Overcoming my inner critic: My journey with imposter syndrome

I do not feel knowledgeable enough to do my job, like I’m not moving fast enough. I think I might be overanalyzing everything.

– Roberta Dombrowski, 5/13/18

Chances are if you did a simple search for imposter syndrome, the computer would spit out something similar to the statement above. Reality is, I wrote this in my personal journal over 15 days ago. If you ran into me in the office or on the street, you probably wouldn’t have any idea I was battling this inner critic every second of every day.

 

What is Imposter Syndrome?

First described by Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970s, Imposter Syndrome is a phenomenon that occurs in high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their successes. Often times it might mean attributing your accomplishments to luck rather than ability. This might mean living in perpetual fear that others will unmask your abilities, or you’ll be “found out”.

Common signs of imposter syndrome can include perfectionism, overworking, undermining your own achievement, fear of failure, or even discounting praise. For some, it may also be accompanied by depression or anxiety. Lucky me!

 

My Story

Above all, I’m someone who tries to push herself to be the best possible version of herself. I’ve always juggled multiple hats. Whether it meant simultaneously juggling 4 part-time jobs and taking 20+ credits each semester during undergrad or currently working full time and completing my masters part-time. I am not satisfied with good enough or average. I want to know that I’m giving 110% to whatever it is I’m doing.

If I’m being honest, I have to admit I’ve always juggled this determination with feelings of self-doubt or lack of confidence in my own abilities. I’ve always felt out of place or that I’ve had to try harder than others. I’ve never seen my accomplishments as something to be proud of. But every once in a while when I’m not judging myself, I’m able to take a step back and appreciate the journey that I’m on.

My most recent experience with imposter syndrome was triggered by my promotion to Learning Experience Designer roughly 8 months ago. This transition meant moving from the learning team to the UX team within my organization. The change marked a huge shift in my way of thinking. It also impacted who I interact with on a daily basis and what I’m responsible for.  I’ve had to jump head first into creating UX designs for our software platform with little knowledge of what makes a good user experience. For months, I’ve felt like a fraud, like I didn’t know enough to do my job well, or how I even got to where I am.

It wasn’t until most recently that I’ve started talking about my struggles with others. In all of my discussions and research, I’ve found out that I’m not the only one who deals with these feelings of being an imposter on a daily basis.

 

Tips for overcoming imposter syndrome

If you’re struggling with imposter syndrome, the good news is that there are strategies to help identify, combat, and manage it. Below are some helpful tips that I’ve discovered throughout my journey with imposter syndrome.

 

Identify the cause

Whats shaking your confidence? Is it your new job? Is it that interview or job search you’re going through? That big presentation you have coming up?

In my case, the answer was pretty obvious – I felt like I didn’t have enough knowledge to do my job correctly. Think long and hard about what your cause might be. It’s most likely the skills you’re selling yourself short on when talking to others.

 

Talk to someone

Now that you have a better idea of what’s causing the feelings, take a deep breath and talk to someone about it. There’s nothing like getting an outside perspective to gain a better understanding of how you really are doing. This person will be able to help identify what fears are irrational and remind you of your strengths and areas for improvement.

I’m very blessed in the fact that I’m surrounded by loving and supportive people inside and outside of work. One of the most enlightening discussions I had over the past few weeks was with my manager. He was able to show me some things I wasn’t able to see through the fog.

 

Stop trying to achieve perfection

Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham describe the quest for perfection superbly in their book, The Spirituality of Imperfection:

“For to be human is to be incomplete, yet yearn for completion; it is to be uncertain, yet long for certainty; to be imperfect, yet long for perfection; to be broken, yet crave wholeness. All these yearnings remain necessarily unsatisfied, for perfection, completion, certainty, and wholeness are impossible precisely because we are imperfectly human – or better, because we are perfectly human, which is to say humanly imperfect.”

One of the few things that are truly guaranteed in life is the fact that humans are imperfect. Rather than struggling to achieve perfection, focus on the value you bring to the table. As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, this is probably the most difficult. I frequently have to remind myself on a daily basis that perfection is the enemy of experience and I’m doing the best that I can.

 

Own your story and stop comparisons

Too often we fall into the trap of comparing our weaknesses with the strengths of others. We tell ourselves “If I could just be as good at presentations as Jennifer” or “Why can’t I be as creative as James?”. These comparisons are subjective, biased, and unhelpful.

Shift your perspective to think about what your unique qualities are. What are you good at that others are not? After opening up to a good friend about my struggles with not feeling like I knew enough, he suggested that I try using one of my most powerful traits, intuition. It was a watershed moment for me. For someone who trusts their gut above anything else, why was I overanalyzing everything and hell-bent on researching new theories?  I was afraid of failing and thought that learning more or knowing more could help. It wasn’t until I started to own my own story and trust my own abilities that I started to feel more confident in myself and what I already brought to the table.

 

A new beginning

It takes courage to admit you’re feeling a certain way and decide to open yourself up to make a change. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy but I promise it’ll be worth it. It wasn’t until I decided to own my story that I’ve become more confident in my path and where I’m headed. So what’re you waiting for? You’ve got this!

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