Impostor Syndrome: Work It to Your Advantage

It can hit you in the face, an unexpected attribute of getting a promotion or accepting a new position. Maybe you feel it at the edge of your subconscious at all times and have become an expert at learning to live with it. I’m talking about Impostor Syndrome.

Many millennials will face this phenomenon at some point in their careers. Impostorism is the feeling that you are not qualified or good enough to be in the role you’re in, or to be at the helm of your responsibilities, and it’s only a matter of time before you’re found out. It’s that little voice that chides you, telling you are in your position because you got lucky rather than as a result of your hard work or intelligence. At least 70% of people will experience it at some point in their careers, though women tend to be phased more than men. Psychology professor Pauline Rose Clance studied this phenomenon extensively in women, even created a scale you can use to test your perceptions of your own impostorism.

I have most definitely felt varying degrees of this myself, but luckily it’s never hindered me. I’ve been very lucky to have worked with young companies, who embraced failure as learning, as long as you failed fast and moved on. Not knowing how to complete a task was fine, it was more about how you approached the problem and grew from it. It wouldn’t be far off to claim on my resume that I’ve got a marketing degree from Google. But like so many millennials, I am very hard on myself. And in having conversations with intelligent, driven peers who express Impostorism fears and doubts I am so quick to remind them how smart, resourceful and qualified they are only to turn around and be consumed by these very thoughts myself some days.

Impostor syndrome can become a problem when you let that sneaky negative narrative start to become the louder voice of your subconscious. If you continuously worry if you’re qualified for your job, you might begin to second guess all of the minute decisions you make in a day, or the way you are handling your projects. The paralyzing fear might actually start to halt your action on things you are working on. It can be a tremendous waste of your imagination and your focus. It’s crucial to notice thoughts of inferiority when they arise and to instead decide to focus on the hard work that got you where you are. It’s a philosophical question undoubtedly, but how much does luck play a role in success? Luck and chance are always a factor but it’s essential to recognize your hard work and intelligence are equally, if not more important. At the very worst, luck may have gotten you in the door, but your hard work has kept you in the room or propelled you into new opportunities.

There is a silver lining to Impostor Syndrome. You can actually use it to your advantage. First off know that everyone, I mean everyone has used google to answer a question at some point in their career. Recognize that you aren’t growing if you are never faced with challenges in your daily tasks, and there is nothing wrong with being in charge of a task or responsibility you don’t feel 100% qualified to do at first. Whoever put you in charge is trusting in your judgement and intelligence to figure it out.

Think excitement, not fear.
A great boss told me that fear and excitement feel the same in your brain. If you train your brain to think you are excited instead of scared when Impostorism dread washes over you, you can use that feeling to your advantage. You can train your brain to be excited about facing a new challenge instead of being overwhelmed or afraid of it. By changing your frame of mind, you change everything.

Use the fear as a compass.
Often today we feel Impostor Syndrome because we have the internet to remind us how much we don’t know. Especially if you work in a small company or a startup, you probably cover multiple job functions, switching between roles more than once even in the span of a day. Self proclaimed “experts” are pumping out quite a bit of content at an alarming rate about new strategies, theories, or ways to do aspects of your job better and faster. While it’s great to be aware of changes or breakthroughs in your industry, know that you don’t have to be an expert on every single aspect of your job function, at least not tomorrow. As you go about your activities and discover areas where you feel you are lacking, pay attention to what you enjoy learning about. What tasks naturally spur you on to learn more? Listening in to the uncertainty can help you discover which aspects of your job you are passionate about and can give overall guidance to your career trajectory.

Don’t forget to stop and revel in the success of your accomplishments.
If you are consumed by doubt and worry, you might not be stopping to take in all the hard work you have achieved. So take a moment right now and reflect on everything you’ve accomplished for yourself. Attributing our success to luck is the definition of Impostor Syndrome, but you worked your ass off to sell, design, build, strategize, bake, create, or whatever it is that you do.

Take a minute to think about a win (small or big) you’ve had recently, you earned it!