You know the feeling — you’ve worked tirelessly on the project for weeks, but the morning of the big presentation you’re stressing that it’s not good enough. Or you’re scrolling through job posts and a great one catches your eye, but you decide you’d never be considered for a VP role so why bother applying? How about when you finally get that promotion you’ve worked so hard for, but you’re wrought with anxiety that you can’t handle the job. When that gut-wrenching feeling and doubting inner voice takes over it’s hard not to feel like a fraud and worry others will decide you’re one, too.
While the term “imposter syndrome” has garnered much recent attention, psychologists first brought the phenomenon to light in a 1978 study. If you experience imposter syndrome or a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success, you’re not alone. Originally associated with high-achieving professional women, recent research shows that these feelings of inadequacy know no gender, ethnicity, or race, and span many professional settings. Some studies show that up to 90 percent of women and 80 percent of men experience the syndrome. The harsh reality is that it can happen to anyone, anywhere, and at any time. Fun, right?
Feeling like a fraud is not only bad for our emotional health, it can also hold us back from achieving our aspirations — a deadly combination of work-life stress. So how do we handle this detrimental self-talk? At the company I work for, Freshworks, we have a thriving internal professional women’s community, so I crowdsourced some thoughts from female professionals across the company, and here are their tips and tricks (plus a bonus one from an industry veteran!) to help shut down self-doubt.
Name the voice!
Separate that nagging voice that keeps telling you you’re not good enough from yourself. Give it its own name and identity, and like a toxic friend who isn’t helping you, work on creating barriers. A friend of mine calls her Patricia: “Not today, Patricia. I refuse to listen to your nonsense today!” This strategy helps to move imposter syndrome from self-talk to external voices that aren’t worth listening to.
When Patricia just won’t stop talking, try meditating. A colleague shared that when she feels self-doubt creeping in, she likes to focus on her feet on the ground and what it feels like physically to be supported and grounded. Centering on the physical experience helps silence that nagging inner voice.
Say yes to things that scare you.
This one is perhaps the hardest, but often the most rewarding. Resolve that despite your fears and feelings of inadequacy, you are going to go for it. You may be convinced that you’ll never get the big job, but promise yourself that you’ll apply and march through the steps to get there. Often it’s the first step that’s the hardest, and once you start to experience early successes, those pesky feelings go away.
Share your feelings.
Sharing what you’re feeling with trusted friends, peers or mentors can help. Getting reassurance from others can make it seem less scary, and you might be surprised how many people you respect and admire have similar experiences. After all, feelings of imposter syndrome can happen to anyone.
Take your own advice.
Another colleague weighed in and said, “When I’m having these doubtful moments, I like to stop and think about how I would respond if one of my coworkers came to me with these doubts about themselves. I’d build them back up by pointing to the facts of all they achieve because they are an expert.” This is the kind of self-talk we all need!
Take a good hard look around.
Let’s be real–is anyone else in the room that much smarter or better than you are? When asked about battling imposter feelings Ellen Pao, former CEO of Reddit, unabashedly admitted she simply doesn’t. Confident in her qualifications (as she should be!) Pao said, “Why should I feel like I don’t know anything? I’ve had a ton of experience. I’ve seen a bunch of things, and maybe I’m not going to be perfect, and maybe I’m going to make mistakes, but it’s not going to be like some of these other mistakes I’ve seen.”
As I mentioned earlier, the feelings associated with imposter syndrome can happen to anyone–I surely can empathize. My best advice is to surround yourself with a good network of people you can talk to. When self-doubt creeps in, remember your worth and all you have accomplished and will accomplish. And just tell Patricia to be quiet!