You can feel it creeping in, it’s that tiny voice in the back of your head, growing louder and louder until it’s screaming at you, “YOU DON’T BELONG HERE!” Imposter syndrome can lead to self-sabotage, poor performance and major anxiety at work while feeling like you aren’t doing enough or living up to your potential. Imposter syndrome plagues us all, especially those of us who have chosen to change careers later in life. As an artist in tech, I feel it on a daily basis.
So what exactly is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
The term was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. It is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but has been discussed extensively by psychologists, including Brené Brown, whose TED Talk on the subject has been viewed more than 17 million times.
Impostor phenomenon is particularly common among high achievers. In 2015, the American Psychological Association published research showing that more than 70 percent of people experience impostor syndrome at some point in their lives. It is also thought to be more prevalent among women than men.
So, how can we quiet the voice of our imposter syndrome?
1. Acknowledge you have imposter syndrome!
Are you asking yourself if you belong here? Telling yourself that you just “got lucky” and soon they’ll find out you’re actually not cut out for the job negating all the hard work you put in to get where you are? Have you literally said the words “I feel like such a fraud?” The thought of failing can send you spiraling. The first step in overcoming imposter syndrome, is to notice you suffer from it.
2. You are not alone
Remember that imposter syndrome is normal. The biggest step to beating imposter syndrome is to realize that we all feel like frauds sometimes. Even the most successful CEOs and tech luminaries experience imposter syndrome.
When I was performing on Broadway, it was hard to stop the voices in my head telling me that I didn’t belong there. I was sure there were so many girls that deserved to have my job over me. My confidence was constantly on a rollercoaster of feeling like a rockstar and feeling like a total fraud. My mantra was ‘fake it til you make it’, hoping that if I acted like I belonged, eventually I’d start feeling like it. Now that I’m coding newbie in a new field, I feel it all the time as well.
3. Acknowledge your achievements
The thing that helped me get over those feelings was acknowledging my achievements. The main reason people suffer from imposter syndrome is that they don’t give themselves enough credit for their accomplishments. If you have a strong track record of success, you shouldn’t be afraid to claim credit for it, especially in an interview or when applying for a promotion.
For me, there did eventually come a point where I could look back at what I’d done and say, ‘wow, I guess I do deserve to be where I am because look at how far I’ve come.’ Now as a beginner in a new field, I have found that preparing thoroughly before interviews or important meetings helps combat the feeling.
I also like to keep a doc laying around on my computer to write down my achievements. No matter how small, it’s important to document these moments so that when you find yourself feeling like you aren’t good enough, you have actual data you can look at that proves otherwise.
4. Start tracking your triggers
It’s important to recognize moments in the past when you’ve felt this way and begin to ask yourself if the feelings were justified. Was there something specific that triggered it? Maybe you were working on a project that you felt was out of your depth, maybe a teammate made a comment without realizing the effect it would have on you. Many times, these feelings come up simply from being in a room filled with people who don’t look and behave like you.
As these moments come up, take note. What happened that triggered the feelings? Once we can acknowledge our triggers, we can be better prepared to combat them when they arise.
5. Choose progress over perfection
Perfection should never be the goal. Successful people all make mistakes and have areas for improvement. Accept that you’re human and that we all make mistakes along the way. Learning to view setbacks as opportunities for growth can help combat the fear of failure.
Think back to moments in your life where you thought you failed. Write down what lessons you learned from that failure. Have you changed or grown from that moment? Did that setback inspire you in someway? It’s hard to view this moments as positive at the time, but it’s important to look back and acknowledge what it taught us. Some of my biggest motivators for change have come from times of failure. I don’t regret nor would I undo any of them in a heartbeat.
6. Find a mentor
One of the best things for combating imposter syndrome is to find a mentor or a community of people who are either going through a similar experience as you or have already made it to the other side. Sometimes just hearing another person tell us about their own personal struggles and achievements can help validate our own. A mentor can also share ideas about ways in which they personally managed feeling like a fraud. Build your community and share your feelings and stories.
When I was in my coding bootcamp, we used to do ‘Feelings Friday’. My cohort would all sit in a circle and each get an opportunity to talk about what we were feeling as we were going through the process of learning a new skill. It was eye-opening to learn that everyone was feeling the same way as me. We were all anxious and excited and scared. It helped me realize how normal it was to be feeling this way as I ventured into a new career.
You got this!
Remember, you got this! You made the decision to be where you are and you deserve to be there just as much as anyone else. Write yourself a post-it note, stick it on the bathroom mirror, and remind yourself daily that you belong!