4 ways to beat imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome can be a huge barrier to personal and professional growth. Here's 4 simple tactics to manage self-doubt in the workplace

Alex Koenig

by Alex Koenig

February 11, 2022

Winning Teams

Or at least pretend it doesn’t exist…

“For years I thought Nasa only hired me because they needed women,” Maureen Zappala, a former propulsion engineer who worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the 80s and 90s, told the BBC. “I worked long hours to try to prove myself. I was too afraid to ask for help because I thought if I’m really as smart as they think I am, […] I should be able to figure this out on my own”.

While growth marketing is about 238,900 miles away from rocket science, Zappala’s words hit close to home for me and no doubt many other young women who are in jobs where forging client relationships and building persuasive arguments are key to success.

Imposter syndrome – the inability to believe that one’s achievements are deserved or legitimately achieved – has purportedly affected 75% of female execs at some point in their career. It is not a uniquely female phenomenon, but has been shown to disproportionately affect women and ethnic minorities.

Imposter syndrome isn’t a wholly bad thing. It can be motivating. It can also remind us to support more vocally our underrepresented peers. But clearly it can be a huge barrier to personal and professional growth.

For the record: I have no idea how to overcome imposter syndrome. I struggle with it every day. But, from observing and speaking to some of the fabulous people I’ve been lucky enough to work with, I have picked up a few tactics to manage self-doubt. Here are my top four:

Make no excuses

It can be tempting to highlight the shortcomings of our work when sharing it with others. It’s tempting to include caveats like: “I didn’t have enough information”, or: “it’s not what I’d hoped”, to protect against any possible criticism. It’s easy to see why that’s both tempting to do and problematic. Stop it. Instead, when sharing your work, note up to three things that are good about it, such as: “I hit the brief, it’s detailed and thorough, and I love the creative concept that goes with it”. It sounds trivial. It isn’t.

Imposter syndrome isn’t a wholly bad thing. It can be motivating. It can also remind us to support more vocally our underrepresented peers. But clearly it can be a huge barrier to personal and professional growth.

Alex Koenig

Say anything

It can take a long time to feel capable of taking a client call by yourself or confident enough to voice an opinion in a group meeting. The key is to leave the conversation having said something – even if it’s as inconsequential as small talk at the start of the call or just chiming in to say you agree with a talking point. Get used to using your voice and being heard. It’ll be less of a shock to you and your audience when you’re called upon to present something solo. And that time will come.

Be an in-house influencer

It matters what your colleagues think of your work and your ability. It matters that they know when you’ve done a good job and impressed a client. Having said that, few people like to shout about themselves and their achievements because it feels gross. But it doesn’t need to be gushing and self-congratulatory, or even overt. Take part in company chats and share your thoughts on work- and non-work-related matters – links to interesting articles, YouTube videos, creative inspiration, a presentation you did that you want feedback on. It all counts towards getting your name out there and known.

Sorry, not sorry

Stop apologising. Not only can you come across as timid and lacking in confidence, but chances are you don’t mean it or don’t even know you’re saying it. Forbes published a useful list of 11 scenarios where “sorry” is inappropriate – e.g. when it doesn’t fix the problem – and what to say instead. An oft-cited 2013 study found refusing to apologise can have psychological benefits including greater self-esteem and increased feelings of control and integrity.

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