We all know that to grow and develop in our jobs and our lives, we need to reach outside our comfort zones. But one of the greatest challenges to doing so is what psychologists refer to as the imposter syndrome – the feeling that you’re a wannabe – or a poser – or just don’t belong.
I personally have struggled with the imposter syndrome in my own work – as a first time professor wondering how I could possibly stand up there in front of a classroom and have people listen to me… or as a speaker wondering if I’m qualified to speak to such a high profile crowd. The imposter syndrome is ubiquitous — and that even if people don’t outwardly admit to it, it’s a private struggle many of us feel stepping into a new task or role. So, the question is what we can do to manage it?
1. Embrace your beginner status
One tip I’ve found useful is to remember that as a newcomer or beginner, you actually have more to offer than you probably think. As a beginner you might not be steeped in the conventional wisdom of a given field, but typically the most meaningful advances in a field don’t actually come from people steeped in conventional wisdom. They come from people with very different perspectives – like beginners – who can question basic assumptions, take a different perspective on a problem, and offer a solution that disrupts the conventional wisdom. So, instead of worrying about your beginner status, try to embrace it and see it as the asset that it is.
2. Remember that this is old hat
It’s also quite useful to remember that you’ve been a beginner many times in your life. You gave your first presentation; you spoke up at a meeting for the first time. You have likely asked someone out on a date for the first time – which is no easy feat. The point is that you’ve been a beginning before- many times in fact. And at this point, you probably no longer feel like an imposter in many of these situations.
3. You’re definitely not alone
Finally, the third tip is to remember you’re not alone. So many people feel like imposters – even famous CEO’s. Here, for example, is what Howard Schultz, the chair, president, and CEO of Starbucks said about the experience of becoming a CEO: “Very few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO. They’re not going to tell you that, but it’s true.” Or as another famous victim of the imposter syndrome – comedian Tina Fey once quipped: “I’ve realized that almost everyone is a fraud, so I try not to feel too bad about it.”
The imposter syndrome is real, but it doesn’t have to paralyze you. Keep these tips in mind, along with what Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”
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