Imposter Syndrome (IS) is the unwarranted feeling of inadequacy that can persist regardless of how successful you are in the eyes of the world. You may be familiar with the feeling when you start a new job – you’re learning the ropes; you might expect to feel out of place – but IS can manifest itself no matter how far up the ladder you climb. Often it is simply the natural anxiety that comes from a new situation.
Where does imposter syndrome come from and how can you combat it?
Imposter syndrome vs. self-acceptance: 3 tips
Grappling with feelings of IS often comes from actually being an imposter – not in the sense that you cheated or lied to get to where you are, but that you’re trying to play at something that’s not aligned with your authentic self. Imposter Syndrome manifests when you’ve ignored the call of an identity buried under fears and expectations. The most effective remedy for Imposter Syndrome is simple: self-knowledge and self-acceptance.
1. Know your 'yes'
Imposter syndrome often results from playing in a space where we aren’t designed to play, focusing on comparisons in the outer world instead of being deeply grounded in our own truths.
For example, many people go into IT because they’re autodidacts and love the technical side of technology. Many don’t ever consider pursuing how they can niche down their specific skill sets into a specialty that works best for them.
Think about what lights you up – not just today, but throughout your life. You should feel a "yes" in your body: something uplifting and expansive. If that description resonates, consider how that might align with the next step in your career.
[ Improve your communication and other soft skills: How to build soft skills: 10 must-read books. ]
It’s easy to let learned skills or others’ expectations get in the way of what we were born to do. Many people who enter the workforce at an early age or go to university without clearly defined passions can get sucked into being good at something that doesn’t move them.
So look outside of your comfort zone – just because you’re good at web development doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider software engineering if you feel more aligned with it. People niche down for a reason! The experience of being skilled may be its own reward, but it can stifle the truest elements of your identity.
Know your "yes" – what drives you deep down – and you’ll never end up lying to yourself (and others) about who you really are.
2. Love your limits
Imposter Syndrome can surface when you feel (unnecessarily) ashamed to admit your own natural limitations. There is a broad cultural message that “you can be anything you want to be” – but it’s never true. We have limitations and they define our boundaries. There are things we’ll never be good at, and there are ways in which we’re different from other people. Stop judging and start embracing.
If you intentionally design your life and your work around your strengths and limitations, the natural anxiety that emerges from new situations or stepping outside your natural strengths cannot possibly be called Imposter Syndrome. Only when you stop trying to be everything to everyone can you honor your own needs and work-life balance. Design your life not in spite of, but in honor of, your limitations.
A large part of this is learning to say no to things that are outside of your “zone of genius.” Don’t avoid moving outside your comfort zone from time to time – that’s how we learn and grow – but avoid false opportunities and positions that seem beneficial but don’t align with who you are. Learning to say no creates space to say yes to opportunities where you truly belong.
3. Remove the mask
Once you’ve embraced your limitations as necessary boundaries, it’s time to remove your mask. Masks are common in our jobs and personal lives, but over time they can become uncomfortable. When you allow your natural personality to emerge, you bring more play, light-heartedness, and deliberate care to your work. This is especially important in remote and blended workplaces and task-driven jobs where you communicate only when necessary. It liberates you and everyone around you to do the same.
Imposter Syndrome comes from trying to be something you’re not. If you can’t remove the mask in your current work environment, perhaps it’s time to find or create an environment that’s more aligned with you.
Imposter Syndrome makes you feel inadequate, underqualified, and unworthy. The only way to truly combat it is to understand who you really are and intentionally design a life that supports that person. This means learning about what aspects of IT make you excited and doubling down on that feeling. If you’re lying to yourself out of fear or shame, you’re lying to everybody else. When you embrace your true calling, you’ll never be an imposter.
[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]
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