Amanda Hoey – Washington, DC
You find out about a new project at work and freeze in terror, feeling like there’s no way you can do it. You struggle through things that seem to come easily to others, and you wonder why you bother trying when you’ll never be as good as them. Someone says you’re awesome or doing a great job, and you dread the day they realize you’re not nearly as talented as they think.
We’ve all been there at some point. Many of us, myself included, have been there a whole lot. It’s called impostor syndrome.
Those of us experiencing impostor syndrome think of success as a fluke, and not a reflection on true abilities. When we fail, we think it’s only due to personal shortcomings. So, we lose confidence and worry about being “found out” as a fraud. Those who think like this are no less smart or talented than anyone else – they’re just holding themselves to impossible standards!
Impostor syndrome is incredibly common – particularly among women and high-achieving people (If you read that last part and thought you couldn’t possibly be enough of a high achiever to have impostor syndrome, you’re not alone). Most experience it at work or school, but it can happen in any part of life.
I struggle with impostor syndrome all the time. The negative self-talk hasn’t completely disappeared, but I’ve uncovered a few tricks that help me beat it back and accept praise when it’s given, and there are many other resources out there for people with impostor syndrome. I hope these lessons also help you believe that yes, you really are just as fabulous as others think. Because you are!
Hard work is a virtue, but don’t burn yourself out: A common pattern among people who have impostor syndrome is working their butt off because they’re concerned about not doing well enough. Then, when they do well, they think it was because they worked hard and not because they’re talented. So they feel like they have to keep working just as hard, but no one can sustain that pace forever; and the cycle continues until they burn out.
Society has this idea that everyone should be able to do things well without trying, or at least not looking like they did. You should look perfect without anyone knowing you’re wearing makeup; you should be able to cook a fabulous meal and make it look like no big deal; you should breeze through anything your boss asks you to do…you get the idea. It’s okay to work hard at something to get it done, no matter what anyone else says.
Try to take it a little easier on yourself as well. After all, you’ve got to save energy for the next project you’ll kick ass at!
Don’t compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides: Most people feel like impostors even if they’ve learned to project confidence to others. Yes – even people who you think are perfect struggle with this.
I’ve found it helps to talk with others about the work they do and the challenges they face – and it helps open up the conversation if you can also be honest about your challenges. I promise that telling them your concerns won’t convince them you’re a fraud! Even if it doesn’t sink in when others tell you that you’re great, it can help to hear they have many of the same fears and insecurities.
It’s okay not to know everything: If we haven’t done something before, we panic and think we won’t be able to do it. But nobody was born knowing how to code R, use flawless technique in biology lab experiments or write insightful memos. Everyone has to learn at some point, and they probably were frustrated and swearing incoherently at first, even if they’re experts at it now. Learning new skills and flailing around with them isn’t a sign you can’t do it, it’s just part of being a person, especially for us 20-somethings attempting to move toward something vaguely resembling “careers.”
Trust the people around you: I’ve often fallen into the trap of thinking everyone around me is so much smarter and better than I am, especially when it comes to managers and coworkers. In this case, try to use your confidence in them to your own advantage. They are wonderfully smart and talented, so they should be able to tell the real deal from a bullshit artist, right? And they obviously think you’re the former. Consider the possibility that they are correct.
You deserve to take pride in your accomplishments. I promise you, you really ARE just as awesome as your nearest and dearest think you are!