 percent of us, that we are secretly a fraud on the verge of being found out. People suffering from impostor syndrome struggle with crippling self-doubt, discount their own abilities and attribute their successes to pure luck. They also live with a fear that one day any successes they’ve achieved will evaporate when people figure out the truth.
So now that we’ve identified this feeling and called it by its name—what can we do to overcome it?
The answer is deceptively simple, and author, speaker and impostor syndrome expert Valerie Young puts it quite well:
“The only way to stop feeling like an impostor is to stop thinking like an impostor.”
Really, that’s all there is to it! Easy, right? Actually, it’s easier said than done. Most of us have spent a lifetime developing thought patterns around our self-doubt, and it does take a bit of time and discipline to begin reframing the conversation in our own minds. So let’s explore a few tips to help you change your thinking.
Remember you’re not alone in your feelings.
This was the entire point of part 1, especially when we quoted successful people from Maya Angelou to David Bowie, all admitting they felt like frauds. Seventy percent of the population feels this way—we can’t all be right about it!
Realize that the esteem of others is a matter of context.
From a certain perspective, it makes sense that we feel undeserving of our own successes or the esteem of others. We tend to view everyone else as the expert in their field; we see other people as extraordinary and we put them on a pedestal. But we have a hard time putting ourselves on the pedestal, or seeing ourself as the expert, because we don’t feel particularly extraordinary; we just feel like us. We live with ourselves and our skill sets every day, so to us they’re not extraordinary at all. But that doesn’t mean our skills, talents and qualities aren’t helpful, useful or beneficial to others around us.
There’s a tongue-in-cheek saying: “The definition of an expert is someone who comes from more than 30 miles away.” There’s a hint of truth to that. We always see the other person as more qualified and more deserving because of the distance between us. We aren’t in their skin listening to their self-doubts. We only hear our own.
Begin accepting your successes.
If you land a job or promotion you feel you didn’t deserve—or if people start referring to you as the expert in the room—give them a little credit. Your boss must have seen something good in you, or you wouldn’t have been offered that opportunity. Others must be finding some value in what you say or do, or they wouldn’t ask you to come speak at their next event. Try viewing the situation from the other angle: If you believe they’re wrong about you, you’re basically insulting their intelligence. Don’t take things to the other extreme—humility is a virtue, after all—but be willing to accept that it’s not all luck or smoke-and-mirrors. You might actually have had something to do with whatever success you’ve achieved so far.
Keep a file of compliments and accolades.
Our minds tend to lean negative naturally. We have no trouble remembering the one guy who said something snarky to us online about what a poor job we did—yet we’ll forget the dozens of other times people thanked us for a job well done. We’ll let one dissatisfied client ruin our week and totally disregard our 30 other happy clients. To help restore your perspective, open up a file and drop in a copy of every compliment you receive, every thank-you note, every bit of positive feedback. Refer back to it every time impostor syndrome starts rearing its ugly head. You’ll be reminded that the positives almost always outweigh the negatives by a wide margin.
Turn your focus toward others.
When we start focusing on our self-doubt, it creates a negative feedback loop that causes us to focus inward. It’s actually a sideways form of self-importance, even though it may not feel that way in the moment. If we let it go too far, we’ll begin to withdraw, we’ll skip the job interview, we’ll decline invitations. We’ll stop contributing to the world around us. One great way for you to break this feedback loop is to start focusing purposefully on what you can do to serve others. How can you provide more value to the company or your clients? Where can you volunteer your time? What can you do to give back? Focusing on the needs of others gets you of your own head and back into the real world where you can make a positive difference.
And really, that’s the true payoff of overcoming impostor syndrome: Realizing it’s not all about us. In fact, when we allow these feelings of inferiority to control us, we begin to rob the world of our gifts. By reframing your thinking to realize you really do bring value—that your successes are more earned that you give yourself credit for—you’re not giving in to conceit. You’re allowing yourself to be present in the world again, to bless others with the gifts you’ve been given.
The way to stop feeling like an impostor is to stop thinking like one. It’s not just about accepting credit for what you’ve done; it’s also about giving others credit for what they see in you. More importantly, it’s about staying present in a world that genuinely needs what you have to offer.