Impostor syndrome — that feeling that you're "a fraud" or that your success is not deserved — has grown new wings during this pandemic. While most of us have experienced impostor syndrome at some point in our careers — it's estimated that more than 70% of people will feel the symptoms — I've heard from so many women who are now questioning their worth and value when they have never before. The reason? We are all overtaxed.
If you're a project management whiz, your focus can be shaky right now, which leaves you contemplating your value. If relationship management is your forte, doing so virtually is a completely new skill set to learn. If you've always delivered 110% effort at work but your caregiving responsibilities now put that at about a 60, you're contemplating if you're going to get fired.
Don't worry. No one is going to "find you out" anytime soon. Because you are worth all of the success and praise you come by in life. And, in these unprecedented times, you need to cut yourself some slack. Recently, I spoke at an event with Karen Sunderam of UBS and Christmas Hutchinson of Verizon Media about how to help women stop the impostor syndrome shame cycle. Here are some of my favorite tips from the evening:
Don't worry. No one is going to "find you out" anytime soon. Because you are worth all of the success and praise you come by in life.
Create a "smile file" full of positive feedback and accomplishments that can remind you of how competent you are.
When you're deep in the dregs of impostor syndrome, it can be so easy to focus on everything you've done wrong, all the reasons you "shouldn't" be where you are, or all of the things that people who aren't you are doing right now. It can be really hard to pull yourself out of this state without any greater frame of reference. But, whether you realize it or not, the proof of your success is very real. A "smile file" can be anything you need it to be — from a simple note in your phone with positive reminders about yourself, a collection of feedback from your colleagues, or a list of your professional successes. You could even have a physical folder with print-outs of your accomplishments and photos from major events you've attended.
Surround yourself with colleagues or friends (a "personal board of directors") with whom you can share your impostor syndrome struggles.
It's not easy to support yourself alone! Sometimes you just need to vent. And the best part is, not only can you commiserate on impostor syndrome struggles with them but these people will also be there to boost your confidence despite every fear or insecurity you may have to let out. Even the famous author Maya Angelou, who has long been lauded as a literary genius, experienced imposter syndrome: "I have written eleven books, but each time I think, uh oh, they're going to find out now. I've run a game on everybody, and they're going to find me out."
But, whether you realize it or not, the proof of your success is very real.
Put things in perspective to feel less paralyzed — weigh the costs of potential mistakes and rejections.
If you ever find yourself on the precipice of an impostor syndrome spiral, try to take the situation out of context and out of your own personal feelings, and consider how you would respond to the experience if a friend were sharing their story with you. In this context, you may be better able to weigh the outcomes with a level head rather than letting yourself get lost in negativity and self-doubt.
Address the root cause. Ask yourself, "Why am I telling myself this story?"
If this is the first time you're experiencing impostor syndrome, it's most likely due to the stressful situation we find ourselves in right now. If it's happened before, keep some tips in your back pocket to halt the progress of impostor syndrome as it's occurring. However, at some point, you have to think about why these feelings keep coming up in the first place. When you have a moment of clarity, try to dig deep and figure out why you keep selling yourself short. What part of your history or psychology keeps leading you back to impostor syndrome? If you're having trouble untangling this on your own, maybe call on the help of your "personal board of directors" or seek professional guidance from a therapist.
Don't write off the positive effects of impostor syndrome (e.g. humility), just keep the negative ones in check.
Try to find a silver lining in this situation. Yes, impostor syndrome comes with a lot of struggles, but sometimes it's okay to look at the bright side of a bad situation. Feeling like an imposter is a sign that you're truly progressing and challenging yourself in your field. If you stayed in the same place all the time, you'd always feel comfortable. It's only when you're growing that you may start to question yourself. Keep the negative responses to imposter syndrome down by reminding yourself of all the positive things it signals about your journey.
If this is the first time you're experiencing impostor syndrome, it's most likely due to the stressful situation we find ourselves in right now.
So the next time you're thinking, "Why me?" or "I don't deserve this praise," stop yourself, think back to this list, and celebrate all that makes you you.
This article was originally published May 18, 2020.
WRITTEN BYFran Hauser