Don't Play Yourself! 5 Ways to Get Over Imposter Syndrome

Irony: I’ve been wanting to write about imposter syndrome for a while, but I kept getting writer’s block from feeling unqualified to write about imposter syndrome.

For those unfamiliar, imposter syndrome describes when a person feels fraudulent and undeserving of opportunities presented to them.

Life is funny. Everyone faces situations similar to the one above but are typically unable to identify it. Perhaps you made it on the team roster, got accepted to the school of your dreams, or landed your dream job. You’re proud and honestly, most likely feeling yourself.  Why wouldn’t you? You worked hard and you deserved this!

Then, you get started and you find yourself making little mistakes or you feel that you’re not being the superstar you thought you would be. Or, maybe you’re doing great, but for whatever reason you think you  shouldn’t have been chosen over others. Suddenly, doubt sets in. Did I trick my way into getting where I am now? Did I only get here by dumb luck? Does everyone know that I’m a fraud?

In very few cases, the answers to the above may actually be true. However, more times than not, it can be attributed to imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome usually affects high achievers or groups of people who are given a boost to compete with those of privilege, often affecting women and people of color. As a high-achieving woman of color, I’m no stranger to imposter syndrome. I’m used to being skilled at things and am very confident, sometimes a borderline egomaniac. I don’t put myself above others, but I rarely think that I didn’t earn something. Nevertheless, imposter syndrome rises up in me from time to time, especially when I start a new job or endeavor that is not going to plan.

To be clear, imposter syndrome isn’t a disorder or personality defect. It can happen to anyone, although some groups or individuals experience it more frequently. It has been proven time and again that women undersell themselves and men oversell. The notion of having to be twice as good to get half as far haunts black employees from the classroom to the boardroom.These are both products of imposter syndrome and it can cause intense fear and self-deprecation to those who encounter it. This in turn, can manifest into life-altering decisions, such as not applying for certain opportunities or promotions, talking yourself down to others (leading to the false perception that you’re less capable) or not contributing ideas in meetings or to written publications. All because you feel like a phony and asking yourself questions like “who am I to demand better?” or “could I actually have meaningful, or great ideas?.”

I’m here to tell you the answers are ‘who are you not to?’ and ‘you can and you absolutely do!’ You see, I’ve learned that there are only two truths: You either deserve to be somewhere because you excel at it or you deserve to be somewhere because you enjoy it and work hard. Let me spell that out again. You deserve to be where you are. You are good at it and you work hard for it. Of course, there are things that aren’t right for everyone, but, for the most part, you are only undeserving if you are forced into it, despite your skills and interests, or if you are not working to get better every day. You deserve that promotion. Your voice deserves to be heard. You deserve to recognize that you are dope as hell!

If you feel that you’ve experienced or are experiencing a case of imposter syndrome, here are some tips to help you combat it:

1. Make a list of why you are deserving of your opportunities.

When I started my current job, it took me awhile to learn the ropes. I didn’t have much guidance on how to do my job and I had to come into a mid-level role from an entry level job, where I was killing the game. It was such a hit to my ego and I was feeling that I may have bitten off more than I could chew.

I had to learn: be your own hype man against that inner voice telling you that you’re a sham. Take some time to think about why you’re dope. You got this position, so there must be a few reasons. If you’re having trouble gassing yourself up, ask your friends, families, and even past co-workers to help you out. People who know you best will not run short of compliments and positive attributes about you. This can help you realize that others notice that you kick ass on the regular! You’ll have your list for whenever the inner voice tries to make you feel like a fake.

2. Never downplay yourself and your accomplishments

As I’ve mentioned, you are popping! You are the Olivia Pope, Jamal Lyon, Beyonce and Tristan Walker, of what you do. You are capable of killing the game if you do your best so stop holding yourself back. Erase words like “just” and “only” to minimise your work or talent. Stop refuting compliments and instead, thank the person for recognizing your talent and effort. This goes especially for women, who tend to be humble to a fault. There is no need to be cocky when someone acknowledges you but being overly critical to buffer the attention will unintentionally cause people to stop affirming that you’re doing well. It might also cause unconscious decisions to exclude you as an essential member of your team when opportunities of advancement or increased responsibility arise.

3. Shamelessly self-promote yourself as much as possible

This is not to be confused with the socially sus “humble brag”. This is about having no shame in your game and claiming your strengths. If your team needs to write a grant, plug that you’ve written winning grants before and can help. If one of your peers is having trouble with networking or building relationships, give them some tips that have made you successful in the past. The keyword is the pronoun “I”. When male and/or white peers don’t have this same issue, you’re then left wondering why leadership can’t see that you’re a competitive candidate when it’s time for promotion. They key to talking about yourself is balance and reading the room. It’s important to not make everything about you because your peers will notice and deflect from discussing things with you or have you be their confidant. But, if you got it, flaunt it!

4. Take the credit

We’re taught to accept fault for our mistakes. However, we’re seldom taught to claim our small victories. If you have a good idea, put your name on it and let it be known that you have more. Simply saying “Glad that idea came to me! I have a bunch of others I’d like to run by you,” or “It is a good idea! I thought of it when thinking about [insert inspiration here]” can make sure that your idea doesn’t get attributed elsewhere or claimed as a team idea. Contributing in a major way and getting no praise for it can discourage you from participating in the ideation process. Others may not always be aware of the source of a suggestion or that you may not have gotten a gold star for it, so know that it’s good to give yourself the gold star sometimes!

5. Get to the root of your insecurity

If you often experience imposter syndrome, figuring out where it’s coming from is the best way to prevent it in the first place. The obvious answer is that you are placing undue pressure on yourself or that maybe have been doing more “faking it” than “making it”. But maybe it’s deeper than that. Perhaps a demanding parent, lack of structure or lack of praise caused you to internalize perceived inadequacy. Alternatively, if you notice that feelings of imposter syndrome only arise in certain settings, it's time to reevaluate your sphere of influence. Perhaps you have a manager or friends that are overly critical of you, can’t be impressed or are always comparing you against others. Address or remove these influences, because having naysayers in your ears or people trying to change you, makes you forget yourself and your truth.

There are some people who like to just skip to the end of a long post to get to the damn point. If you’re that reader, then the takeaway is simply that you are deserving because, by talent or effort, you are enough. You’ve always been and you always will be. The sooner you remember this, the quicker you can claim your rightful spot at the top.