By Shaunna Keller
Research shows that the impostor syndrome is characterized as the feeling that you aren’t as talented as everyone believes, you don’t deserve the achievements you’ve accomplished and your lack of ability will be exposed.
While self-doubt is a symptom of the syndrome, there’s a big difference between situational self-doubt and the ever-present, crippling sense that you don’t deserve a seat at the table—a clear sign that you struggle with impostor syndrome.
Left unchecked, it can impact your life, leading to professional isolation, a demoralized spirit and missed opportunities. For some people, it may seem that no amount of success can negate the fraudulent feelings and fear of being “found out.”
But there is some good news — you can work to overcome the impostor syndrome.
My biggest awakening to the deep-seated nature of this syndrome was revealed through my role managing a team with members who suffered from it. While I can relate to self-doubt, fortunately, my experiences have been situational and temporary.
As a young manager, I navigated the choppy waters of a quick transition from caring about my own achievements to contributing to others’ success. During my first time at bat years ago, I didn’t get it right and felt an overwhelming sense of shame.
I wondered who I was to have all of this responsibility placed in my hands, and felt that others asked, along with me, “Why does she deserve this?”
But I moved past my self-doubt when I realized that being a manager is all about investing in your team. This requires consistent effort to prioritize their success and requirements over yours. Ultimately, you need to take the role you play in their experience very seriously.
And now, through this philosophy, conversations with Lauren, a star on my team, were able to unfold, helping me learn about her struggles with impostor syndrome. During this journey together, Lauren and I also pinpointed several ways to defeat it and leave it behind.
1 Speak Up
The biggest misconception associated with self-doubt is that we’re the only ones who feel it. We work tirelessly to keep it a secret or pretend it doesn’t exist, while feeling confidence slip away.
But by discussing it—and other syndrome symptoms—you take a big step toward combating its devastating effects on your life and the control the negative feelings have over you.
You also reduce the pressure of trying to keep it all in, reassigning that energy to more productive pursuits.
2 Talk Through It
After embracing the need to speak up, talk through it.
When I discovered that Lauren suffered from this syndrome, I sought to learn more about it. We spent hours talking about it honestly, where she boldly opened up.
Through these conversations, I saw that certain habits she had acquired from the syndrome should be viewed through a different lens, to break down her false sense of fraudulence.
I assigned her projects that would help her acknowledge her incredible talent. In some cases, she tackled them alone, owning them completely so there could be no way around accepting her own shine.
This process takes a commitment from both parties to shift someone’s thinking from “I don’t know what I’m doing” to “here are all the reasons why I do.”
3 Find Champions
Your boss might not be the best person to help you overcome this syndrome, depending on your situation. But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost.
This is where your champion comes in. A champion is someone who sees your potential—even when you can’t—and invests in you—even when you don’t.
It can be a family member, friend, mentor, significant other, or trusted colleague—anyone who considers you a great person.
Most noteworthy leaders have asked for assistance from their champions along the way, noting that they were essential to help them fight the good fight and triumph over their hurdles. So, don’t be afraid to tap your champions.
4 Seek High-Caliber Managers
At one of my first jobs, I was managed by a woman who decided early on not to invest in me. She didn’t say it, of course, but her actions spoke very clearly. She kept me at arm’s length, stifled my creativity and established that she was in charge.
There is nothing more stifling than feeling abandoned by a manager. If your manager doesn’t advocate for you, challenge you, and cheer for you, it can be difficult to do that for yourself.
If you find yourself in this situation, get a new manager if you can. That might require leaving a company you love or transitioning into a new role. But it’s worth it, when you consider all of the opportunities you’ll miss by remaining with your bad manager.
It also can mean that you reprioritize what you look for in your next role. Consider the company leaders – are they taking the pulse of their employees? And how does the relationship seem between your potential manager and her boss?
Finally, when evaluating that manager, consider three additional questions:
- Is her communication style straightforward or evasive?
- Are the team goals both ambitious and realistic?
- How often do promotions occur on the team?
These considerations are just as important as the actual role you’re targeting. That’s because bad managers can perpetuate your impostor syndrome, while great ones can help you overcome it.
5 Be Patient
Great things take time. Your professional worth is no different. There is no quick fix here. Patience allows you to see the little wins manifest into something bigger over time.
Through my experience with Lauren, I have witnessed firsthand how valuable investing my time in her has been. And it’s so rewarding to watch her start to take credit for her accomplishments deep down within herself.
To those of you struggling with this syndrome, the road is long, but the destination is worth it – both Lauren and I can attest to that.
Shaunna Keller is Head of Innovation & Strategy at Brand Content, an ad agency serving Hood, Diageo and other brands. Previously, she drove new media at Skullcandy, partnering with Google and YouTube.
I’m Nancy F. Clark, author of The Positive Journal, and curator of Forbes WomensMedia. My team helps businesswomen succeed and live happier and more fulfilling lives.