If you’re a go-getter who thrives on challenges, no doubt there will be times in your career where you’ll feel like a fraud.Even if just for fleeting moments, as you take on more responsibility, change careers, get promoted, earn a higher salary or start a business, you will question your competence.
In pop psychology, this is called “Impostor Syndrome”, which is characterized by the feeling that we don’t really know what we’re doing, and it’s just a matter of time before someone finds out. About 70% of people experience this at some point and high performers seem to be more susceptible.
The result is that we undermine our abilities and make excuses for our behavior, which sometimes leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Have you ever heard a Speaker start a presentation saying his flight got in late or that the presentation was requested last minute? Lowering expectations of the audience is a way to compensate in advance for a potentially poor performance. It also creates the exact situation we’re trying to avoid: we are perceived as less competent.
Even worse, Impostor Syndrome can keep us “stuck” because we’re too afraid to take risks and fail. For example, have you ever second-guessed accepting a promotion or an attractive job that you were offered because you didn’t know if you could pull it off?
Here are some ideas for overcoming Impostor Syndrome:
- Quiet that inner voice. Remember that you got promoted, hired or asked to speak because others recognized your expertise and potential. We’re often our own worst critic and much harder on ourselves than anyone else will ever be.
- Remember that perfection is slow death. Perfectionists have a black and white view: “If I don’t know everything, then I don’t know anything.” Even if you’re a seasoned expert in your field, you’re human and not immune to bad days. (Side note: no one likes being around perfect people anyway. Your imperfections are what help create connections with others).
- If you aren’t struggling a bit, you aren’t growing much. When taking on a new venture, it’s normal to feel behind the curve. This doesn’t mean that you’re a fraud or not cut out for the work. Be careful not to compare your start to someone else’s middle.
- Honor your accomplishments. We can have a sea of awards, achievements or recognition from past performances that we conveniently forget when we make a mistake. While life isn’t about keeping a scorecard, be careful about giving more weight to slip-ups than accomplishments.
- Drop the “Yes, but…” Do you frequently deflect or write off compliments? Perhaps you attribute your success to luck or some divine intervention. We are masters at believing negative feedback and shrugging off the positive. Take time to listen to praise from others and own it.
- Fake it ‘til you make it. When you come across as confident, others sense that and it creates a positive spiral. It doesn’t mean you have all the answers, but rather that you’re confident in your ability to use your resources to find a solution. If you dive right into making excuses or apologies, this can taint others’ perceptions negatively, even if you do come up with a brilliant answer in the end (which you’ll likely do, so why not skip the up-front excuses!).