Do you ever hear a little voice in your head saying, “You’re not ready. It’s already been done. I just got lucky. What will everyone think? Do I know enough to be here?” If you’re nodding your head right now, then you have been impacted by imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome has been everywhere in the last few years. Michelle Obama talked about it in her book, Becoming. There are articles on imposter syndrome in every kind of publication, from Harvard Business Review to Elle magazine. You can find quote after quote from successful people that have suffered from imposter syndrome. But what is it, exactly? And more importantly – what can you do about it? That’s where we’re headed now!
To a certain degree imposter syndrome is self-explanatory. It’s feeling like an imposter or a fraud or questioning if you really belong – even though you are successful. The crux of imposter syndrome is thinking of your skills, qualifications, and experiences as lower or worse than they actually are. We all know people who overinflate their skills and abilities. Imposter syndrome is the opposite.
Imposter syndrome is also something you experience, not something you have. Even though it’s called a “syndrome,” it’s not an actual diagnosis. You will also hear it referred to as the imposter complex or imposter phenomenon, which are probably more accurate terms, but imposter syndrome just rolls off the tongue more easily, doesn’t it?
There is a huge spectrum of how people experience imposter syndrome. It’s a daily companion for many. I’ve had multiple individuals tell me that every day they feel like today’s going to be the day their company finally realizes they have no idea what they’re doing and someone is going to come tap them on the shoulder and escort them out of the building.
For most people imposter syndrome is more situational. You might feel completely confident most of the time and then you have to present to a group of senior leaders and you suddenly feel like you have no business even being in the room, let alone presenting. Or you’re great in your current role, but the moment you start to think about a job change, you wonder if your success is just because of the company, team, or boss and not because of YOU. Or you go after a big new client and after they sign on the dotted line you feel like you won’t be able to pull it off, that you’ve just gotten lucky and have been fooling them.
Sound familiar? You’re not alone. At least 70% of people experience imposter syndrome. It shows up in all the places you don’t want it – around executives, negotiating your salary, sharing ideas, speaking up in a meeting, applying for new jobs, thinking about starting a business, going after bigger clients, sharing on social media, public speaking – the list goes on and on. Imposter syndrome is more likely to make an appearance anytime you’re outside of your comfort zone.
The good news is you can do something about it! While you can’t make imposter syndrome go away entirely, you can learn to quiet the inner critic and take action even when imposter syndrome is raging. Here are two simple actions you can start using today to combat imposter syndrome the next time it makes an unwanted appearance.
Call Out Your Inner Critic:
When you hear that negative, ruminating voice in your head saying that you’re not good enough, don’t know enough, and just WHO ARE YOU to think you can go do that big thing, stop and take a breath. Hear the inner critic talking and notice that it’s not you. It’s just a voice in your head. And you don’t have to pay attention to it.
For example, my imposter syndrome pops up most often when I’m called an expert (on imposter syndrome, of all things. Is there anything more ironic than getting imposter syndrome about being called an expert on imposter syndrome?) and when I’m sharing in public, particularly if I’m giving advice. My inner critic jumps right in telling me I don’t have a PhD in Psychology, I’m not really an expert, who are you to put yourself out there and think people will listen? Isn’t that arrogant and conceited of you!
I hear the inner critic. I feel the anxiety start to rumble up in my belly. And then I stop. I tell myself that I’m just taking up a bigger space than I’m used to and that’s why imposter syndrome has shown up. It’s different and weird and uncomfortable – and also completely fine. Naming the inner critic doesn’t make it go away immediately, but it does make the inner critic lose power. It’s kryptonite for imposter syndrome.
Recover Fast When Doubt Strikes:
Imposter syndrome is going to happen. That’s inevitable. The goal is to shorten the time you spend circling in doubt and get back to a place where you can take action quickly. To do that, create a personalized doubt recovery toolkit. This isn’t anything fancy – just 3-5 activities that make you feel good and confident and grounded and ready to take on whatever is coming at you, no matter how much imposter syndrome wants to drag you down.
Hiking, cross-country skiing, listening to any podcast with Brené Brown, dancing and painting are all in my doubt recovery toolkit. They work wonders for me. If I’m feeling nervous before a big client call, all I have to do is turn on Lizzo’s Good As Hell and three minutes later I’m good to go. The imposter syndrome is gone.
Try these steps. Call out your inner critic. Know what’s in your doubt recovery toolkit and pull out one of the actions the next time imposter syndrome shows up. Most importantly, however, is giving yourself grace. Imposter syndrome is normal. Don’t beat yourself up if you call out your inner critic and it’s back again two minutes later. Call it out again. And again. As many times as it takes. This is all a practice. Be kind to yourself.
Heather Whelpley is a speaker, coach, and writer that works with overachievers, perfectionists, and people pleasers to let go of expectations and create their own rules for life. You can dig deeper into imposter syndrome through her online course, The Five Steps To Overcome Imposter Syndrome.