While skills, education, and experience are essential for a successful career, our self-esteem plays a significant factor, too. After all, our greatest cheerleader should be ourselves, and if we continuously cycle through self-doubt practices, we discount our value. Or, in some worst-case scenarios, we start to wonder if we are ‘good enough,’ ‘skilled enough,’ or frankly, anything ‘enough.’ Also known as ‘Imposter Syndrome,’ this is a psychological pattern that is based on an intense, secret belief of being a fraud in the face of success and achievement, according to author Dr. Rosina Racioppi, the president and CEO of WOMEN Unlimited. “Those suffering from this syndrome do not believe they deserve their success and feel they have somehow ‘gotten away with it.’ They feel they are not the successful person that others are seeing,” she adds.
While this can happen at any point in your career, it’s most likely to occur following a significant promotion, job, or industry swap or after experiencing a highly toxic working environment. In other words: anytime you’re pushed out of your comfort zone—for good or bad—you may develop these symptoms. And they will appear in men and women differently, according to Dr. Racioppi. How so? As she explains, men are more likely to take on the behaviors and actions needed for the new situation, even if it’s bravado or compounded confidence. On the other hand, women do just the opposite: retract into themselves by getting ‘smaller’ and hoping no one will discover they aren’t fit for the position.
It could seem like a small inconvenience that you can manage, not having conviction in your performance can cause others to question your abilities. Before you let imposter syndrome ruin your career, follow these tips from experts:
Identify your negative thoughts.
Usually, when you’re dealing with Imposter Syndrome, your mind is filled with negative thoughts or fears. As career coach Patty Franco calls it, professionals are tasked with ‘quieting the gremlin’ within them. The first step is separating the anxious feelings from real worries. “We all have an inner gremlin defined in the world of psychology and coaching as the voice of fear and doubt,” she continues. “Your gremlin voice tells you you are not good enough and cannot or should not do certain things to protect you from failure or embarrassment.” When you can separate what’s true from what worries you, it can be easier to ignore the gremlin since you know it’s not really ‘you,’ it is your nerves.
Focus on finding a mentor
High-potential professionals are most likely to suffer from Imposter Syndrome, and they can be the most risk-averse, too. As Dr. Racioppi explains, because you have big aspirations for yourself, any shift (even, say a promotion), can create a curve-ball like an impact on your productivity and confidence in your skills. An effective way to stop this trend is to seek out a mentor, preferably within your company. “It is hard to change if you are being told you a high achiever and do not have any conversations about how to evolve your skills as you prepare to advance,” she continues. “Mentors provide a safe environment to explore career goals, assess capabilities, and create plans for development.”
Explore the source
Franco says you can begin to dismantle it once you have a higher level of self-awareness and understand the root cause of your Impostor Syndrome. Since we can now call the Imposter Syndrome thoughts ‘gremlins’, we can now investigate that triggers this inner-monster to rise to the surface. When you’re going through a career coaching session, Franco says you would examine what is triggering the fear and self-doubt, the assumptions and limiting beliefs you may have about your knowledge, achievements, and capability to the truth.
For example, one of Franco’s clients was a productivity consultant and struggling to refer to herself as a subject-matter expert. She blamed her young age and the shorter span of experience that competitors in her field had that she did not. “It was impacting the way she marketed herself, the clients she targeted, and even the fees she was charging. She was under-selling herself, second-guessing her worth and making significantly less money than she could be making,” Franco shared.
To work through it, they made a list of everything that made her qualified—from training and education to certifications and so on. Then, they collected feedback from clients. When looking at all of this information at face value, it was easy to see how Imposter Syndrome was holding her back. “This realization, coupled with the new awareness of her gremlin voice and when and why it pops up at certain times, positioned her to think differently and reframe her thoughts,” Franco added.
Consider joining a professional network group
Sometimes taking a step out of our head and into our industry can shake up those Imposter Syndrome-like tendencies. As Dr. Racioppi explains, networks are critical for your career as they help us to see beyond our knowledge and perspective. And perhaps more importantly, they let us know we aren’t alone. “We need to establish relationships with individuals who have different functional backgrounds and business perspectives that compliment your perspective,” she continues. “This helps an individual create a full view of organizational issues and provides a valuable resource to understand how your skills and abilities fit into future business needs and identify areas of development.”
Ask for feedback
Sure, it’s nice to be told ‘keep it up, you’re doing great!’—it’s the last advice someone suffering from Imposter Syndrome wants to hear. Instead, they crave specific, concrete examples of what is working and what isn’t so that they can build strength in their skill sets. When you aren’t given actual guidance on your performance, Dr. Racioppi says you can become a victim of the ‘feedback void’ that doesn’t help you progress. To receive individualized areas where you can grow, make sure your questions to your manager are proactive. As an example, an engineer who wants to advance his or her career should say something like this: “I am interested in advancing my career to be a manager of engineering. Based on my background and abilities, what do you think my strengths are that would help me step into this role? What would be some areas of development for me to consider?” Dr. Racioppi recommends.
Embrace your vulnerability
Though many professionals are afraid of not having all of the information when it’s asked of them, Franco says there is real strength in saying three little words: ‘I don’t know.’ Of course, you want to follow those up with ‘But I’m working on it’ or ‘I’ll get back to you with what you need,’ it’s better to embrace vulnerability than to hide from it. “If you truly lack a particular skill, experience, or knowledge base, it’s usually best to admit that upfront. Own it, but then emphasize what you do bring to the table that can make a difference in the situation.”