Do you feel like a fraud in danger of being exposed when someone praises your work? Do you think your achievements are just a matter of luck or anyone could have done what you did? If so, you may be experiencing imposter syndrome.
That's the term psychologists coined in the 1970s when they studied successful women. Now, they know that men are just as likely to experience the effects.
You may be especially vulnerable when you're trying something new or celebrating an important occasion like a job promotion. I have experienced the symptoms from time to time throughout my career, but particularly when I left an organization for whom I had worked more than a decade. I left to go to grad school, obtain a doctorate in strategic leadership, and start my own business. That's a lot of scary changes! I left my job on good terms, but when imposter syndrome struck, I worried that in my absence my former colleagues would discover I was a fraud. When I started my first doctoral level class, I second-guessed my right to be there. Who was I to think I could be successful in grad school?
Turns out these irrational thoughts are common. In fact, an estimated 70 percent of adults experience the symptoms at least occasionally. Imposter syndrome may be caused by your personality or the way you grew up. Whatever the reasons, you can stop undermining yourself. Learn to experience doubts without letting them interfere with the happiness and success you deserve.
Change Your Thinking
Remember your achievements. Review your track record. Listing past triumphs can boost your confidence. Putting your victories in context will show you that they're not flukes.
Give yourself credit. Are you your own worst critic? It's time to rewrite the script by changing your self-talk. When you catch yourself becoming critical, congratulate yourself instead. Instead of letting your inner voice nag, retrain your thoughts to view yourself more positively. For instance, turn "I really blew that meeting" into "I was on time, professional, and brought great ideas to the table." Reframing your thoughts will help you to view yourself in a more positive light. It might take some time, but when you give yourself credit, your brain will start focusing on the positives instead of the doubts.
Accept uncertainty.Nobody's perfect - but millions of people struggle with perfectionism. Instead of constantly bemoaning that your work should be better, accept uncertainty. Know your strengths and weaknesses, and set realistic goals and expectations.
Validate yourself. Do you rely on others for validation? Instead of looking outward for approval, set, and live up to, your own standards. Be mindful of your thoughts and feelings so you can manage them effectively. Create a time for mindfulness every day. For instance, grab your favorite beverage, listen to your favorite tunes, and let your own thoughts and feelings guide you.
Appreciate effort. Do you regard struggling as a sign of weakness? The term "overnight success" is misleading and rarely accurate. Struggling with a project isn't necessarily a sign of weakness. It might just mean that you're on the right track. In reality, success requires careful planning and hard work.
Change Your Behavior:
Talk it over. Imposter syndrome can be a difficult cycle to break because your first impulse is to cover it up. On the other hand, revealing your insecurities will help you to put them in perspective. If you're feeling frustrated and insecure, don't keep it inside - talk to a trusted friend or coworker.
Build support. Are you someone who hates asking for help? GET OVER IT! Ask your friends and family for help. Having the courage to be vulnerable boosts confidence and strengthens relationships.
Fight stereotypes. Feeling like an outsider can contribute to imposter syndrome. For example, maybe you're much older or younger than your coworkers. Look for ways to turn that diversity into an advantage instead of feeling awkward about being different.
Be spontaneous. You may be putting unnecessary pressure on yourself if you frequently over-prepare for various events. (I see my kids pointing fingers at me). Learn to enjoy the moment instead of getting so caught up in the prep. Throw a party with takeout pizza instead of spending an entire day in the kitchen.
Accept compliments. Do compliments make you cringe? Instead of blushing, stammering, or scurrying away practice saying a simple and sincere "thank you." You'll create a more pleasant experience for you and your admirers. Remember, you deserve the win!
Find a mentor. Changing long-standing habits is hard work. Whether it's eating healthier, reading more, or developing better work practices - finding a mentor will give you the benefit of accountability, encouragement, and on-going support.
Teach others. Recognizing your areas of expertise can be tricky when knowledge and skills build up slowly over time. Instructing others is an excellent way to learn more about yourself while providing a valuable service.
Stay relaxed. Challenging situations are likely to trigger any defense mechanism. Everyday challenges can leave you defensive and frustrated. If you're questioning your self worth, relax by slowing down and taking a deep breath. Learn to stay on a more even keel with daily meditation and exercise.
Take risks. Imposter syndrome can hold you back from trying new things. Make a list of projects that excite you and take pleasure in learning as you go along.
Build your confidence and sense of belonging. Overcoming imposter syndrome will help you feel more comfortable with yourself and take more satisfaction in your achievements.