10 Successful Leaders Share Their Struggles with Imposter Syndrome and How to Overcome It

10 Successful Leaders Share Their Struggles with Imposter Syndrome and How to Overcome It
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

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This story originally appeared on Authority Magazine

The legendary poet and activist Maya Angelou, who won the and received nominations for a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award, once said about herself, “I have written 11 , but each time I think, 'Uh oh, they’re going to find out now! I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'"

This feeling, often prevalent in high-achieving people, is commonly known as "."

Imposter syndrome is a thought pattern where a person has a persistent fear of being exposed as a “,” and which makes that person doubt himself and/or minimize their accomplishments. 

Recently Authority  interviewed dozens of high-achieving C-suite executives and leaders who all shared their own experiences overcoming imposter syndrome, as well as the advice they recommend for getting past it.

Enjoy 10 highlights of their interviews below.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity. 

 

Mikaela Kiner (CEO of Reverb)

Mikaela Kiner (CEO of Reverb)
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

My experience struggling with .

In the summer of 2018 while I was working on my book, a journalist from The Wall Street Journal asked to interview me for her "Work and Family" column. When I looked at who else she had featured, I saw people with big titles and important roles, and I wondered, “Why would she want to hear my story?”

I saw myself as less accomplished and less relevant. I had to remind myself that in the past, I’ve held senior roles in global organizations, and I realize my experiences at these places counted. Not only did I enjoy our conversation, we spoke again many months later on a different topic. In the end I was quoted twice and met a wonderful woman who I now consider an ally.

What I did to shake the feeling off.

Early in my career before I ever heard of impostor syndrome, I lived with it all the time. I would walk into a meeting at work and wonder “Do they like me? Am I smart enough to be here?” It took me several years before I walked into a room and asked myself “Do I like them? Are these people I respect and admire?”

I don’t know that it’s possible to be entirely rid of impostor syndrome but I do manage it better today. What has helped me is learning to recognize it so I can deal with my feelings rationally and talk myself down.

Last year my colleague Elizabeth Bastoni shared some advice that really helped. She said “Don’t say no to yourself, let other people do that for you.” When I start talking myself out of an opportunity or favor because I don’t think I’m worth it, her words are a good reminder to put myself out there and let others decide. More often than not, their answer is yes.

5 Steps someone experiencing imposter syndrome can take to move forward, despite feeling like an “imposter."

  1. Name it. You can’t prevent thoughts and feelings of impostor syndrome but when you name them, you can overcome them. Label impostor syndrome for what it is.
  2. Choose a mantra. Counter those feelings with a mantra like Michelle Obama’s “I am good enough.”
  3. Gather data. List the facts and data about your qualifications and achievements to remind yourself that you are indeed accomplished and deserving.
  4. Create an impostor box. When you experience self-doubt, write your feelings down, tuck them away, and get on with your day. Revisit them when you’re ready, on your terms.
  5. Find a friend. There’s nothing like confiding in someone you trust who can talk you off a ledge and help you see yourself for the talented, capable person you are.

Stevon Lewis (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist)

Stevon Lewis (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist)
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My experience struggling with .

As a black male therapist, I haven’t always had an example to follow or model myself after. In my graduate program I was the only black male in my program the entire time I was there. I think this experience led to my questioning whether or not I knew what I was doing. I don’t have an example to follow to effectively evaluate my trajectory and therefore, enter into effective questioning if I will be successful.

What I did to shake the feeling off.

I continually overcome any feelings of being an impostor. I use the same techniques and skills I teach my clients. I tell myself, when exploring a new opportunity, I successsfully explore other new opportunities in the past and will continue to so with new ventures. Moreover, I try to tell myself I am doing a good job, and look at the evidence that supports this. 

5 steps someone experiencing imposter syndrome can take to move forward, despite feeling like an “imposter."

  1. Be relentless in challenging your "inner bully.” The inner bully is that inner voice we all have that makes us question our abilities and self-worth. Listening to it often leads us to feel more negatively about ourselves, our futures and our present circumstances. For example, in a relationship,an inner bully might prey on our thoughts or feeling as though we don’t deserve our significant other. Often times this will cause us to act in ways that prevent intimacy and connection. We become increasingly angry, clingy, jealous, defensive or easily offended. If our partners are less talkative on a particular day, our inner bullies get us to believe they are mad at us for something we did. We will blindly believe our inner bully instead of checking in to see if our significant other may not feel good, or if there is some other rational explanation for their silence.
  2. Create an evidence sheet. A physical paper or a digital notebook where you list all of the evidence that counteracts support your negative view of yourself as a . This is not based on whether you agree with the information, as we know people that struggle with impostor syndrome will often explain away the evidence they receive that suggests they aren’t a fraud. The goal is to continually add to the document to show oneself that their feelings of being a fraud aren’t based in reality.
  3. Stop dismissing or minimizing your accomplishments. Individuals that struggle with impostor syndrome often dismiss or minimize their accomplishments as routine. I teach my clients to celebrate themselves by acknowledging their accomplishments. The idea is that even if their accomplishment has become routine, that doesn't mean it shouldn’t be acknowledged. In addition, if we disproportionately highlight our shortfalls — while ignoring our successes — we all inevitably end up feeling like a failure.
  4. Temper your expectations of yourself. People that struggle with impostor syndrome frequently hold themselves to a standard of perfection that isn’t sustainable or achievable. If you are like this, you may convince yourself you are failing. It would be better for you to temper expectations by using scaling techniques to evaluate their performance. For example, if you have a list of 10 things to accomplish and you accomplish 9 out of 10, it would be more effective to say you've accomplish 90 percent of your plans, as well as reminding yourself that 90 percent is still an "A." 
  5. Stop comparing yourself to others. In working with individuals that struggle with impostor syndrome, the most toxic behavior you can exhibit is using the lives and accomplishments of others to negatively evaluate yourself. I often hear, from my clients, how others are superior in their abilities and, as a result, are more deserving of success. Individuals with impostor syndrome need to stop measuring their abilities and journey based on someone else’s model. It’s okay to take a different route to get to the same location; some people like to fly, while others prefer to drive. 

Liz Forkin Bohannon (Founder of Sseko Designs)

Liz Forkin Bohannon (Founder of Sseko Designs)
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

My experience struggling with .

Although I’ve been quite familiar with the feeling from early on in my life, imposter syndrome really started to rear its ugly head up when I was about five-six years into my career of building Sseko Designs. We had to build a traditional wholesale/retail company and were considering pivoting to a direct sales model. I believe the opportunity to od business and make an impact was immense, but so was the risk. At this point, I had a multi-million dollar company with employees and partners across multiple countries. I started feeling like if I tried to lead us through this pivot and failed, that would be the moment when I got “found out” for being an imposter. Everyone would say, “See. She is not a real leader or business person. It was all just ‘beginner’s luck.’” As a result, I had an incredible amount of insecurity and anxiety.

What I did to shake the feeling off:

I may not have gotten rid of it completely, but enough that I was able to move forward — and I am glad that I did! In our first full year of selling through individual women in their communities, we did more in revenue and impact than we had ever done through our wholesale channel! In order to overcome it, I revisited the earliest days of my career and started studying the mentalities and mindsets I had they helped me resist imposter syndrome without even knowing it. My study of those mentalities and mindsets was such an “a-ha” moment to me that I ended up writing an entire book about it so that others can access their “Inner Beginner” as a way of overcoming imposter syndrome so that you can build a life of purpose, passion and impact.

5 Steps someone experiencing imposter syndrome can take to move forward, despite feeling like an “imposter."

  1. Own your average. Despite all the common self-help talk that wants you to focus on your specialness, I propose you start warding off imposter syndrome by owning the fact that you are likely indeed quite average. When you "own your average," you will stop only saying yes to the things you think you’ll immediately excel in. When you own your average, you start to realize that no one is thinking about you quite as much as you think they are. You are not Beyoncé. (Or maybe you are — hi, Beyoncé!). When you decide to own your average, you will start to believe that success will require lots and lots of work, and is not just an inevitable result of being born awesome. You also realize that your insecurities and failures aren’t the tell-tale sign that you’re below average. You know that mistakes and wrong turns are simply a requisite on the road to building an above-average life of purpose and passion, which means you’ll be less afraid to fail and flail a bit. And more importantly, you’ll become less afraid and more likely to succeed, perhaps wildly, because you truly believe you’re just as worthy and likely to build an extraordinary life of purpose and passion as anyone else.
  2. Choose curiosity over . There is scientific evidence that suggests curiosity is just as important as IQ in achieving long-term success. Also, it is the ultimate defense against imposter syndrome. The more curious you are, the more able you are to tolerate ambiguity, navigate complexity and acquire knowledge over time. Studies have shown that increased curiosity is associated with less defensive reactions to stress and less aggressive reactions to provocation. It’s incredibly difficult to increase your IQ but you can increase your CQ, or "curiosity quotient."
  3. Think like a journalist. Here is the thing about great journalists: They don’t go into the story assuming they have it all figured out. In fact, they know that the less you think you have it all figured out, the more you can learn. The less you have riding on what you think you need to “discover,” the freer you will be to get closer to the actual truth, whatever it may be. The more open you are to be surprised by what you uncover, the more likely you will be to find something really interesting. By pretending to be a journalist on assignment in your own life, you’re going to be more likely to find the truest story which will enable you to be more successful. It’s also going to de-shame not knowing everything and will reframe it as an asset which will kick imposter syndrome to the curb.
  4. Focus on the problem instead of the solution. Feeling like we have to come up with the best solution off the bat will keep us living under the sea of imposter syndrome. Instead, strive to connect with people who can find and understand really interesting problems, and therefore help us detach our egos from the solution. It gives us more freedom to try and fail, all the while keeping the problem we set out to solve in the starring role it deserves.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way. If you’re the first to admit you’re in a "learning mode" and might need some help, it takes the power of the fear that someone else might say it first away. And here is the really cool thing: Contrary to popular belief, studies show that when we’re able to help someone out, we, the helper, end up having increased affection and perceived closeness towards the person we helped.

Kim Perell (Author, Angel Investor and CEO)

Kim Perell (Author, Angel Investor and CEO)
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

My experience struggling with :

Absolutely. When I first started my own company, I was terrified and young. I had just gotten fired and broke. Everyone doubted me. And even though I chose to press forward, block their voices out and believe in myself. Predictably, I was still terrified. But I felt the fear and did it anyway. Ultimately, your confidence must be greater than your doubt. As an entrepreneur and executive, a huge part of success is that you keep going despite doubt and uncertainty.

What I did to shake the feeling off:

I believe I did. Rather than focus on feelings of self-doubt or worry, I focused on my vision and my passion. I zeroed in on the things I wanted to achieve and the things that made me feel grateful to be alive. These were the things that were the most authentic and true to me.

I also learned to master my emotions. Sometimes, we act as though fear and self-doubt are real and true facts. Really, they’re just emotions that are only as powerful as we make them. I stopped allowing those feelings to overwhelm me or distort my reality.

I’ve also made an effort to surround myself with successful people who support me and challenge me.

5 Steps one experiencing imposter syndrome can take to move forward, despite feeling like an “imposter”:

  1. Talk about it. A few years ago, a CEO of a company I invested in called me and said, “Do you ever feel like you don’t know what you’re doing and you have all these people looking at you for leadership but you doubt yourself?”
    His question surprised me for a few reasons. For one, I was shocked to hear that he felt that way. He had always struck me as someone who was so self-assured and capable. I had nothing but confidence in his abilities. I was also surprised because his worries were so familiar to me. I knew exactly how he felt. I’d felt that way countless times early on. Talking out how you feel with successful people you trust can help you realize how common and normal your feelings are. It can also help you see the way you look through their eyes.
  2. Invest in relationships. Surround yourself with successful people who want your success to continue. Find a mentor and peers who see your potential and believe you deserve to be where you are. I believe, at any given time, that you should have a mentor, engage in mentoring somebody else, and possess a group of peers who are at your level with whom to share resources, cross-references and gut checks.
  3. Master your emotions. Too often, we act as though fear and self-doubt are facts, when really they’re just emotions that are only as powerful as we make them. Don’t let those feelings overwhelm you or distort your reality. Choose to listen to positive emotions like self-belief, trust and hope; give less weight to negative feelings or self-talk. The belief in yourself must be greater than anyone else’s doubt — including your own. 
  4. Stop comparing yourself to others. Focus on being the best version of yourself and embrace what makes you different and unique. Everyone has their own special talents; the key is to find yours and execute on what you are good at. What other people have or haven’t accomplished has nothing to do with you. Focus on your own journey. It’s the best way to make sure you’re staying true to yourself and not trying to become someone else. 
  5. Focus on your vision and passion. Zero in on the things you want to achieve. Set a clear, specific, meaningful vision of something you want to accomplish. Then, make that your North Star. Let it guide everything you do. I always write down my vision and put it on my bathroom mirror so I’m reminded of it every single day. 
    And make sure you’re devoting plenty of time to your passions, the things you’re willing to sacrifice for, things that make me feel grateful to be alive. Because those are the things that are the most authentic and true to you. They’re the things you were truly meant to do, regardless of abilities or talents.

Michael O’Brien (Executive Coach at Peloton Executive Coaching)

Michael O’Brien (Executive Coach at Peloton Executive Coaching)
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My experience struggling with :

My first experience with imposter syndrome came after I was promoted to National Sales Director. I started to believe that the only reason I got the job was that I was the only candidate willing to move to New Jersey. I also thought I had to lead like all the National Sales Directors in my industry, but that wasn’t my style. As a result, I lost my identity for a few months. It was an extremely stressful period and I wondered if I was the right person for the job. These feelings stayed with me until I shifted my thinking and regained my confidence.

What I did to shake the feeling off:

Yes, I was able to shake off my imposter syndrome by shifting the conversation I was having with myself by developing a list fo accomplishments and a few mantras to remind myself why I was promoted. I also started looking for small wins, which I knew would lead to bigger ones down the road, which they did.

5 Steps someone experiencing imposter syndrome can take to move forward, despite feeling like an “imposter”:

1. Breathe. When imposter syndrome is present, it’s common for your head to be spinning and be filled with emotion. It makes it hard to know what to do next. Focusing on your breath slows you down, shifts your perspective, and sparks a healthier self-narrative.
2. Create an accomplishments list. Develop a list of life and career accomplishments and mantras that will help you counter-balance your self-narrative when it gets negative or anxious. You can develop your list in private and then ask others what strengths they see in you.
3. Develop your network. Since life and career are not solo projects, it’s essential to have a strong network. They can help you see attributes you might not realize — especially when you can’t.
4. Celebrate small wins. Look for small victories to gain the type of momentum that will lead to big wins down the road and reframe your situation.
5. Express gratitude. Develop a gratitude practice to help you see what’s working in your life. You can even be grateful for your moments of self-doubt or feeling like a because they are a natural part of being alive and an opportunity to show yourself and the world that you are gritty.

Ricky Joshi (CEO of The Saatva Company)

Ricky Joshi (CEO of The Saatva Company)
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

My experience struggling with :

Absolutely! Coming from the agency world meant I was well-versed in business. My interest in lifestyle was strong, but as I worked on the business model, attended events, and met other professionals, there were definitely times where I felt like I did not know what I was doing. While I knew intrinsically that I was competent, I found difficulty in navigating this new space with my new company. That’s what’s so tricky about imposter syndrome: you know you’re good, but it doesn’t always show.

What I did to shake the feeling off:

Yes, through consistency, I was able to work my way out of it. Every time I accomplished something, I would remind myself that it was because of my talents and perseverance, and how I deserved to be there.

5 Steps someone experiencing imposter syndrome can take to move forward, despite feeling like an “imposter”:

  1. Believe in your talents. Always look at your talent as the base rather than focusing on the task. If you know you can achieve something because of past experiences, then keep that at the forefront of your mind.
  2. Ask for help. I was fortunate enough to have Ron through this journey, but friends and colleagues are a great support system when you need a reminder.
  3. Start small. If something seems too daunting, make sure that you scale back and start with something small and manageable. Once you conquer that, it’ll be easier for you to conquer future, larger tasks.
  4. Visualize your success. Keep your eye on the prize and look forward to what you want to achieve rather than playing into your doubts.
  5. Prepare for disappointment. This is key. It does not mean anticipate failure; it means come up with a plan in case of failure. How will you move forward after the fact? Putting these in place early can help you navigate tricky personal feelings.

Elena Doukas (Design Director at Garrett Leight California Optical)

Elena Doukas (Design Director at Garrett Leight California Optical)
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

My experience struggling with .

My education was in fashion design, and although there are many parallels from apparel design to product design, I’ve always regretted having not taken product design courses. When I started building out the design team at Garrett Leight, I was nervous that candidates with way more product design skills would not respect me as a boss, or that I wouldn’t know what were the magic ingredients were needed to build a strong team. Designing frames was something I was grasping quickly, but managing a team was something I had never done.

On the flip side, when we were first starting out as a company, there were only a few of us, and I had horrible work life balance. I would stay at the office late, and lost touch with a few friends and had trouble giving my friend base the time they deserved. I also had no time to network or interact with any type of peer group, which made me feel like an imposter when I started interacting in fashion circles. It was like an imposter pendulum; on one side I felt not technical enough, and on the other side not connected enough. I was in my late-20s introducing myself as a design director of an eyewear company with no previous eyewear experience, and bracing myself for questions about how I got the job. I knew I got this opportunity from a combination of hard work and luck, but would constantly question if I was truly the most qualified person for the job.

What I did to shake the feeling off.

As the company grew, I wasn’t always able to have a clear vision of how I wanted to personally grow. I realized I needed to make some changes and give more balance to my life. I think the most confusing part for me was how I evolved through my job. When I was hired, the company needed me to do a lot of roles (i.e. design, development, production and sales), but as we grew, I was expected to be an expert in a specific field. It was difficult for me to adapt, and there was no magic ball telling me exactly how I had to change. There was no how-to guide on building and managing a team, and giving direction.

However, I got some good advice from one of my mentors to really understand what my best strengths were, and had a real constructive conversation on the things I wasn’t good at. The irony is the I was advice I was told was the following: No one is ever blessed with knowing exactly how to do everything. It’s the journey of figuring it out that helps you learn how to do things and continuing to perfect your process.

5 Steps one experiencing imposter syndrome can take to move forward, despite feeling like an “imposter."

  1. Get organized. I think common result of imposter syndrome is either procrastination or anxiety. If I find myself freezing up or on the opposite end approaching a project sporadically, I try to get myself organized. I think a huge stereotype is that creative people are unorganized, where I think a lot creatives actually thrive in an organized environment, and they just need to find the best structure for them. Try to schedule out time for yourself when you’re at your best to tackle your most overwhelming issues. For me it’s early mornings, before I’ve checked my phone or email so I have zero distractions. Bullet journaling, which is a daily free form journal, is something I actively do to keep myself organized, and really has helped me not push things to the side. If you google Bullet Journal, don’t compare your journal to the thousands of journal images showing perfect penmanship, art doodles and different colored pens. As much as I envy some of these peoples art skills, it’s absolutely insane to think you should spend that much time working on making your bullet journal perfect. The whole point is to free mind up so you can focus on more important things.
  2. Rinse and repeat (but with intent). Growing up I played competitive soccer and I had a coach who started every practice saying, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.” It wasn’t until after I graduated college that I realized the intent of this saying wasn’t to become a perfectionist, but it was to be present in every moment you are working on your goal. Now in my job, I’ve also learned to embrace doing multiple iterations of a design and work on them in the full extent. Even when I think it’s finished, I’ll try doing several more. It’s in the process of exploring all the possibilities that you find something new and original, even if the first version ends up being the one you go with.
  3. Mentor. I’m very grateful to have several mentors in my life, and can’t stress enough how important I think it is to have a soundboard. My brother in law is in a line of work where he’s frequently meeting with investors, and he shared with me that in almost every investor meeting a commonly asked question is, “Who are you talking to?” which equates to who in your circle is giving you advice and are they smarter than you? Quite frankly, you’re probably not the smartest person on any one subject, and there’s a bit of relief in admitting it and finding guidance from someone who is. I learned from Garrett not to design in a bubble, and he actively pushes me to get feedback from others outside of the office on designs.
  4. Peer relationships. Having close friends that can call you on your bullshit is equally as important as having a peer group within your industry. I now have several friends who are in fashion and eyewear, and a lot of our relationships are built around a support system we give to each other.
  5. Wellness program. Work life balance is a must for me. Find an activity or routine that allows you to turn your brain off and give back to yourself. Yoga has been my way of turning off, and is a practice in itself of learning to shut down a wandering mind. I’ve learned that the reaction of letting your mind wander to negative thoughts is actually possible to shut down, but it takes practice.

David Metzler (CEO of CBD Capital Group)

David Metzler (CEO of CBD Capital Group)
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

My experience struggling with :

When I first began my career, I was involved in large-scale investment companies. Having graduated from Columbia as a veteran, I climbed the ranks quickly as the company positioned me strategically with important clients that value veterans. As I looked around at the high-level executives around me, I felt like I didn’t deserve to be at the top with them. As a result, I felt like I couldn’t ask the questions necessary to understand a subject because I worried that people will see me as not smart. Knowing that tendency, I created a rule for me that I would only create teams of experts, where I didn’t need to be the “smartest guy in the room.” That allowed me to always be surrounded by the best professionals, and ask all the questions I needed to truly master and solve any situation or problem that arises.

What I did to shake the feeling off:

Yes, but not without practice. I spent years accruing experience doing what I love and surrounding myself with other successful entrepreneurs. As success came in each endeavor, I realized that I do have the ability to lead and create the life I want.

5 Steps someone experiencing imposter syndrome can take to move forward, despite feeling like an “imposter”:

  1. Look to your strengths. Take a look inside yourself and list out your five largest strengths that have contributed to your success.
  2. Think about your career goals. Consider your goals one, five and ten years from now.
  3. Analyze your weaknesses. Ask yourself, what are your biggest weaknesses that you’re afraid people will discover. And how can you develop those strengths to achieve your goals?
  4. Surround yourself with other successful people. You are who you surround yourself with.
  5. Believe in yourself. Take that step. Make those decisions based on what you think the best choice is and adapt to what happens and learns.

Mary Rinaldi (Co-Founder of Simone)

Mary Rinaldi (Co-Founder of Simone)
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

My experience struggling with :

After building hedge fund products at an investment firm, one of our partners who I worked with closely on a successful project wanted to hire me into their firm. This firm was one of the best — highly ethical and extremely well-respected. Even better, the team I was to join was run by one of the smartest, kindest women I met during my short career in finance. Despite these positives, I was certain I would fail if I took the offer. I was fundamentally afraid that without the pedigree (since every single person there had attended The Wharton School of Business), the degree in Economics (my degree was in literature and history), and a coveted CFA II certificate, I would last for a few months and then be fired. Looking back, I would have flourished. It was a perfect role for me: It combined my love of explicating structure and process, integral to how a portfolio is built, and communicating outcomes, integral to the explanation of how a portfolio performed. Sadly in the end, I didn't take the role. 

What I did to shake the feeling off:

I don’t think people with imposter syndrome permanently eliminate the feeling, since it’s about alignment between your internal self and how you are perceived by the world. But I’ve found some tools to change the internal dialogue about that process. How we work — listening, teaching, and making — can be the best tool for that.

For example, I’ve accepted that I don’t pop-up out of bed at 5:30 AM, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make a habit of it and make it last for years. I’ve learned that general productivity — clocking good hours at my job, meeting professional goals, expanding my network — isn’t what I really want. The grueling schedule required a level of anxiety that kept me from the work I really wanted to do. So now, I wake up around 8:00 AM, and I read or write for an hour with a cup of coffee. This way, I arrive at work with clarity and intention. From this routine, I now have multiple essays in progress, a few new roles I’m going after and more warmth and generosity to offer others.

5 Steps someone experiencing imposter syndrome can take to move forward, despite feeling like an “imposter”:

  1. Own the problem. The first step is stating that there is a problem, defining what it is without blaming anyone and then getting feedback. For me, this took the form of telling a close friend about my crippling anxiety and how I was to overcome it. She recommended a book ("The Artist's Way") for me to begin my work with it, and it was life-changing.
  2. Get into the world around you. Take walks, ride your bike, notice people, count oddities of nature and notice the cracks in the sidewalk. While I was on a mission to overcome creative paralysis brought on by imposter syndrome, I enrolled in a course called "Drawing for Writers." I learned how to observe, learned how to be present and find honesty and courage in my writing.
  3. Take your time. Luxuriate in the time it takes to change with no particular outcome other than feeling less anxiety about whether or not you’re worthy of your life, job or what you want. Time is elastic, so just go with it. Move quickly when you need to and move slowly when you need to. It will change your perception of the world.
  4. Be honest. Self- is the hallmark of imposter syndrome, especially sweeping declarative insults that are patently untrue. For example, saying to yourself, “You really suck at pitching ideas. Your ideas are boring and really bad. You don’t deserve your job at all” is a dead end. If you choose to be honest and say, “I’m nervous about today, because I don’t feel connected to this idea and afraid my pitch is going to go poorly,” you’ve just found the way forward and clarified the options. You might have a teammate help you out with the pitch, or interrogate what you feel is missing from the idea. Or you may accept that this one may not go your way and take time for rest and refreshment.
  5. Be disciplined. Practice, practice, practice! As you find time throughout your week to do all these things, ritualize them. Changing the conversation is an ongoing practice. You will experience setbacks and anxious moments, and how you respond to them will have a big impact on the steadiness of your outlook. Healthy emotional and mental grooves help us persist through difficulty.

Mike Hondorp (CMO of Whalar)

Mike Hondorp (CMO of Whalar)
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

My experience struggling with :

I really started to feel like an imposter as my job grew at Facebook. Facebook was a place for crazy-smart, high-achieving, really young people. To go from more traditional corporate jobs to a role at job fast-growing and boundary-breaking tech company turned the idea hierarchy on its head for me. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure if I could measure up. Though it was humbling to feel like I wasn’t qualified enough to even be in the room with some of these people.

In my role, I was meeting with the heads of marketing for big global companies, and even though I had less experience than they did, they would listen so attentively my counsel about Instagram because the platform was so new, and they trusted you to guide them through it. Despite this authority, I did not know what I had done to earn their trust. And I often felt like I was just there. 

What I did to shake the feeling off:

For me, it never goes away, and it never feels like I’m achieving enough. I minimize this by continuing to prove my value and focusing on the work itself. I also try to redefine what a C-level executive does and how they behave, to make it more authentic and approachable than people can sometimes think of senior leadership being. For example, I really like relating to people on a human level — it’s fun to understand what motivates people, what their home life is like, what music they’re into, and just be fun and silly sometimes. It's through these moments is when we build connections with each other.

5 Steps one experiencing imposter syndrome can take to move forward, despite feeling like an “imposter”:

  1. Know your material — then over-prepare. For example, last month we launched our 2020 influencer marketing trends report with a big event for clients in New York, which I hosted. I had been living in the research for three months, so I was also confident that I knew my stuff. The event was a huge success.
  2. Lean into what makes you uncomfortable. If I hadn’t said yes to meeting up with a colleague after a chance encounter on an elevator, I may not have had the career I’ve had.
  3. Be vulnerable and transparent. It builds trust immediately and builds psychological safety. For example, I was speaking at a conference last year and mistakenly misgendered a creator I featured in a presentation to hundreds. I was mortified, and while I apologized profusely, I felt terrible for my error and any discomfort it caused them. Rather than ignore it or try to forget it, after the event I shared what had happened with my team, so that it was a learning moment not just for me, but for all of us.
  4. Understand that you’ll never truly get over it — and that’s OK. It’s part of who you are. I think about my imposter syndrome constantly, but I also know I can’t let it hold me back.
  5. Put your anxiety to good use and let it motivate you. For me, I use these feelings to both fuel my ambition for great work that makes a difference, as well as remind me that everyone needs to feel comfortable to do their best work.

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