Imposter syndrome occurs when despite achievements and despite what other people may think, you feel that you have no idea what you are doing and soon or later others will find out. This feeling is common experience for many, and can make it really hard to believe in yourself and be confident in your skills. My personal journey and my work with clients led me to identify some tips that can be helpful if you are overwhelmed by imposter syndrome.
1) Learn to acknowledge what is happening to you. If you are someone who is usually considered competent by others, but in moments of uncertainty feel overwhelmed by thoughts of being a fraud, you are likely to experience imposter syndrome. In these moments, take a step back and instead of being sucked in a vortex of negative thoughts (“I know I can’t do this”, “I am no good”, “Everybody will see that I don’t know what I am doing…”), tell yourself: “I see what is happening, I am suffering from imposter syndrome!”. Over time, this will become easier, as imposter syndrome usually strikes in waves. You will have periods when you feel more comfortable about what you are doing, and others where you are back to square one, feeling a complete fraud. Learn to give a name to these difficult periods and to acknowledge them for what they are: a surge of imposter syndrome. Understanding what is going on within us it is often the first step to cope with our struggles.
2) Know when imposter syndrome is more likely to strike. When you are starting something new you are most likely to experience imposter syndrome. Learning new skills, facing a new work environment and new challenges, these are all situations that naturally lead to moments of uncertainty and to making some mistakes. If this happens, those struggling with imposter syndrome will likely interpret any mistake or struggle as a sign that they are a fraud, instead of framing these instances as a normal part of the process of learning something new.
3) Imposter syndrome can strike any area of our life. Although people traditionally think about imposter syndrome in a work context, many of my clients experience imposter syndrome in their personal life, particularly when they are going through a life transition. For example, first time parents, and mothers in particular, often blame themselves for finding parenting extremely hard, despite the fact that others may consider them very loving caregivers. Deep inside, these mothers often think that they are “not cut” to be parents and that they are a failure.
If you suffer from imposter syndrome, what can you do?
4) Talk with others in similar situations. Understanding that others experience the same challenges may be a powerful way to realize that there is nothing inherently wrong with you and the difficulties you are having are common even for others whom you may regard as competent.
5) Find a way to look at the big picture. Talking to a therapist or a mentor may help you appreciate that feelings of inadequacy are part of a stage in your personal growth, not a sign that you are a fraud or a failure.
6) Focus on the process, not on the result. Focus on the fact that for every mistake you are making, you are learning. You are learning to be better at what you are doing, whatever it is. Take pride in getting up every day and challenge yourself, instead of just thinking about obtaining a certain result.