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From Fraud to Fantastic: Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

Last week, we talked about impostor syndrome – what it is and how it manifests in successful people. You might have read that article and determined that you do, in fact, have impostor syndrome. Don’t panic.

As a reminder, impostor syndrome is a phenomenon where you have difficulty accepting your own success as being a product of your hard work and talent. Instead, you tend to credit your success to external factors, such as circumstance or luck. As a result, you feel like a fraud, gaining credit for things you didn’t truly earn.

GovFem_FinalGone unchecked, impostor syndrome can be a major deterrent to career advancement. Because you are prone to undersell your own accomplishments, others underestimate or discredit your talent and deny you future opportunities. You may also hinder yourself, avoiding new responsibilities or roles because you underestimate your capabilities.

But like I said, there’s no need to panic. There are ways to minimize the impact impostor syndrome has on your career and your self-confidence. Here are five suggestions to help you embrace success:

1. Keep a log of compliments and credits. Whenever you find yourself questioning your accomplishments, look at this list to remind yourself how much others see merit in your work. This tactic is not only good for boosting your self-perception, it can also be a great tool when you’re looking for a promotion or new job. In your next cover letter or resume, pull in direct quotes from your compliment log to let others show how great you are. Especially if you are uncomfortable talking about your own success, this is an easy way to overcome your unease with promoting yourself.

2. Get it all out there. I love this tip from Startup Bros. Write down all of your fears, without holding back. Feel like you didn’t deserve that last promotion? Write down every reason why. Feel like you aren’t as good as your peers? Explain what makes them so much more exceptional than you. Then, read what you’ve written.

This sounds like a painful exercise but trust me, it isn’t that bad. I tried it and, as Startup Bros suggested, when I read all of my fears in one place they seemed absurd. No one can be that lucky or that sneaky to work her way up without some true talent. Sometimes you just have to give yourself a reality check, and this is a good way to do it.

3. Get to know a successful peer. Similarly, befriend someone at your level and open up about your doubts. Chances are, your successful peer has the exact same worries. Sometimes just hearing that someone else shares your concerns can go a long way in easing them. This also helps avoid a common misstep of impostor syndrome sufferers: negatively comparing yourself to others. (See this article in Forbes for more on that)

4. Recognize credentials for what they are. This is another tip from Startup Bros that hit home with me. If I’m asked to talk on a subject I barely know or, worse, presented as an expert on an issue, I panic. Surely I don’t deserve that credit, right?! In reality, credentials like ‘expert’ or ‘master’ mean almost nothing, and it’s important to remember that when you doubt your capacity to fill the title. Don’t believe me? The next time you’re at an event, run through the bios of presenting experts. More likely than not, you’ll learn that many of them are just as new to their fields as you are.

And the next time you’re asked to speak, remember that whoever invited you to participate already thinks you’re qualified.

5. Focus on the value you provide. Impostor syndrome is a very personal feeling of inadequacy. Ironically, a great way to overcome it is by ignoring your internal feelings and focusing on the external (at least for a while). The next time you have a project, don’t think about well you can perform. Instead, think of the value the project can provide if executed effectively and let that focus your efforts. Helping others can be a great motivator, and it takes the focus off of you (and your insecurities).

Have any other tips for overcoming impostor syndrome? Let us know in the comments below!

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