Feel Like an Impostor? 7 Ways to Embrace Your SuccessSometimes even the most successful people look like winners to everyone else, but inside they feel like frauds. They worry that they’re somehow less qualified than their peers, and that unless they work longer and harder than others at their job, they’ll be “found out.”
This lack of self-confidence–despite significant accomplishments and the admiration of one’s peers–is known as “impostor syndrome.” For years I myself suffered from it, even though I’ve been a corporate vice president, a president, a CEO, and have served on the boards of four Fortune 500 companies.
And I’m not alone. Ed Whitacre, former chairman and CEO of General Motors, fashion icon Eileen Fisher, and Debra Lee, Chairman of BET Networks, are among the top executives who admit to having suffered from impostor syndrome. I interviewed them and many other successful people who struggled with impostor syndrome for my new book, The Empress Has No Clothes: Conquering Self-Doubt to Embrace Success.
I discovered that the feelings of inadequacy that are typical of impostor syndrome are particularly prevalent among women, minorities, and people who come from less privileged socioeconomic backgrounds.
Based on my own and others’ experiences with impostor syndrome, here are 7 ways to conquer it so you can enjoy and celebrate your success.
Internalize validation from others. When someone compliments you or gives you recognition for a task done well, take it in, think about what they’ve said, and metabolize it. You can practice this by asking a trusted ally to tell you what he or she thinks your greatest strengths and accomplishments are. Listen hard and let the positive message sink in.
Resist workaholism. It’s common for people with impostor syndrome to put in more time than their peers. On some level, they believe that by working harder than anyone else, they’ll feel less like a fake. Instead, take a look at what makes you feel worthy in your own eyes, and be kinder to yourself by striving for more balance.
Appraise your performance. How realistic is the way you’re seeing yourself, your abilities, and your accomplishments? Write down your special skills and the qualities you have that attract people to you and have gotten you this far. Also make a list of tasks well done. Try to be as objective about yourself as you would be toward a valued colleague.
Share your doubts. If feeling like an impostor persists, don’t sweep it under the rug. Instead, find a trusted friend, a coach, a mentor, your partner, or a therapist with whom you can express your fears and doubts. One of the symptoms of impostor syndrome is isolating from one’s peers and suffering in silence.
Build supportive alliances. Build connections with people who share your values. If you’re the youngest, the only woman or member of a minority group, or come from a different socioeconomic background than your coworkers, your impostor syndrome may flare up. Team up with people at work who see the real you–not the college you attended or the color of your skin.
Take others off their pedestals. Make an effort to see other people as they really are, with their own weaknesses and challenges. They are not better, smarter, or more qualified than you. In fact, they might feel like frauds too! One of the ways we learn to be more compassionate toward ourselves is to see and accept the flaws in others.
Analyze your fear. If you face your fear head-on with the aim of understanding it, you may realize that what you’re feeling is a perfectly natural reaction. Feeling unfit for your position is, in part, a conditioned emotional response to stress. Learn to distinguish the stress of moving up into new levels of responsibility and influence from the conditioned response of impostor fears.
Learn more about impostor syndrome at my website, www.empresshasnoclothes.com.
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