The feeling is as familiar as it is ugly. You’re sitting in a room of your peers and suddenly get a twisting feeling in your gut that you don’t belong there.
Does that sound like a situation you’ve been in before? You’re not alone. Imposter syndrome is something that every working professional will deal with at some point in their career.
There’s a misconception that advancing along your career path will eventually help shake those feelings of inadequacy. And while imposter syndrome does affect people from every race, gender, age, and class, it can be especially harmful to professional women looking to break the glass ceiling.
What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is a term popularized online that refers to the feeling of self-doubt one may have about their accomplishments or successes. Fear of being exposed as a fraud is often seen as a key symptom of imposter syndrome.
There will be points in your career when you feel inadequate or in over your head – but thankfully, it’s not an experience you have to have alone. Understanding imposter syndrome is the first step towards squashing it and continuing your career growth.
How to overcome imposter syndrome
Imposter syndrome was around long before there was a popularized term for it. Feelings of self-doubt or self-consciousness are things that everyone can relate to. Don’t fret: there are proactive steps you can take to help you recenter yourself and shake off your imposter syndrome.
We’ve sourced advice from women across industries and career fields for their best advice on recognizing and dealing with imposter syndrome. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Become a speaker, mentor, or thought-leader
“The best way to shake off your imposter syndrome is to take the opportunity to teach and mentor. People are hungry for experiential knowledge and you don't realize how much you have learned until you sign up to teach a 60-minute class or sit down to answer some questions one-on-one over coffee. You get to organize your lessons learned and you get to help out others in your community.”
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2. Write out your entire career (yeah, the whole thing!)
“A quick trick to overcome imposter syndrome: Write out your entire career history. I was interviewed for a podcast and thought ‘I'm only 21, I don't have a great story to share’ until I wrote down three pages of stuff I'd done and completely forgotten about.”
“If you’re prone to imposter syndrome, start keeping a ‘Love Me’ file on your desktop. It can be something as simple as Word Document where you file notes from colleagues, managers, clients, customers, anyone giving you 'props' for a job well done. You can also add projects you've worked on, successes you've had at work. Every time you feel imposter syndrome coming on, go back to it, read the whole thing, and let it sink in.
Each of us are so busy in our day-to-day lives that we often forget to step back and take a look at the amazing work we've done to get to where we are in life. My guess is there's no real 'fix' for imposter syndrome but to bravely challenge it on a regular basis until you begin to feel it less and less and it slowly fades away.”
4. Recognize that you don’t know it all, and that’s okay
“I try to focus on why I got the job – my skill sets, my experience, my capability and the confidence of the people who hired me. I also enjoy talking with my peers because they are the best at helping put things into perspective. Being willing to constantly learn on the job helps up my game and give me a confidence boost. If I feel self-conscious for not knowing something, I’ll just go out and learn as much about it as I can.”
“As a woman working in a male-dominated field, a Sergeant in the NYPD and a Director at NYC Emergency Management, I have to overcome not only my own self limiting beliefs, but do that in a male-dominated world.
The first thing I do is listen to my inner voice and the stories it tells me. Centering myself on my truth and what I believe in important to me. The second thing I do is find people who supported the work I was doing and believed in me.
When I found a publisher for my book, I decided to be upfront with him about my learning disability. I had always believed it would hold me back with writing and publishing a book. It turns out being honest really benefited me. My publisher also had a learning disability. He had already published six books and understood my unique challenges. I chose to work with him because I knew he would believe in me when I didn't believe in myself.”
6. Double down on learning and continued education
“I stepped into my first Director level role before I even turned 25. Needless to say, I sometimes wondered if I was supposed to be in the role I was offered. I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to live up to the expectations that they had for me.
Whenever I had a moment of self-doubt or worry, I would channel that energy into learning anything and everything. I would read everything about my industry, business, management, and thought leaders because if you are not learning you are not growing. This helped get me out of the imposter syndrome. I would learn new things, adapt them to my role and keep evolving to provide value to my firm and then one day, I no longer felt like an outsider but a significant addition to the team.”
“To deal with ‘imposter syndrome,’ you must accept that you are enough. You must understand that you deserve to pursue your career even if you aren’t perfect. However, you must also understand that it is not up to you to endure a toxic environment that breeds chronic self-doubt.
By treating imposter syndrome as if it blossoms only in the recesses of the mind, we absolve ourselves of addressing sexism, racism, and the culture of overwork that may be causing the imposter experience. Imposter syndrome is not necessarily a disease of the mind, but perhaps a disease of the system.”
8. When all else fails, just focus on your success
“Before I decided to take the leap into self-employment, it was so hard for me to shake the feeling that I was being judged during job interviews or even during a job while on a client call.
Even when I had dozens of clients and experience under my belt, I would often wonder, who am I to be running this program or giving this advice? What if it fails? Even when it was going well and even when I knew exactly what I was doing, it was hard not to feel scrutinized by those around me, and often led to moments of self-doubt.
I finally found that focusing on the success that I’ve had instills confidence in me. It's best to not put weight on others' opinions or your perceived judgment of their opinions since that will only end up undermining you and your work. Focus on being the best and the confidence will follow.”
The next time you’re feeling self-conscious about your success remember that you deserve to be where you’re at today, just like these women in marketing, sales, business, and beyond. You worked hard and fought for what you have. Don’t be ashamed, own it!
Hey girl! Looking for more career advice? Check out our career advice hub.
Lauren is a Content Marketing Manager at G2. You can find her work featured on CNBC, Yahoo Finance, and on the G2 Learning Hub. In her free time, Lauren enjoys watching true crime shows and spending time in the Chicago karaoke scene. (she/her/hers)