Have you ever been in a meeting and felt like you weren’t following along? Or been talking with co-workers who seemed to be three steps ahead of you? Or maybe felt like the outsider, as though it’s just a matter of time before someone finds out you’re completely incompetent?
That is imposter syndrome, friends. It’s that stomach-plunging fear that you’ll be revealed as a fraud who has no idea what they’re doing. Commonplace even among high-achievers and people with perfectionist tendencies, it’s neither enabling nor fun—but you can get rid of it.
In fact, you have to get rid of it if you want to get ahead. This is how you can do it:
1. Stop Making Unjust Comparisons
So, you sometimes feel like an imposter, huh? An imposter in comparison to who, exactly?
Maybe you have impossibly high standards and feel like you’re not measuring up to them. Maybe one or two of your peers are bounding forward in their career and you’re feeling left behind. Maybe you walk out of an interview and start thinking that you blew it (even though you had great answers).
The sense of not being good enough is given life through comparison. And any comparison between your worst fears about yourself (e.g., everyone else is so much more talented than me) and your perfection-threaded expectations (e.g., if I’m less than perfect then I’ll have failed) won’t just open the door to imposter syndrome: It’ll knock the whole house down and invite it to buy up the land and build a cathedral to itself.
You’ll go a long way to stamping it out when you stop comparing yourself and your career with where you think it should be or where you think others think it should be.
2. Give Yourself Due Credit
Being your own harshest critic, I’m willing to bet that you have a hard time giving yourself credit for how far you’ve come.
You chalk up a big win to good luck rather than good work. You find it easier to praise a co-worker than to give yourself a pat on the back. And you always race onto the next task or project rather than pause and celebrate what you just accomplished.
You’ve done awesome work, you’ve made some great connections, all while growing and learning. It’s OK to acknowledge your part in what you’ve achieved instead of putting it down to blind luck, so give yourself credit for how you applied your strengths or how you leveraged your experience to get a great result.
Try not to lose sight of your achievements in your moments of doubt and self-reflection. (If that’s easier said than done for you, these nine ideas are also useful strategies.)
3. Dismiss Those Doubts
It’s easy to feel like an imposter when there’s something at work that you can’t answer. From an impossible deadline, to a decision you don’t know how to make, to a project that seems way beyond your comfort zone, it’s not surprising that the doubts start to creep in. And when they do, you begin to feel like a fraud.
But you’re not perfect. Who is?
You haven’t worked in every industry, been involved in every kind of project, or mastered every existing skill set. So freaking out when you don’t have all the answers is just plain ridiculous. Improvisation is part and parcel of working, and the ability to bring your best to a challenge and make it up as you go along is often when the best work gets done.
While applying your experience is a good and appropriate thing to do, trust me when I say that everyone makes it up as they go at some point in their career.
In today’s workplaces, where all kinds of different people with distinct experiences, perspectives, and expectations are asked to collaborate, the bottom line with imposter syndrome is this: Everyone’s in the same boat. Nobody’s an imposter.
Confronted with that simple fact, all that’s left is to engage with your work and apply who you already are.
That’s always enough.