Picture this: A Google calendar notification pops up on an ordinary Wednesday morning as you're sipping your coffee. It's your boss, requesting a one-on-one meeting with you the next day. Your mind skims through every possible scenario, until you land on the inevitable. She finally figured out that you're terrible at your job, and you're going to be fired.
You show up at the meeting on Thursday, feeling sick to your stomach. You've barely eaten anything since yesterday, and you're preparing for the inevitable blow and potential severance package when ... she tells you you're getting a raise and a promotion.
Sound familiar? If so, you're not actually a fraud—you're just a victim of imposter syndrome. According to Harvard Business Review, imposter syndrome is defined as "a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. 'Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence."
Putting a name to that feeling (and knowing just how common it is) can be validating. Still, living with imposter syndrome isn't fun, and it can end up hindering your success. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to start combatting imposter syndrome right now, so you can stop feeling like a fake all the time.
1. Recognize it when it pops up.
Sometimes it can take a few minutes of analysis to come to terms with the fact that you're experiencing imposter syndrome it all. But if you pay close attention to it, you might see some patterns emerge. Do you experience thoughts and feelings of imposter syndrome when you're running on too little sleep, when you're overly caffeinated, or when you've been spending too much time on social media?
Connecting those thoughts with external situations can be a great first step toward experiencing them less often. If it helps, try using your Silk + Sonder mood tracker.
2. Consider what it might be rooted in.
It's not always easy to pinpoint what certain thoughts and feelings are rooted in, but taking a moment to look back on any childhood memories can be enlightening. Were you assigned a certain "label" in your family, like "the funny one" or "the athlete" while a sibling was considered "the successful one"? Did a teacher make an off-hand negative comment about a homework assignment you turned in that forever made you feel like a fraud? If you can't come up with answers easily on your own, don't be afraid to talk to a mental health professional to try to gain greater insight.
Understanding where feelings of imposter syndrome come from won't make them go away overnight, but they can help you say things like I'm not really feeling this because I'm a fraud, I'm feeling it because my parents always said I was "the funny one."
And in case you're still coming up empty, being a woman doesn't help.
3. Replace your negative thoughts with facts.
Now that you may have greater insight into why your imposter syndrome is happening, it's time to take some action. Mental health professionals will be the first to tell you that thoughts are "just thoughts." They're fleeting, and they don't have to take on meaning—especially when they're not true. So the next time you find yourself second-guessing whether or not you deserve your success, replace these anxious, self-doubted filled thoughts with the facts.
Here are some examples:
- I've gotten a raise every year. I wouldn't get a raise if the people at my company thought I was bad at my job.
- The positive feedback I got from investors about my company isn't because they're "trying to be nice." It's because they think it's a good idea.
- I have this job because my boss thought I was the best person for it out of a sea of applicants, not because I "got lucky."
To take it a step further, go ahead and list out your accomplishments. "Be as detailed as possible," suggests psychologist Sarah Kwan. If you're still having trouble lifting yourself up, go ahead and try the "talk to yourself as you would a friend" trick.
"We are uniquely qualified to zone in on our insecurities," explains Kwan. "Providing ourselves with the esteem and admiration we bestow upon friends will facilitate kinder words towards ourselves."
4. Reframe the narrative.
Consider this: Imposter syndrome isn't the worst thing, and you may actually be able to use it to your advantage. Confused? According to Entrepreneur, having a little self-doubt (not to be confused with low self-esteem) can actually be advantageous in the workplace. It can inspire you to ask for help when you need it, produce better work, have a Plan B (and C, and D!) and eventually—hopefully—transform it to self awareness.
5. Start a two-column process.
There will be times when when things happen that reinforce your feelings of imposter syndrome. Your boss is short with you, you get a negative review at work, your company is passed up for another round of funding, you can't get an agent for that novel you've been shopping around. In these moments, it's important to remind yourself of the humanity of the people giving you this feedback. "If you encounter negative words from a boss, it can help firstly to remind yourself that your boss is a person who might be going through their own challenges," Kwan says.
Once you've done that, take out a journal or notebook and create two columns. "One column will list evidence that refutes the feedback and another column that affirms the feedback," she says. "That way, you can gain a balanced view of the situation (remember, we gravitate towards the negative, especially when feeling down!) as well as create a plan forward to improve performance in the latter column."
And don't forget to lean on the people (and furry friends) in your life who love you. Because they'll be the first to tell you that you aren't an imposter at all.
Do you suffer from imposter syndrome? If so, what's helped? Let us know in the comments. And while you're at it, don't forget to subscribe to Silk + Sonder today.