Last week, Chisomo, of Called Out Living, reached out to me with a question on Instagram. Chisomo is a creative mum, from the UK, who designs home and office products to inspire others to “live their purpose using their passions.” She wanted to know:
“What’s your advice to ladies who struggle with imposter syndrome? Feeling like they are pretending in their jobs, careers or businesses? Thanks”
This is a brilliant question and something I see often in practice.
Imposter syndrome is a funny animal because it happens to people who tend to be high achievers. The other ironic thing about it is that it can also drive success by challenging us to do better. Yet, when it chips away at our self-worth we can feel paralyzed and be unable to work toward our goals. When this happens, the insecure or self-critical parts of ourselves can get quite loud.
Thus, our dance is actually in using imposter syndrome to challenge ourselves to do productive, high-quality work. While, at the same time, not letting imposter syndrome drive down our self-worth.
Shift Imposter Syndrome’s Power from Who You Are to What You Are Doing
There is a difference between doing things well and being good enough. Imposter syndrome can motivate you to do good work, but it does a poor job of informing you about yourself as a person.
To keep imposter syndrome in check, reframe it from an indicator that you are a phony to being an indicator that you care about doing a good job. If it’s going to inform any aspect of who you are as a person, let it tell you that are someone who gives a damn and keep it at that. Don’t let imposter syndrome have any more say than that.
To use imposter syndrome for good, let it have a job in the area of informing your career related actions. Instead of asking yourself if you can hack it, ask yourself what you need to do this job well. Is there a specific skill set, knowledge, or a tool that would allow you to produce the desired outcome of your work?
That Facebook Advertising Course May Not Be The Solution
On that note, sometimes when we ask ourselves this kind of question we will still get a “not good enough” kind of response. Like, you may feel like you always need a new workshop to get anything done. If that is happening, stop yourself for a second and take stock of the training or skills you already have. Review them to see if there is something already in there that you simply need to apply. Sometimes doing this will also remind you of how much you already do know.
Finally, if you are getting those self-worth related responses when you ask yourself about what you need to do a good job, then, in a way, listen. Take that as a great clue and focus on strengthening your self-worth. There’s nothing wrong with that being the answer. The challenge is when we don’t acknowledge that answer and sign up for a million workshops that won’t solve the problem.
Collect Your Successes
Imposter syndrome taps into self-worth stuff and that can make it hard to shake off. To address this head on, take note of your successes. Look at your resume, past projects, essays, or your website if you have one. Review past performance appraisals, testimonials from prior clients or recommendation letters. Allow yourself to be awash in the positive feedback and your strengths.
When you are in the throes of it, this can help. But, if you struggle with this often, you may want to consider finding an ongoing way to collect your successes or positive feedback. This could be a dedicated journal, a “success jar” (kind of like a happiness jar), a folder in your email box and the like. Cultivating this kind of practice can keep imposter syndrome from rearing its head as often. It can also be your insurance plan for when it does come up.
Find a Supportive Mentor
If you can find this in a boss and the entanglement of money or job evaluation doesn’t impact your capacity to be open, honest, and vulnerable with this person, then awesome. Otherwise, a mentor could be anyone you can connect with who you respect, trust, and want to learn from. While at the same time being someone you feel safe enough to be vulnerable with.
A great mentor would be someone to whom you could say something like, “I know I look like I have all my shit together, but right now I feel like I don’t know anything. I have no clue why I was even hired to do this. I’m kind of freaking out. Help?”
Ideally, this person would respond with patience, support, and a reflection of your strengths. One way to find that person is to say something vulnerable like this early on in your interactions with them and see how they take it. It could be as simple as, “I often come off as strong and confident. And, I am. But I also struggle with imposter syndrome and I am looking for a mentor who could be supportive of these two realities.”
Cultivate a Community of Like-Minded Professionals
We all need spaces where we can connect with other professionals, be vulnerable, ask for help, and cheer each other on. Sometimes this is built into a workplace. If so, great! However, we often need to create it for ourselves.
Supporting them will keep you in touch with your strengths and make you feel good about yourself. It will also help you stay present to the fact that you are not alone in feeling this way. Asking for help will give you practice being vulnerable and receiving help. Having a space to be a humble learner will also allow you to keep your strong front up in areas you need it most, without completely taking over.
This could be a consult group, a mastermind group, or even friends who share some of the same career pains you have. It could be that connecting with people in your field is helpful. There is also merit to the idea of connecting with people who may not be in the same field, but share the same #ladyboss hat.
While waiting for this group to take off, you can also ask a few kind friends to remind you of your strengths. Moreover, you may consider getting present to these thoughts and crafting counteracting statements. This could be in your head or you could even use writing to make this a more tangible exercise. Learning to debunk these thoughts on your own can be hard to do, but can also be self-empowering in the long run.
And Ladies, Specifically?
The other interesting aspect of Chisomo’s question is the specificity of advice to ladies. Many of the struggles women experience are not feminine flaws. They are burdens of sexism.
So when we experience imposter syndrome in the career sector, it may be because historically that was exclusively a man’s world.
Thus, if you identify as a woman and are experiencing imposter syndrome on the career front, check in with yourself to see if sexism is a factor. If so, how much does it play into this problem?
Taking a minute to consider this also reframes imposter syndrome from being a personal problem to a societal problem.
If you find this happening in your life, then to that end, all I have left to say is that YOU MATTER. Feminine influence matters. Soft power matters. Taking up space with your womanliness matters. What makes you different matters. What makes you unconventional matters.
We need your presence in the business sector to effect positive change. Given the norm of masculinity in this sector, there may be times when you feel like you are not doing things “right.” Please know that it is not a sign of you doing something wrong. It’s the sign of a new model coming to the fore. One that you have a hand in creating. So, please, share your difference with us. We need you, EXACTLY as you are.