We recently sat down with our friends at Flatiron School to have a discussion around Imposter Syndrome, and flipping your perspective in order to “overcome” this menacing feeling that likely sneaks up on all of us at some point or another.
Rebekah Rombom, General Manager at Flatiron, led the discussion, and we’ve included key takeaways below. You can access the full recording here.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
“A psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.“
Imposter Syndrome is something you can jump in and out of depending on the day, but it’s the general feeling that you aren’t equipped to address the task at hand, and that you got to where you are by mistake. In the words of Astrophysicist Hannalore Gerling-Dunsmore in the documentary Behind the Curve, “The more you know about a topic the more you feel like you’re not actually an expert. You feel like you can’t possibly be an authority on this.” Because you know enough to know that you know so little, there’s no way you could possibly be an expert.
This is what any job will feel like. Your job is to catch up, continually learn and make sure you’re top of your field. Because the body of knowledge is sometimes so big, this feeling has a tendency to be persistent.
This is a feeling that you could try and get comfortable with!
Five tips to deal with Imposter Syndrome
There aren’t necessarily any great ways to actually avoid Imposter Syndrome. But if you know it’s coming, or it’s hit you, there are several ways in which you can shift your mindset or offset the effects of Imposter Syndrome.
Ask other people what you’re good at.
A common executive coaching tactic, ask people close to you – friends, family, close workers, former colleagues. Give people a framework for what you’re trying to understand, such as figuring where your best skills are or how to tell your best story about what you can contribute to a company.
Ask people what they think you’re strong at. This can feel a little uncomfortable, but almost everyone is willing to pitch in and contribute to your journey. What you’ll get back is a list of traits from each person that people think you’re great at. This can help ground you. When you’re looking at a few of the ways that you may be weaker at, you have a list of items that you’ve been told by others you excel at. This can help give you the energy you need to dive into what you need to do.
Write down your accomplishments.
In a similar vein, but self-driven, this is something that’s focused on activities you’ve done before that you’re proud of in your career or your life. It often times feels like the hard thing in front of you is all you can see, and you can feel overwhelmed by trying to figure out how you’re going to get through it. It’s hard during these periods to see the other times you have actually overcome difficult tasks or projects.
Commit to writing down things that you’re proud of. It reminds you that your past behavior tells you that you can get big things done, and that you’ve conquered other challenges already.
Ask anyone (!) else whether they’ve ever felt like an imposter.
When you do this, nine out of ten times you’ll get a yes, and the tenth person is lying! Essentially every person has felt this before.
Start with your inner circle – siblings, parents or friends – and once you get comfortable asking the question, you’ll find it’s a great way to start conversation, normalize the feelings, and learn from others as well. Once you bring people into this circle of trust, you’ll find that people will want to talk to you about this feeling themselves, and how they’ve coped with it.
Seek out hard feedback, it’s not as bad as you think.
One of the scariest things about thinking you aren’t up to par is not actually knowing how you’re viewed externally, not knowing the answer. One way to overcome this is to simply ask for feedback. The worst thing that happens is that you’re told about a weakness, you open up a conversation and you’ve identified an area for improvement.
And the best thing that can happen is that you get great feedback around your capabilities. There isn’t really a downside to asking someone you trust about your capabilities.
This process allows you full clarity around how you’re doing, and slows down (or stops!) the “wondering” cycle that goes on in your mind around your performance level.
Write the story you want to tell.
Think about the path you’ve taken to get to where you are now, and write it down. Every piece of it. This allows you to connect each piece together into your larger story, and helps you answer questions about why you’re where you are.
We’re trained to read a list of bullets – your resume – and allow them to be our story. But the process should be the reverse: You tell your story, and then build your resume around it. If you aren’t thinking about this tactic in the context of a resume, you can apply it to your thought process about your own capabilities (this can be used at any moment in your career).
This exercise is a very empowering one. You’re using facts to build your narrative, and when you get the end result, you know it’s based on truth.
You’re likely going to feel like an Imposter at many points during your career. Getting comfortable with that feeling, and knowing that it doesn’t mean you’re incapable is 90% of the battle. The other 10% is talking out loud about these feelings and asking others for feedback. There are plenty of data points that prove you’re fit for the job.