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How to deal with imposter syndrome

How To Deal With Imposter Syndrome: Five Safe Ways

After publishing her 11th book, the late, great writer Maya Angelou admitted that every time she wrote a new one she’d think, “Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody.” Her words form a nice definition of imposter syndrome. This is the mistaken belief that we will soon be unmasked as fraudsters –– no matter how successful we become. It’s about not appreciating that your work has value, that your experience matters. Imposter syndrome means giving in to the nagging little inner voice that won’t shut up. This voice repeatedly warns us how we will soon be discovered, that we don’t deserve our job, our career, or the promotion we’re trying to get. Seriously, would you let someone say such viscous, inaccurate, things to your bestie? 


First described by American psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in a 1978 research article, imposter syndrome is “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness that appears to be particularly prevalent and intense among a select sample of high achieving women… Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the impostor phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.” Of course, the syndrome can afflict just about anyone, regardless of gender or race. However, it is more prevalent among women and people of color. After all, not terribly long ago lots of company heads were pretty vocal that women and people of color didn’t  belong in the workplace. Even if you’re too young to remember that era, you likely have a grandmother who can tell you all about it. Chances are there have been times you’ve felt it yourself. But the truth is, you do belong. You are good enough. You deserve the job you have and the career you aspire to. If you want to know how to deal with imposter syndrome, here are five tips that can help you overcome it.


1.Say Your Name


You’ve probably heard of daily affirmations. You might even have seen a clip or two of Stuart Smalley, who faced a mirror and said, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it people like me.”  As silly and cheesy as that sounds, science suggests it actually works –– with the slight twist of actually saying your own name. As one study showed, “using one’s own name and other non-first-person pronouns to refer to the self during introspection is a form of self-distancing that enhances self-regulation.” Creating a bit of “mental distance” by calling yourself by your own name before offering positive affirmations can actually help you believe in yourself more. So, if you’re already alone and staring at a reflective surface, try saying something like “Ashley is a talented writer and a skilled career coach who deserves this book deal.” Of course only say “Ashley” if that’s really your first name.

2. Strike a Power Pose


Since you are already at the mirror, strike a power pose. Generally, this means standing up straight with your hands on your hips (think Wonder Woman.) Although the research is mixed –– you may or may not get a hormone boost –– I really believe it works. I often recommend it to clients right before they ask for a raise or go to a job interview. Truth is, if you’re curious about how to deal with imposter syndrome, one key is understanding that it’s partly due to a lack of self confidence. Standing up straighter and making eye contact can actually boost your confidence. 


3. Update Your Mental Program


Maybe your brain needs a bit of a software update. Because that little nagging voice is powerful. It’s on a constant loop and if it’s saying all the wrong things, it isn’t helping. So change it. Remember that feeling like an imposter  isn’t based on anything real. So, 

reprogram your mental state by replacing your inner negative nelly with a positive, inspiring voice –- the same way you could replace the battered cabin you inherited with a stellar five-bedroom Colonial. Don’t say, “I don’t know anything.” Say, “I don’t know everything…yet. I’m still learning.”

4. Make a List, Check it Daily


Write down all the reasons you are qualified for the job you have or the one you are seeking. Don’t just write down the stuff that gets on a resume. Include your innate qualities, the ways you are unique. Some of your best character traits trace back to the very beginning of your life ––  the way some babies naturally giggle more than others. An example of this could be your emotional intelligence –– that special talent for not only deciphering others’ emotions but sharing and empathizing with them as well. Those of us battling imposter syndrome tend to put too much store in luck. Except the fantastic things that have happened to you are more often than not the result of choices you made. Look at it this way. You have no problem blaming a poor choice for a bad outcome, right? Well why shouldn’t you celebrate the good choices as well?


Instead of hiding your list in a journal, I suggest you type it up, print it out, and post it prominently in your home. Maybe make it the first thing you see in the morning. 


5. Seek Supportive Friends


After spending an hour or two with a friend or family member, how do you feel? Happy? Uplifted? Motivated? Or do you feel depressed, tired, maybe even unattractive? I ask this because elevating the inspirational people in your life is key to overcoming imposter syndrome. It’s not easy. Still, surrounding yourself with people who help you be your best you is vital It can take time to jettison the negative naysayers. Instead of actively cutting toxic friends from your life, just start making more plans with people who offer reassurance and boost your spirit. Talk to them about how you feel at work, your feelings of being a fraud. Chances are they will help you remember all of your good qualities, all of the reasons you deserve the promotion. And I bet I don’t even have to say that you should reciprocate. You’ve probably been encouraging your friends all along.


You can overcome imposter syndrome –– not just at work but in relationships and the rest of your life as well. All it takes is a bit of time and the belief that you really do matter.


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