Do you routinely undervalue your professional worth? Are you afraid to step up and take on new challenges or ask for a promotion or raise because you aren’t sure you’ve earned them? If so, you are definitely not alone.
“Imposter Syndrome” is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. It refers to high-achieving individuals who can’t internalize their accomplishments and persistently fear being exposed as a fraud. According to a recent study in the International Journal of Behavioral Science, up to 70 percent of people feel this way.
The funny thing about Imposter Syndrome is that sufferers are almost always able to meet the requirements of their job, so their fears are actually unwarranted. Nevertheless, overcoming these fears isn’t easy. Follow these steps to gain confidence that you are exactly where you are supposed to be.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. Set goals for what you want to do and focus on achieving those things.
- Do an honest evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses. While everyone focuses on fixing the weaknesses, also focus on building up and honing your strengths.
- Find people who believe in you both personally and professionally and reach out to them for support.
- When you receive a compliment, don’t negate it or deny it. Simply say, “thank you.”
- Focus on helping others instead of yourself. As C.S. Lewis said: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.”
- Talk with people you respect to see if they share similar concerns. Work together to overcome them. Remember, even brilliant and famous people occasionally admit to feeling like frauds. Try to laugh about it.
Nothing Cures Imposter Syndrome Like Hard Proof
An especially critical strategy for overcoming Imposter Syndrome is to track your accomplishments and communicate them to the people who matter. It is not attractive to brag, of course, but sharing your positive results with your boss and other senior executives will encourage them to support and reward you. When this happens, you will naturally feel like less of an imposter.
It helps to be as proactive as possible, so start a file today. If you get an email from a colleague or a client thanking you or complimenting something you’ve done, add it to the file. If you’ve been given specific goals or objectives, keep them handy and work the list—ensuring you are addressing everything on it. If you need help to accomplish a specific goal, ask. For example, if your boss said you need to hone your presentation skills but you haven’t had a chance to present anything, ask if there is an assignment that will afford you the opportunity. It’s fine to reference your objective and the desire to accomplish it.
A few notes of caution. Your file of accomplishments should be long and comprehensive, but beware of overkill when talking to your manager about them – even if you feel Imposter Syndrome getting the best of you. Choose examples from the file that demonstrate your mastery of a specific task or skill. These examples can also be used when meeting with other senior people in your company or a new manager who can benefit from learning what you have been working on.
Careful tracking and strategic communication will ensure that you have an excellent business case to ask for a promotion or raise, and will hopefully assuage your fears. But what if the worst happens? What if you swallow your apprehension, ask, and are denied anyway? How can you keep from undervaluing yourself then? First, make sure you understand the reasons for the decision. Are there softer skills you are missing, such as communicating tactfully or being assertive in meetings? Ask for specific examples of what you need that you are not currently demonstrating. If nothing is missing, inquire about what is holding you back. A lack of positions at the next level is sometimes a legitimate issue, so you may need to be patient.
Don’t Undervalue Your Offerings Either
A corollary to Imposter Syndrome is underestimating the value of your products or services. Here, you should remember that when you provide something that meets a need of your client or customer, you cannot be afraid to be compensated for it. Have pride in your offering, and know exactly how your client or customer’s life or business will improve as a result of having it. Be willing to walk away, but keep in mind that there are times you might want to be more flexible. For example, you might decrease your price in order to protect an important, long-term relationship. A negotiation that ends in a win/win will reduce your self-doubt and keep you from falling victim to Imposter Syndrome in the future.
Adapted with permission of the publisher, Motivational Press, Inc., from MOM.B.A. Essential Business Advice from One Generation to the Next by Karyn Schoenbart with Alexandra Levit. Copyright (c) 2017 by Karyn Schoenbart. All rights reserved. https://www.amazon.com/Mom-B-Essential-Business-Advice-Generation/dp/1628654597
About the author
KARYN SCHOENBART, author of MOM.B.A. is CEO of The NPD Group, a global provider of information and advisory services to many of the world’s leading brands. She has over 30 years of experience in the market research field, with expertise in identifying and developing new business opportunities and client partnerships.
Schoenbart was named one of the Top 25 Most Influential Women of the Mid-Market by the CEO Connection. She is also the recipient of the Long Island Brava Award, which recognizes high-impact female business leaders, and the Legacy Award from Women in Consumer Technology. Schoenbart is passionate about coaching others to greater levels of achievement. She is a resident of Long Island, NY. To learn more, visit: KarynSchoenbart.com.
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