You're Not a Fraud! 7 Ways to Overcome 'Imposter Syndrome'
Three days before my book manuscript was due, I remember walking into the bathroom (where all the best ideas are formed, obviously) and thinking to myself: Why would anybody actually pay to read about a bunch of experiences that are just . . . my own? Later, I recounted this story to my editor, who is a woman. She replied: “I constantly ask myself the same question about my editing.” (The book in question is Feminist Fight Club, from which the essay you’re reading has been adapted.)
“Imposter syndrome” wasn’t coined as a term until the 1970s, but it’s safe to assume that women have always felt it: it’s that nagging feeling that you're undeserving, under qualified, and that perhaps you’ve got everybody fooled. It’s a feeling that affects women, people of color, and the LGBTQ population disproportionately – and it’s common among creatives, students and high achievers.
The good news is there are ways to overcome it – beginning with knowing that what you’re feeling actually has a name. Here are 7 ways to tell your inner imposter to eff off.
1. Remember You're in Good Company
A quick reminder of high-achieving women who’ve spoken about their own imposter syndrome: Tina Fey (“Seriously, I’ve just realized that almost everyone is a fraud, so I try not to feel too bad about it,” she said); Meryl Streep, woman with the most Oscars who, when asked in an interview if she would always act, replied: “I don’t know, you think to yourself, ‘What do I know about acting?’” and Maya Angelou (yes, Maya f—king Angelou!) who once noted that after every one of her books went to print, she would think to herself, “Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody.” The point of telling you all of this? Knowing this is a thing that others feel will help make it just that: a thing, but not your thing. Now, if you feel that doubtful voice begin to creep inside your head, repeat: “It’s not me, it’s the imposter syndrome talking.”
2. Find a WingWoman
Women have a tendency to doubt their qualifications and skills. But you know who can give you an objective view of your work? A colleague or friend. So when you’re cowering in a corner crippled by self doubt, thinking your idea is the worst, take refuge in someone who can give an objective assessment of your work.
3. Squash Negative Self-talk
Research has found that women ruminate more than men; we get stuck inside our own heads. But rather than spiraling when you’re nervous about something, try the following: Ask yourself what evidence exists that makes you any less qualified than anybody else to do your job. Now ask what evidence exists that you are just as qualified—or more qualified—and write it down. Now read it five times to yourself.
4. Repeat After Me: Failure Doesn’t Make You a Fraud
When women screw up, we tend to question our abilities or qualifications. (“What did I do wrong? What could I have done better?”) But when men screw up, they are more likely to point to outside forces: bad luck, poor work, or not enough help from others. To get comfortable with failure, let’s take a quick lesson from Silicon Valley – where, according to research out of Harvard, some 70 to 80 percent of VC-backed startups fail to deliver on their return. But those startup founders don’t hide those failures; to the contrary, they flaunt them – talking publicly about what they learned, taking them to conferences, writing self-help books about them. Here’s the thing: failing at something doesn’t make you a failure, and sometimes it’s part of the job. Don’t let it destroy your confidence.
4. Talk Yourself Up
Turns out the words you say to yourself can actually change the way you see yourself—boosting confidence during a nerve-racking event. So, yeah, you might feel like a freak while you’re doing it, but force yourself: Write yourself a sticky note or talk to yourself in the mirror. Tell yourself you are as competent, and forbid yourself from falling back on excuses like “luck “to explain away your successes.
Just to preempt any potential feeling of fraudulence or insecurity. German chancellor Angela Merkel does this to overcome her doubts; so does the IMF's Christine Lagarde. As Lagarde has explained it, “When we work on a particular matter, we will work the file inside, outside, sideways, backwards, historically, genetically, and geographically. We want to be completely on top of everything, and we want to understand it all, and we don’t want to be fooled by somebody else.”
6. Change How You Think About Doubt
In his book Originals, the psychologist Adam Grant describes two kinds of doubt: self-doubt—which causes you to freeze up—and idea doubt, which can actually motivate people to work on refining, testing, or experimenting with a good idea. Try to turn self-doubt into idea doubt by telling yourself, it’s not that I’m crap, it’s that the first few drafts of any idea are always crap—and I’m just not there yet.
7. Visualize success.
Olympic athletes do it; so do military officers. Why can’t you? Visualize precisely how you’ll navigate the situation—successfully—before it happens. Now go forth and slay.
Jessica Bennett for The BeeHive
Jessica Bennett is the author of Feminist Fight Club: A Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace, from which this essay is adapted. Check it out in the Bumble Bee-Tique for more workplace tools and tips!