“Imposter Syndrome” refers to high-achieving individuals who can’t internalize their accomplishments and persistently fear being exposed as a fraud. The first time I heard the term Imposter Syndrome, I thought, is this actually a thing? Are there other people who feel this way? Who think they are not worthy of their accomplishments? Since I accidentally fell into my career in business and never imagined myself in an executive role, I sometimes worried I didn’t belong.
I started mentioning this syndrome to other senior people (mostly women) and was shocked to learn many of them shared the same concerns. These were very successful women running large businesses. It was unfathomable they would be the slightest bit insecure, and yet they were.
About 20 years ago, I was running a small business unit. I related to the industries we tracked, I enjoyed the clients, I loved my team, and we were very successful. We had the highest revenue growth, the highest profit growth, the best client satisfaction, and the best employee satisfaction. What could be better?
Then, my boss got a new job and his role managing all the U.S. business units was available. The CEO called me into his office and offered me the job. This would be a promotion and a much bigger role. It also meant managing my peers, including one who had previously been my manager. I was not expecting this at all! I was happy in my current job and wasn’t sure I was qualified for the bigger job, so my initial reaction was to say no. That certainly took him by surprise. Being a smart manager, he suggested I go home and think about it. I was so conflicted I cried the whole drive home.
Call it undervaluing myself or call it Imposter Syndrome, but it felt strange to admit I was the most deserving of the position. How did I get through it? Well, I thought back to the time I moved from being an individual salesperson to a sales manager and was able to make a bigger contribution. I decided if I could help share what made our business unit successful, then perhaps all the company’s businesses could be more successful. I walked in the next day and accepted the job.
In my new role, I kept reflecting on what I was good at and where I could add value. I decided I could help via strong communication up, down and across, and this became my mission. I told my team I would be their advocate for sending messages up to management, I would communicate down everything I heard about corporate objectives and happenings, and I would create forums and opportunities for dialoguing across so we could all share and learn from each other.
Overcoming Impostor Syndrome is not easy. These tips will hopefully help you gain confidence even if you haven’t yet been promoted and reached an “official” senior level:
- Track your accomplishments and look at the list often.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. Set goals for what you want to do and focus on achieving those things.
- Do an honest evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses. While everyone focuses on fixing the weaknesses, also focus on building up and honing your strengths.
- Find people who believe in you both personally and professionally and reach out to them for support.
- When you receive a compliment, don’t negate it or deny it. Simply say, “thank you”.
- Focus on helping others instead of yourself. As C.S. Lewis said: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.”
- Talk with people you respect to see if they share similar concerns. Work together to overcome them. Remember, even brilliant and famous people occasionally admit to feeling like frauds. Try to laugh about it.
It is not attractive to brag, but there are times when you need to make sure your boss or others know what you have accomplished. While HR and your managers should help facilitate your growth, your career is ultimately your responsibility.
Adapted with permission of the publisher, Motivational Press, Inc., from MOM.B.A. Essential Business Advice from One Generation to the Next by Karyn Schoenbart with Alexandra Levit. Copyright (c) 2017 by Karyn Schoenbart. All rights reserved. https://www.amazon.com/Mom-B-Essential-Business-Advice-Generation/dp/1628654597