Let’s be clear: you’re kind of a big deal. But in the hustle (and occasional grind) of the workplace, you sometimes feel a little inadequate. A little unsure of yourself. And just as you’re about to tackle something challenging, you hear a little voice in the back of your head:
“Don’t raise your hand. Your ideas aren’t as good as everyone else’s.”
“You’re not ready for that promotion yet.”
“You don’t actually know what you’re doing and everyone is going to find out.”
Aside from being rude (seriously, would you ever talk to anyone else like that?), these voices are symptoms of what psychologists defined as imposter syndrome: the inability to internalize your accomplishments for fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
I clearly remember a moment a couple of years into my first professional job where I thought to myself, “I have to quit this job before people realize I have no idea what I’m doing.” In hindsight I can see that this was imposter syndrome: I was good at my job, I got great reviews, and while I didn’t know everything, I knew enough and was constantly learning. But at the time I didn’t know what imposter syndrome was and I let it wreak havoc on my confidence during those early years.
Imposter syndrome can have effects beyond damaging your confidence. Imposter syndrome can also damage your earning potential, because if you believe less in your ability to do a good job you may not speak up to ask for a raise or offer to take on the more challenging, career advancing opportunities.
So what do you do when that awful little voice pops into your head? Here are a few strategies that you can use to say goodbye to your imposter syndrome once and for all.
1 – Who’s there?
Research shows that ignoring that little voice in your head doesn’t lead to a lasting solution. In fact, it can even make that voice worse.
Instead, you should try to recognize this voice for what is it: not rational and not your voice.
I know. That’s kind of weird. That voice in your head that’s telling you you’ll never get that promotion or that you don’t actually don’t actually deserve the new job isn’t actually your voice. It’s can be difficult to comprehend this because most of us have been dealing with these internal voices for so long, it’s hard to recognize them as anything other than your voice. But it’s not, and it’s likely not telling you anything that’s true.
When I start to doubt myself and that little voice pops in telling me that I’m not good enough, my technique is to imagine that they are a snarky little sidekick; someone that is rude and negative for no real reason. That gives me a way to separate those thoughts from what I actually think and know to be true. So when a voice pops into my head saying ” you’re really not good at this”, I can identify it as not what I really think.
2 – Put your snarky sidekick in check
Now that you’ve identified your snarky sidekick and can pick out any of her self-defeating statements, it’s time challenge her. The telltale sign of imposter syndrome is a disconnect between your perceived and actual performance. So take one of those negative thoughts and put it to the test.
For example, each time I publish an article I hear a little voice saying, “uh oh. This one is going to flop and I’ll finally be fired.”
With step 1 I’m able to identify that the little voice that’s saying that is my snarky sidekick. It’s imposter syndrome rearing it’s ugly little head. Now, to put that snarky little sidekick in check, I have to challenge it. Is that voice based on facts? Are my articles usually a flop? Sometimes they are. But more frequently, they’re not. And if it is, will I really be fired? Overwhelmingly, the odds are no. One flopped article isn’t going to cost me a job.
By putting the snarky sidekick in check I’m not pumping myself up with a lot of enthusiastic phrases I might not actually believe (ex: “Obviously this is going to be a smash hit and it’ll probably go viral.”) I’m trying to make a rational argument to replace thoughts that were so terribly irrational.
3 – Take Small Actions
While some people may try to overcome their fear with extreme actions (skydiving to combat a fear of heights or giving a town hall speech to overcome a fear of public speaking), taking small, consistent actions is a better and more sustainable way to deal with your fears related to imposter syndrome.
I’m not going to combat my fear of being exposed as a horrible writer by immediately deciding to write a novel. That’s going to set me up for failure and a lot of unnecessary anxiety. Instead, I should focus on taking small and frequent actions. Such as publishing one article each week. Or, perhaps submitting articles to bigger publications. Or, writing about topics that feel outside of my comfort zone.
Taking these small actions, consistently, will help to reinforce that the negative voice is not right.
4 – Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good
As you start taking small actions, it’s important to realize that there is no such thing as perfection. This is a hard concept to grapple with, I know. As a slightly crazy child who loved hearing that I’d done things “perfectly”, learning this concept has been difficult.
Good, in most cases, is good enough. Don’t let the quest for perfection keep you from doing some really good things – and appreciating that you are really good at what you do.
For me that means knowing what is good enough. I wish my articles had better images or my newsletters were more polished. But I know that providing good, quality information is good enough for now. When I give a talk or lead a workshop, I’m extremely prepared. But if I miss a line or forget a section? I don’t beat myself up or question my ability to do well because it wasn’t perfect. I don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
Aim for good, rather than perfect, knowing that what you put out will have some flaws. After all, isn’t it better to be a diamond with flaws than a pebble without?