How to Once and for All Rid Yourself of Career-Imposter Syndrome at Work
How soon before they figure out that I’m not meant to be here?
I was promoted by a mistake.
I was hired because they forgot to ask one question that would have ended the interview on the spot.
These are the fables we tell ourselves because we lack self-confidence, or because we are battling a particular type of self-destructive anxiety. These are lies which cause us to act timidly in meetings when in reality our contributions can often be incisive and impactful.
If you are battling imposter syndrome, you are not alone. Successful people like Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg have said they’ve battled imposter syndrome in the past.
Let reading this article act as the first step in conquering your feelings of professional inadequacy.
Keep a “success” folder on your computer for a quick confidence boost.
Even the smartest and most successful people face criticism and make mistakes. The difference between those who feel like imposters and others, is that those with lower self-esteem tend to hold on to these negative feelings.
To overcome periodic bouts of low self-esteem, create a success folder physically or on your computer. Store reminders of projects you’ve completed successfully and messages of praise from respected colleagues. Go to the folder for a quick confidence boost anytime you’re feeling low.
One thing I do is hang pictures of my successes around my desk. At any moment I can see that time I interviewed Robert Herjavec at a conference, or when I moderated a crypto panel that went well. This type of thing boosts confidence when you feel like you’re losing track of why you do what you do.
Ask for professional feedback from people you respect.
We are often poor judges of our own performance. Those of us with lower self-confidence are particularly bad judges because we often fail to accurately account for areas of strength. Instead, people with low-self esteem issue overly negative self-assessments which can get in the way at work.
Rather than brood in negative self-assessments, ask peers or superiors for feedback regularly. Do it with people who you respect. This shows that you care about your work, and provides a more accurate assessment on which to improve. For the most accurate feedback, try to give colleagues notice that you’d like them to review your work. If you give them a heads up a week in advance, the feedback you receive will be more thoughtful.
Focus on improving your strengths instead of obsessing over weaknesses.
I’ve been a Type A personality my whole life. I’m a good example of how hard it is for many of us to ever really feel satisfied. It’s one of the reasons why type A people are often professionally successful. When they see something isn’t working, they want to fix it immediately, and this includes improving areas of self-perceived weakness.
If this sounds familiar, first ensure that this supposed area of weakness is indeed a weakness. It’s possible that you are simply being overly self-critical and that in reality, this is an area of strength. If you’re confident that this area is indeed an area of weakness, consider focusing on improving your areas of strength rather than addressing an area of weakness. Why? Because by making yourself better where you are already strong, you’ll help to develop a unique professional edge.
Most employers are interested in “T” shaped specialists, people with broad knowledge on top, and deep skills in a few specific areas. Instead of further broadening the top of your “T,” go deeper by teaching yourself advanced skills that few others know how to do.
Push yourself to tackle new challenges.
By overcoming new challenges, you’ll give yourself the confidence you need to believe that you deserve the professional achievements you’ve earned. It can be tempting for someone with imposter syndrome to play it safe. If a manager made a “mistake” by promoting you, you don’t want to take a bold decision that would cause her to realize the error of her ways.
In reality, taking informed yet bold decisions is one of the only ways to achieve long-term success. People with imposter syndrome are in danger of missing professional opportunities that can further their career.
At the start of each quarter, outline at least one bold experiment that you are curious to conduct. Set measurable goals, understand the risks and rewards, and go for it. If you succeed then you’ll have proven to yourself that you deserve the success you’ve achieved. If you fail, you’ll have a learning moment that will make you a stronger professional in the long run.
You’re not alone.
The first step to overcoming imposter syndrome is recognizing that it is a common feeling which many successful professionals have felt before. Recognize that you are a poor judge of your own performance, and seek feedback from peers or superiors to better understand how you truly stack up.
To boost your confidence, maintain a “success” folder, and force yourself to tackle new challenges by setting quarterly professional goals.