Work/Life Effectiveness

How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome

Reader, think about your answers to these three questions:

  • Have you ever known you needed to schedule a meeting, but been afraid that the person you’re meeting with would sniff you out as ignorant, unprepared, or simply unworthy of their time?
  • Have you ever hesitated to put yourself forward for something because you feel like a total faker?
  • Have you ever thought that you just need a bit more experience or credibility, and then you’ll start that business or give that talk?

If the answer to any of these questions was YES, I hereby diagnose you with the oh-so-common, but ever-so-insipid Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome via wikipedia: (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”

For many of us, we hear about Imposter Syndrome for the first time, and we think to ourselves something along the lines of: Oh that’s it! Right. There’s a name for when I feel that mix of weak, vulnerable, insecure and unconfident. Lovely.

Unfortunately, I’m here to tell you that there’s no medicine I can give you, or myself, to get better. Fortunately, you don’t really need to go to a doctor (and I’m not one anyways), and the cure is completely in your own hands (or mind).

According to Sakulku and Alexander, (International Journal of Behavioral Science), 70% of people experience some form of imposter syndrome in their lives. Fear is a normal human emotion and its existence makes sense when you think about it… Large predator!? Quick! Run! Food stores getting low? I could starve! I must work hard to prepare for winter.

On top of that, just to make matters more fun for us women out there, Katty Kay & Claire Shipman, the authors of The Confidence Code, shared that men generally rate their performance 30% better than it is whereas women don’t. As a result, women take fewer risks, and therefore are less likely to reap the rewards of those risks/opportunities.

The fear of being found out as inadequate prevents us from trying, taking on new things, or speaking of ourselves in a way that conveys confidence and inspires opportunity. And yet… to build credibility and expertise, we all have to do those things.

So that’s the sad reality. What do we do about it? There are a few concrete things you can do to understand and stand up to your confidence saboteurs. Here’s a bunch to get you going…

List of Awesome Ways to Destroy your Confidence Killers

Do a self-diagnosis

Find out what actually makes you step back and not forward. Shameless plug for the one at wolf & heron.

Check in with yourself

  • Stay aware when you’re feeling self-doubt creep in so it doesn’t catch you off guard.
  • Ask yourself what you can do to feel powerful and ready. Is it a pair of shoes? Is it a red lipstick? Is it a hype song or a motivational video? Use what works.

Reframe your self-talk

When you hear yourself saying or thinking, “I can’t do that…I’m nervous…I’m not an expert,” flip it around and assert, “I am doing this…I’m nervous because it’s new, but I will learn something and be amazing at this, and by doing it, I’m gonna be better!”

Phone a friend

Share your doubts with a friend and ask them to pump you up like Coach Taylor did for the Dillon Panthers, or like Kid President does for everyone.

Break it into pieces

When you’re feeling especially powerless, cut your challenge into smaller steps and work through them one by one, to avoid stressing about the “big” project.

Do small experiments

Don’t wait for the “big day” to do something. Find opportunities to practice or test yourself in smaller and different environments so you’re not doing something for the first time on the “big day.”

This list is not comprehensive. Everyone’s imposter syndrome has different symptoms. Our confidence killers take all shapes and sizes and hide in different places. So above all, be kind to yourself and be kind to those around you. In the end, if we help each other fight our monsters together and we’ll all be better off.

What do you do to stand up to your confidence killers?

Kara Davidson is the cofounder of wolf & heron. Wolf & heron creates and deliver experiences that develop and empower leaders at all levels. Their work impacts organizations, conference attendees and individuals. Their workshops are highly immersive professional development experiences that allow rising leaders to discover, share insights, build community and increase their leadership and influence skills. Our programming is rooted in the discipline of experience design, informed by academic research, and facilitated by change experts. For more content like this, follow wolf & heron’s blog.

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