Words of Advice From A Recovering Impostor

Six years ago, I was terror-stricken by my Department Head’s presence. Despite the praise he gave my work, a promotion he pushed through, and the fact that everyone adored him, I was convinced he was out to fire me. Yes, F-I-R-E me.

That’s why on several occasions, I could have been found sitting in my car well after I had parked. My heart would pound as he passed the hood of my vehicle. I’d quickly drop my head and fumble with my phone to avoid eye contact. I had decided, being a few minutes late to the office trumped riding in the elevator with him.

Looking back, he didn’t want to fire me. He actually wanted to get to know me. He told me boss he knew I was funny and outgoing, and asked why I was different with him. I was a victim of the impostor syndrome, a phenomenon way too many female professionals are familiar with.

My Department Head wasn’t the problem, I was. I suffered because I didn’t believe I deserved my role. My inner critic had volumes of books listing reasons why I didn't – I lacked the MBA the original job description required, I knew little about the industry, I was young, I didn’t have one recognizable company on my resume, and so on.

These degrading inner messages literally left me paralyzed, unable to make a next move, whether that move was sharing an idea or volunteering to spearhead a project. Handing over the reins of my professional life to the limitations of the imposture syndrome (and inner critic) nearly sabotaged my success and more importantly my happiness.

Here are 5 tips I’ve learned as a Recovering Impostor:

1.     Know Your Department Head’s Favorite Candy Bar.  If someone in your office sets off your impostor syndrome, make that person human. So, often the individuals we fear the most in the workplace are those we know the least about, and when we don’t know them we suddenly turn them our greatest villain (or launch them up onto a pedestal). The more you humanize these individuals, the less likely they’ll be to pull at your impostor syndrome strings. Ask them their favorite candy bar, drink, or city, just ask them anything.

2.     Name and Draw Your Impostor Syndrome Gremlin (inner critic). You know that voice that says your alma mater isn’t good enough, your vocabulary isn’t advanced enough or whatever other fibs it tells you, well, that’s not coming from ALL of you. It’s coming from one small piece of you. When you give that voice it’s own identity by drawing what it looks like (get out those colored pencils) and naming it (don’t name it after someone you know, that just gets awkward), you begin to distance yourself from the negative messages it shares with you. Check out mine attached to this blog...Howdy.

3.     Settle For Good Enough Every Once In Awhile. It’s easy to impose super high standards on yourself when you’re suffering from the imposture syndrome. Give yourself a break sometimes and you’ll start to set yourself free. The more often you say this is good enough, and you don’t get fired and no one yells at you or tells you, you suck, the more realistic your expectations will become and the stronger your confidence in your ability to fulfill them will be.

4.     Get to Know, Respect, and Celebrate Your Self. One of the greatest contributors to the imposture syndrome is a low level of self-care and self-love. When you take the time to know yourself, embrace the pieces of yourself you try to hid, and learn to at the very least, like yourself most of the time, the more you’ll feel as though you belong in majority of the places you find yourself.

5.    Make Self-Validation Your Primary Source of Feeling Good About Yourself. If you're seeking validation from your boss, colleague, spouse, parent, or local barista, in order to feel good about yourself, STOP. Make the shift to having self-validation be your primary source of validation. One way to do this is to keep a journal of 1-5 great things you personally did each day. Note - this exercise more about practice than perfection, so even if you write down you put your shoes on the right feet, you're moving in the right direction!

While the impostor syndrome can feel heavy and nearly impossible to overcome, you absolutely can free yourself from it’s limitations, burden, and self-sabotaging messages. You and the future success of your career deserve it!