Have you ever felt like you’re just an imposter at work? Like you didn’t actually do anything to deserve the position you hold, and you wonder why your boss keeps you around. It’s not like you actually know what you’re doing, right? There’s a name for this: imposter syndrome.
I had imposter syndrome big time at my first real job. I never really felt like I knew what I was doing or if I was doing it particularly well. In reality, I must have known that I wouldn’t have been hired if I didn’t actually know what I was doing, but that didn’t help.
Imposter syndrome is a form of self-invalidation.
- “There’s someone else who knows more about this than I do. I don’t deserve this position.”
- “I can’t believe I thought I could do this – I suck at this.”
- “Why did she even hire me? I don’t know how to do anything!”
- “I was just lucky – I doubt I could replicate that.”
Honestly, I think all of us have these thoughts at some point in our careers.
When we’re stepping into a new role, a new industry, it’s normal to ask questions, but we tell ourselves we should know it all already, and that we’ll look stupid or fake if we ask any questions.
Let me repeat that: it’s normal to ask questions.
Beating imposter syndrome isn’t about becoming the undisputed expert in your line of work.
It’s not about knowing the answer to every single question your boss throws at you.
And it’s not about ignoring the feeling that you’re in too deep.
Beating imposter syndrome is about having a mindset shift.
Your mindset is what’s making you think you’re not good enough to be where you are or doing what you’re being paid to do.
Your mindset is how you look at the world. When you struggle to do a task, you tell yourself it’s because you’re no good at it and never learned it.
Shift that thinking to “I can learn this” instead.
I think that pretty much everyone fakes it until they make it. When your boss started his job he was probably just as lost as you are, but he asked questions. He made it his business to become knowledgeable. He made it his job to learn about the position, the industry, his coworkers – until eventually, he hired you because he thought you can bring value to his company and team.
So how do you stop worrying about imposter syndrome?
It’s actually not that easy.
How we see ourselves and our own strengths is ingrained. We’re too close to ourselves to actually see how much work we’ve put into something, or to actually note what we’ve accomplished.
For me, it took constant praise for something I’m good at for me to even begin to think that I actually know what I’m doing.
For me, it took someone else (or several someone elses) to show me that I’m not a fraud.
It literally took multiple people – at least ten – all bumping into me or coming by my cubicle to say that they heard I’m the Smartsheet Girl and that they want me to help them learn it.
Because OF COURSE, I’m not a fraud. Even if it feels like it, I’m the one who put in the work. I’m the one who has the answers when someone asks me a question about it. And I’m comfortable enough to say “I don’t know” instead of making shit up just to appear knowledgeable.
The people who do this are amazing in their own right. They’re taking the time to tell me that they think I’m valuable. It costs them nothing, yet means everything to someone like me who struggled with imposter syndrome the entire time I was in my first job.
It might take someone else to help you stop worrying about imposter syndrome.
Like many things, it starts with recognizing when you’re feeling like you’re an imposter.
Being aware of your feelings. Of your thoughts.
Being able to suss out the circumstances under which you feel like you’re not good enough is the place to start.
Instead, figure out what activities make you feel like the time just flies by, and you can’t wait to do that thing again.
What’s going on in your head at those times?
Next, do you have someone you trust with whom you can share your feelings?
I don’t recommend you share these feelings with people at your workplace, because word can travel fast that you’re doubting your own abilities and that can trigger people questioning your employment status.
We don’t want that.
We want a friend, a family member, a therapist who can listen to your fears and worries about how you feel at work.
I had one.
My therapist felt like a godsend. He helped me work through what I felt about my job, among other things. Through all my tears he helped me figure out that leaving that job was not going to be the end of the world (even if it felt like it at the time). And, in fact, leaving that job was the best thing that happened to me.
There are still times I feel like an imposter at my current job, but they’re few and far between now. I’m extremely comfortable with telling the people I work with if I’m uncomfortable doing something, or if I think I’ll need help.
I’m getting better at not saying things like:
- “I can’t do that.”
- “I don’t do that.”
- “That’s out of my wheelhouse.”
I’m getting better at saying things like:
- “I think I could do that if I have a lot of help.”
- “I’d need to do some research. Let me get back to you.”
- “I don’t know, but I can find out.”
I’m changing how I speak, and subsequently feel more sure of my abilities.
And when people tell me I did a great job, I smile and say thanks.
How does Imposter Syndrome create chaos in your life?
This one should be obvious: you’re spending more time worrying about your hold on your job – and your sanity – than you are focusing on just getting work done. When you worry too much about what others are thinking and doubting your own ability, you lose precious brainpower, willpower, and drive to be excellent at what you do.
Let Me Know
Do you struggle with imposter syndrome? What’s your biggest worry about it?