Do you struggle with Imposter Syndrome – the feeling that you are not qualified or the work that you are doing? It strikes many people, regardless of age, education, or career level. We offer five practices that can help you overcome this feeling of inadequacy and suggested further reading for each practice.
As a career coach, I work with clients to overcome professional barriers and psychological hurdles. What repeatedly surprises me is that Imposter Syndrome -- that nagging feeling or paralyzing belief that we are not qualified to do the work that we do -- does not discriminate based on age, education, or career level. In fact, as people progress professionally, they are just as likely, and perhaps even more likely, to question the value of their own abilities, strengths, and contributions.
Imposter Syndrome can hinder even the most intelligent, qualified, and accomplished leaders. Below are five things to remember to pacify your inner critic:
1) Emotional Intelligence is a gift. Imposter Syndrome is particularly prominent among people with high emotional intelligence. While many people thrive professionally in part because of their ability to tune into the moods, attitudes and emotions of others, this sensitivity can turn on us when we’re faced with an unsupportive environment or critical supervisor. People with high emotional intelligence may take things personally and ruminate on negative interactions, which can snowball into universal thinking: “I suck at this job,” “I’m terrible at everything,” or “I obviously should not be doing this type of work.”
What to Practice: Work on getting grounded emotionally when others are in a negative mood. Remind yourself that the emotional state of others is not your responsibility or fault.
What to Read: Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
2) Black & White Thinking is destructive. The tendency to perceive things as being either all positive or all negative is a coping strategy, but it’s an unhealthy one. “My boss just criticized me. I totally blew that project. I am going to get fired.” We resort to this when things feel out of control, as it can be oddly cathartic to place blame and frustration outside of ourselves. In psychological terms, this is called splitting, and it refers to someone’s inability to see that people, situations and experiences are often complex, multifaceted, and nuanced. The paradox is that, when we come to believe that the situation is completely bad, or that our co-worker is an insufferable jerk, or that we are irreparably flawed, we take away our own role in the situation and any hope that things can improve.
What to Practice: Start to notice what your automatic response is when something upsetting or frustrating happens. Work on taking deep breaths and slowing down your thoughts.
What to Read: Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success by Mark McGuiness
3) Great relationships take effort. Those of us in committed romantic partnerships know that they are not always easy. Many will read books about how to improve our interactions with our relatives, and some even participate in family therapy or couples counseling when bigger challenges arise. We understand, on a logical level, that healthy relationships require energy. Yet, when facing conflict at work, some people prefer to bury their heads in the sand. The truth is that most relationships will get stronger when each person can talk openly about perceived slights and misunderstandings.
What to Practice: Let’s say that you were recently passed over for a promotion. Rather than completely internalizing your disappointment and thinking “this confirms that I am not good at my job,” or avoiding the situation, try to address it with a ‘middle of the road’ strategy. Can you bring up what upset you in a way that’s not passive OR accusatory? You might be surprised by how much your professional relationships – and productivity – will improve by working to resolve interpersonal issues.
What to Read: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
4) Adopt a Growth Mindset. I often hear clients talk about their abilities as fixed entities: They believe that they are not good with numbers, are horrible managers or they can’t do presentations. Carol Dweck, a renowned Stanford University researcher and author of Mindset, has dedicated her career to proving that people can change. She and her team have shown that, when research subjects learn to see intelligence as something that can expand and grow, like a muscle, they’re better at tackling new tasks. Most of us see ourselves as being more capable in some areas than others. However, when we turn away from projects and opportunities because we fear failure, we limit our opportunities to grow and evolve.
What to Practice: To shake off the shackles of Imposter Syndrome, try to see mistakes, insecurity, and criticism as temporary steps to success – especially when you’re working on something that you’re not innately good at. Remember that you must go through these things to get stronger!
What to Read: Mindset by Carol Dweck
5) It’s not you. In a few of the most extreme cases that I’ve seen, workplace burnout can lead to serious mental health issues. Even in this competitive economy, it’s crucial to remind yourself that not every workplace is right for all of us. The reality is that no job is perfect, but if you feel unsafe, unsupported, or are starting to feel the physical ramifications of chronic stress, it might be time to explore alternatives.
What to Practice: The first step in creating change is to allow yourself to feel curious and inspired. Look into learning new skills, enroll in a graduate program, or sign up for a class through a community college or a continuing education program.
What to Read: Do What You Are by Paul Tieger