Because I am a human person who lives on earth, my self confidence goes through highs and lows. In professional settings, people always tell me I’ve accomplished a lot, that I’m a wealth of knowledge about marketing and sales. Then, after the initial high of being acknowledged wears off, I kind of go back to wondering if I actually know anything about anything. And, in the worst cases of this, I become paranoid that people will soon figure out that I don’t know a damn thing in the world.
It’s called Imposter Syndrome, and put simply, it’s a failure to recognize your own accomplishments. In and of itself, Imposter Syndrome isn’t considered a mental disorder, it’s more of a phenomenon. Of course it can be some part of a larger self esteem issue, and if you feel this way more often than not, you might consider seeking professional counseling.
Recently, in the midst of a bout of good ‘ol IS, I asked people on Instagram if they ever experience this feeling, and if so, what they do to counteract it. Again, I’m not here to replace your therapist, and I urge you to read more on the subject because there are a lot of articles with great, in-depth analysis and advice (like this piece from Psychology Today or this one from Fast Company) but for those of you who just need a little boost to get out of a funk, here are five suggestions from my Instagram followers on how to push past Imposter Syndrome:
1. Know That Everyone Feels This Way
“Everyone” might be a tad hyperbolic, but I was overwhelmed with responses when I asked if anyone else experiences this. Hundreds of messages. Take a quick peek at that Fast Company article I mentioned, scan the five types of Imposter Syndrome and see if any of them ring true for you. The chances are high that one of them does, and that’s because this is a very common phenomenon, especially in people who set the bar high for themselves. Knowing that I am not alone in this feeling really helped me to see that my fears are unfounded. If I was the ONLY person on all of Instagram who sometimes feels like she lucked into everything she has and that it could all crumble away in an instant, OK, then maybe there’s something to it. Or maybe I need some serious counseling. But the fact that so many people concurred with that feeling – people who I know personally, and I know how hard they work and how talented they are – it poked a lot of holes in my own fears.
2. Learn to Accept and Believe Positive Feedback
I mean, if only it were that simple, right? Most people I know have a hard time accepting compliments – I’m in that group, too. But as we are social creatures, we benefit from positive feedback from our peers (and bosses). The next time someone tells you that you did a great job on something, or that they’re impressed with how much you know about this or that, internalize it. Maybe write down what they said on your calendar or something. Create a database of positive feedback for yourself, and reflect on it whenever you find yourself in a dark place.
3. You vs. You
Sometimes I’ll have a particularly nagging case of Imposter Syndrome about a particular issue. For instance, I have a BA in magazine journalism, and my peers in my field are mostly MBAs. Accomplishments-wise, we are peers. Outside of throwing around jargon that I think sounds stupid anyway, and making elaborate spreadsheets, there’s nothing they can do that I can’t do. But sometimes, for instance if I’m job-searching, it nags at me. And I start to consider positions that are far below my experience level, or I accept a salary that no one else with my experience would accept. The best way to squash a nagging, negative thought about yourself is to gather evidence. Write it down. Write down the thing you believe about yourself, and under that, draw a line that divides the paper into two columns. On the left, write down any evidence that you have – facts, not feelings – that support that negative thing you believe. In the right column, write down any evidence you have that contradicts the opinion. If you struggle with the exercise, ask a friend or a loved one to help you fill in the columns with facts about you and your accomplishments. The people who suggested this practise to me said that they always find more evidence to dispel negative thoughts about themselves than to support it.
4. You Suck, But Not As Much as Other People Suck
This one made me laugh, but it kept coming up as a coping mechanism people use. It’s a little mean-spirited, so if that’s not for you that’s fair, but basically when you doubt yourself, get a little judgey with the people around you. Listen, every brand I’ve ever worked for does this. We might be a $100,000/year widget brand that constantly gets bad reviews on Amazon, but we’re still better than that multi-billion dollar widget brand because they’re still using virgin plastic and ours is post-consumer recycled. So fuck them! We rule! Comparing yourself to others is usually not great advice to give anyone with low self esteem, but in this context it’s an exercise in leveling the playing field. Tread lightly, but I can see where this helps in a pinch.
5. Fail On, You Crazy Failure
The root of Imposter Syndrome? The fear of failure. The fear of trying something and not succeeding. But you’ve read those fucking clickbait articles about the world’s richest people who failed a million times. (Here’s one.) We’ve all read the stories about Steve Jobs failing. Oprah failing. Elon Musk failing. All of your heros have tried and failed and picked themselves up, dusted off, and tried again – and succeeded. And you do it too, all the time. But it’s easy to focus on your failures when you aren’t seeing yourself through the hero lense we see others through. Failing is normal. Failing is fine. Failing is nothing to be scared of. When you let go of your fear of failure (and/or perfectionism, if like me, that’s your problem) it’s easier to accept your successes, and maybe even to celebrate them.
OK, But How?
I received some suggestions on ways to put these suggestions into everyday practise:
- Therapy/counseling – A lot of people with particularly crippling cases of Imposter Syndrome told me they sought professional counseling. Obviously this isn’t the right fit for everyone, but if it’s something you have the means to try, why not?
- Daily affirmations – Make a practice of repeating positive thoughts to yourself, either silently in your head, or say them right out loud. There are tons of apps and free resources online to guide you, there’s even a Twitter account.
- List making – This is my go-to. Most recently, I pulled myself out of a case of IS by quantifying my career accomplishments – “grew this brand’s social media following by X% in 12 months, increased conversions from social media on this webstore by X% in 6 months.” If you don’t love data, just straight up make a list of everything good you’ve done in the past 6 months, or everything you’re proud of, or the ways you’ve made things run smoother at work or home. It’s hard to look at a list of things you’ve done well and not feel good about yourself.
Meditation – Similar to affirmations, in some ways. Taking the time to quiet and focus your mind. Again, there are lots of free resources for this online, and in the app store, with lots of guided meditation videos available on YouTube.
- Say something – my last piece of advice is this – if you find yourself feeling this way more often than you can cope with, tell someone. Or even if it’s just something you feel once in a while – bring it up to your best friend, to a trusted loved one, or do what I did and just confess it on a social media platform where you feel safe. Chances are, you’ll find out that what you feels is normal, and often times whomever you’re speaking with will remind you of things you’re good at that you hadn’t even thought of.
I’d love to learn more about this – so if it’s something you deal with, or have managed to overcome, please tell me about it in the comments! I’m open to book suggestions, blog posts, etc!