What Can I Do About Imposter Syndrome?

Last week I talked about imposter syndrome, that insidious little voice that can creep into our minds, uninvited, and trash-talk us into a quivering wreck. This week, how to turn the volume down. Three things you can do right now, to start dealing with the imposter in the mirror.

1. You Are Not Alone

Researching this topic, talking to people in my life about this affliction, and listening to scads of clients explain how this feels, has helped me to see that I am most certainly not alone.

I had a former manager who was pretty amazing. She came in my office at the end of a particularly stressful and very LONG day. It was about 8:30pm when she flopped down in my guest chair, threw her feet up on my desk and said, “So, what are you most afraid in this job, Eric?” Caught off guard, I stammered something about the acquisition that we were working through at the time; then I stopped myself. I looked her in the eyes and said, “Honestly, I’m afraid that you’re going to walk in here one day and tell me that you figured it out. You know that I’m totally bullshitting my way through this job, through my career, and fire me.”

She had this huge laugh. The kind of laugh you can hear across the whole floor, and she let one just roar! She said, “Dude, I’m afraid that you’re going to walk in here and say, ‘Why the hell am I working for you?’ because you have figured out that I have no idea what I’m doing!”

Pro Tip #1: You’re not alone. We’re all faking it to some degree. Take solace in the fact that the most buttoned-up, shit-together, successful people you know have had these thoughts at one time or another. Breathe in the fact that somewhere, right now, squillions of people are doing superstitious rituals to ensure that their presentation goes well, that the meeting is a success, or that they get the deal done. They’re listening to the same album, driving the same route, or wearing their “lucky socks,” instead of believing in themselves. (Oh, and I said, “ProTip,” because I’m a pro. My imposter self tried to get me to edit that about 5 times now. I’m a freaking pro. Shut it, imposterbrain.)

2. Step Up and Just Own It

Attributing your success to luck or fate or some sort of voodoo magic is a deflection tactic that sufferers of Imposter Syndrome employ. If I go out of my way to compliment you on an achievement, do not minimize my opinion. Don’t belittle my assessment. Isn’t that borderline offensive? Accept my compliment (I’m a pro, remember?) perhaps even celebrate it.

Pro Tip #2: Even when compliments are hard to accept, smile, listen, and say thank you. On the drive home, replay the tape of that compliment in your head. Think about how you’d feel if you believed that compliment to be 100% true. Revel in that feeling a little. Baby steps.

3. Celebrate Success, All of Them

There is no victory too small, celebrate them. Sometimes I celebrate making an impossibly complex trash basket (especially if I caromed the paper wad off the desk AND the file cabinet!) We shortchange ourselves often. When things crash and burn, we will often “post-mortem” the hell out if them. When things go well, we tend to simply move on to the next thing on our to-do lists. Pause, breathe, revel in that victory a little.

Pro Tip #3: Form an ‘Accountability Group’ with some friends. Create a safe place where you can share the imposter feelings, share the success, and prop each other up when things are tough. This doesn’t have to be a big deal 2 or 3 people whom you trust. Set up a Skype Room or Google Hangout and jump on once a month.

Let’s Do This!

We’re all imposters. We’re all faking it every single day. Ummmm….except that we’re not. We’ve earned what we’ve won. Despite our best efforts to wrest it away from ourselves, we deserve it. In the immortal words of Stuart Smalley (self-help guru from Saturday Night Live in the 90s), We’re good enough, we’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like us!