By Jim Frawley, executive coach and CEO of Bellwether Hub
In recent months, there has been a flood of interest in fraudsters like Anna Delvey and Elizabeth Holmes, women who claimed to be industry leaders but weren’t transparent about their backgrounds or capabilities.
But this fascination with people who misrepresent themselves may be rooted in something deeper than mere entertainment, a more sinister phenomenon that most of us have encountered at some point in our professional lives: imposter syndrome.
At its core, imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that causes an individual to question and doubt their capabilities, their skills, their talents, and their accomplishments. Usually, there’s also some element of fear that others around them will think of them as a fraud; incorrectly attributing success to luck instead of acknowledging the hard work and dedication that went into those achievements.
Whether you’ve recently received a promotion and are being faced by these thoughts for the first time, or even if you’re a high-level executive who is constantly plagued by these fears, here are three key strategies for banishing your demons and believing in your capabilities.
- Stop waiting for external validation – it won’t fix it.
The biggest problem people run into when it comes to imposter syndrome is a simple misalignment between what other people think about us and what we think about ourselves. This manifests itself in a reliance on unsolicited feedback and validation from our peers and leadership, and if that doesn’t happen, human nature has us questioning whether or not we’re doing well for lack of anyone telling us that we are.
But if you’re waiting for someone else to validate your self-worth and contributions, you’re going to be waiting for a long time, and you are always going to be disappointed. Everyone is looking out for themselves and waiting for similar validation, meaning that their failure to acknowledge your work isn’t a statement about your insufficiencies, it’s a reflection of their own self-preoccupation.
This is a classic case of “ask and you shall receive,” so do just that. Firstly, make sure that you’re doing your job to the best of your ability and creating real value. Then, ask the people around you, those that you trust and admire, about what skill sets you bring to the table. Their feedback should be an encouraging boost to your self-confidence, but always remember that the perception of others is never as important as how you perceive and value yourself.
- Acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses.
Oftentimes, the things that come naturally to us are the things that others recognize as impressive, but because those things are second-nature, we tend to diminish our own capabilities, even subconsciously. If you are organized or articulate or a great decision maker, those are valuable traits that not everyone can claim, and starting from a place of self-appreciation is important for the purposes of getting out from under imposter syndrome and recognizing that you bring immense value.
Another important distinction to make in your own mind is that you ARE an expert, because we are all experts in something, and having a variety of perspectives around the table is invaluable. The best leaders I know are comfortable in their own skin, ESPECIALLY when it comes to their weaknesses. They ask really good questions and aren’t afraid to say they don’t know something. There’s no doubt in my mind that they suffer from imposter syndrome, but being able to recognize their strengths and weaknesses in order to round out their expertise keeps them grounded.
You’re not an imposter because you don’t know everything there is to know about your company or industry, you only become one if you fail to recognize that fact as an opportunity to ask for help. Take strength from those around you who can answer those questions and fill in those gaps, and keep sight of the strengths you bring to the table.
- Keep track of positive feedback.
Maybe it sounds a little out there, but I’ve found one of the best ways to combat imposter syndrome is by keeping a running document of positive feedback that I can refer back to when I’m faced with any fear. We tend to be our own harshest critics and rehash all the times we’ve been given negative feedback, with the worst moments stamped, seemingly indelibly, on our brains. But can you remember the last time someone told you that you were doing great work? Not just a pat on the back moment, but the context and specifics of what you did well? If you’re like most people, the answer is no, and that’s where this document comes in.
Start a note or document, whether you keep it on your phone or computer, to log these moments of praise and get as detailed as possible. Not only is it a good exercise in positive affirmation, it’s a tangible piece of proof you can refer back to at darker moments to remind yourself of all the great things you’ve been doing and were acknowledged for. Again, the point is not to base your entire vision of self-worth on the comments of others. But sometimes it’s hard to get past your own fears with positive self-talk, and keeping a record of outside perspectives on your value can be the added boost you need to move past any doubts.
Imposter syndrome is a very real phenomenon that impacts almost everyone at some point in their professional – and even personal! – lives, and while it’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s important to attack it head on to keep it from holding you back. No matter where you are in an organization, these strategies can help you take charge of your own trajectory and stop imposter syndrome from standing in the way of your success.