How to Keep Imposter Syndrome From Holding You Back at Work

Is feeling like an outsider a necessary part of getting ahead? Luminaries in every field have spoken about imposter syndrome and their experiences trying to tame the slippery beast. After her nomination for a Pulitzer Prize, Maya Angelou described the feeling in an interview:

I have written eleven books, 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.’ 

Do you sometimes feel like you’re not as smart, creative, or capable as the people around you—despite ample evidence that points to the contrary? Are you worried you’ll be exposed as a fraud—or that your lack of self-confidence is keeping you from following your ambition?

Here are some strategies that will help.

How to Keep Imposter Syndrome at Bay

1. Recognize your journey on a daily basis.

Imposter syndrome feeds on looming, unspecific fears. When you forget yourself, your amazing journey, and the powerful motivators that push you to succeed, the cycle of negativity can get out of control. Instead, try to spend at least 10-15 minutes every day giving yourself a “State of You” pep talk. Review what you’re trying to accomplish and why it matters. Remember your overall journey, and celebrate each and every positive action you’ve taken that has led you to this point. 

Make sure this happens every day by creating a recurring event in your calendar. Seven days a week, 52 weeks in the year, give yourself time to reflect on your achievements and goals. This simple meditation has been a game-changer in my life. 

2. Reframe the fear.

Is there a kernel of truth to your worry about being “found out” as an imposter? Let’s say, for example, that you’ve always regretted not getting an MBA, and now you feel like you can’t stand as an equal in the room with your colleagues. Why not finally take the next step toward self-improvement? Enroll in that class or sign up for a new certification. The additional preparation will make you feel more confident and has the potential to also make you a better leader. Treat the insecurity as a friend and honestly try to learn from what it’s trying to tell you. Being proactive about your career advancement will shrink any lingering insecurities. 

3. Use service to “short circuit” the negative loop.

imposter syndromeI’ll be found out as a fraud.

They’ll see me as a phony.

Imposter syndrome attacks your ego. So shift your focus away from you and instead draw your attention to the people you serve: your family, for example, and the people who love and rely on you. What are you trying to do for them? Why is your work, complete with its particular challenges, an important part of that? If you make a conscious decision to work in service to something greater than yourself, it will take some of the pressure off your desire for personal renown and external validation. Thinking about your connections to other people will help you stay grounded. 

4. Eliminate exacerbating factors.

If you habitually burn the midnight oil, even though it takes time away from your family, then this will only make the imposter syndrome worse. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can “outwork” any perceived shortcomings—you can’t! Instead, take a fresh look at your schedule and set boundaries that protect your personal life. Talk with your boss about temporarily reducing your workload. Cutting back for just one week can be beneficial. With just a little time and perspective, your fears will start to recede into the background. 

Whenever the negative self-talk becomes too much to bear, use these techniques to gain perspective. You should also recognize that if you question your abilities, this also means that you’re pushing yourself to stretch beyond your comfort zone. Imposter syndrome is a natural byproduct of working toward an objective. It shows progress!


Read more articles by Anish on the Ivy Exec blog!


Anish Majumdar

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