I’ve been dealing with impostor syndrome my entire life. From as far back as I can remember, I remember feeling terrified of failure, afraid that I wasn’t nearly as good at anything as people thought I was, and insecure in every single way. Impostor syndrome, for those of you who don’t know, is the belief that you’ve fooled everyone so far into thinking you’re as good as you are, but someday someone will find out you’re faking it and you’ll be outed as an impostor. Basically, the belief that you don’t belong, the belief that you can’t do something as well as everyone else.
My day job is a user experience designer, and I’ve been working in the tech industry my entire career. Impostor syndrome is particularly prevalent for women in tech, partly because it’s a high-achieving field, partly because it’s a highly skill-based field, and partly because there’s already the social feeling that women don’t belong. But honestly, it can happen anywhere at any time. I was paranoid in high school about being in advanced classes or doing anything outside my comfort zone!
I’m still struggling with it, but throughout the years I’ve managed to come up with some techniques. I’ve read a lot about impostor syndrome but none of it has really been THAT helpful. Usually articles recommend that you just “believe in yourself,” or “adopt a different mindset,” which isn’t helpful… at all. I mean, sheesh, if it were that easy, then people wouldn’t be so stressed about it! So I’ve compiled a list of things that has definitely helped me.
Push through it
Sometimes, ignoring your fears, buckling down, and just DOING THE WORK is the most helpful thing you can do. You’ve got a deadline, you can’t afford to be afraid. One of the best things that helped me get over myself and do the work was working at a career job, where we had real clients waiting for our work – my work! So I just couldn’t afford to spend any time wallowing.
It involves turning your focus from inwards to outwards. This is really hard sometimes, but as you do it, you’ll build up a list of accomplishments that you can look back on. You can even make a physical list – look at the things you accomplished. It helps so much to make lists of positive feedback you’ve been given, real accomplishments you’ve made, and times where you’ve pulled through despite setbacks. Focusing on the work itself, rather than your feelings, helps you to get things done and build up your confidence.
When I get overwhelmed, I pick out the tiniest thing I could possibly do… and then I do it. Starting small is advice that many therapists give to people with anxiety, and it works out really well for all kinds of situations (including procrastination). Need to mail out a package? Step one is just organizing what you need for the package – then you can take a break. Step two is getting your box addressed and getting everything inside and taping it shut. Step three is taking it to the post office!
With impostor syndrome, it’s easy to not be able to start because you’re gripped by fear and you feel like everything has to be perfect or else it isn’t worth doing. Doing small things one thing at a time helps you move through your list, so your feeling of accomplishment can overtake your fears.
Help others and forgive the mistakes of others
This is a huge one. Huge. If you’re terrified that everyone thinks you’re doing a bad job, or if you’re terrified that you’re going to be found out as a fraud, but then you treat everyone else’s mistakes with disdain, you’re doing it absolutely wrong. People will treat you the way you treat them, so if you help them through their mistakes, they’ll forgive and forget yours, too.
I used to get horribly defensive anytime I would make a mistake at work. It felt like the end of the world. I’d lash out and make up excuses for why something wasn’t perfect. Honestly, I was probably awful to deal with! But I started making an extra effort to not just tolerate the mistakes of others, but instead helping them to EMBRACE their mistakes, and even encourage mistakes! It’s much easier and more effective, I think, to focus outward on helping out other people and being kind to them, than it is to try to feel more confident and better about yourself all on your own in a vacuum. Helping out other people will make you feel valued, which then will make you feel good. Helping other people work through their mistakes helps me to practice being kinder to myself about my mistakes.
Ultimately, impostor syndrome is placing undue emphasis on looking inward instead of living outward. You’re basically expecting yourself to be better than everyone else, more perfect than any other person. If you look at it in a certain light, that’s pretty egotistical, actually. It’s placing so much thought and emphasis on yourself and your ego. Better to acknowledge yourself as a human being, one who succeeds and fails, just like every other human being.
So, when people give you a compliment or a critique, say thank you. When you are successful, remember to thank everyone who made it happen. When you make mistakes, rely on those who love you. And always be humble while doing it – don’t hold yourself to unrealistic standards. Impostor syndrome comes back to me often, but it’s getting easier with every year I practice. I’m slowly gaining confidence in myself and my abilities, and making lots of friends and connections along the way. I’ve come so far in my thought patterns, and I wanted to share a bit about it in the hopes that it will help someone else.
Please share your experiences in the comments!