Truth Is, Nobody Knows What They’re Doing (5 Ways to Combat Impostor Syndrome)

By La’Fanique Reed

“The truth is that nobody knows what they’re doing, but those who figure it out are those who come out on top.” These words from a diversity panelist ring in my head daily as I’m faced with new challenges. If we’re being honest, my anxiety shoots through the roof with each email request from my boss. I find myself thinking, “here we are: today is the day that I will be exposed as a fraud.” Somehow, after sulking in my feelings of inadequacy, I always figure it out.

Impostor syndrome is the feeling of inadequacy that leads you to believe that you don’t deserve your job, status, or accomplishments, despite having the experience and achievements proving otherwise. While the majority of the U.S. population has experienced impostor syndrome, diverse groups are especially susceptible to it. Impostor Syndrome usually begins shortly after an accomplishment. For me, impostor syndrome began shortly after I was hired for my new job, which gave me a nearly $20,000 raise. I would often find myself telling family and friends, “I don’t know how I got it, but I’m glad I did.” My feelings would only grow, as each new task grew to be more challenging than the last. “Why do they trust me with this work? Who do they think I am?” I constantly found myself questioning my manager’s delegation and my own abilities. It was until I finally realized that my workload grew because I was more than qualified and capable to complete it, that I silenced the negative voices in my head.

Impostor syndrome alone can prevent women and men of color from seeking leadership positions and higher paying opportunities. I’ve had a friend tell me that he didn’t want to apply to a higher paying job because he felt that he did not yet know enough for the position. Succumbing to impostor syndrome can negatively affect your attitude, motivation, and in turn, your productivity. In worst cases, employees have resigned from their positions and completely abandoned their dreams. These feelings are natural, but those who learn to silence their inner bully, as I like to call it, will be most successful. Here are five easy ways I found to combat impostor syndrome & fully embrace my career purpose.

  1.  Immediately acknowledge and address thoughts of inadequacy.
    As soon as you begin to think negative thoughts, pause and acknowledge the thought, then counter yourself with a positive thought. For example, when I would say “I don’t know how I got this job,” I learned to refute that statement with “I prepared my whole life for this job, I put in hours to perfect my resume and nail this interview, I belong here.”
  2. Admit that you don’t what you’re doing and figure out how to do it.
    In my first job out of college, I wasted so much time fearing that I would be exposed and devalued, and subsequently spinning my wheels to figure out tasks they didn’t expect me to know how to do. The truth is that they expected me to ask questions! As soon as you’re given an assignment, ask questions to make sure you understand what it is that you’re being asked to do. If you get stuck, say so to your manager, and ask more questions. It took me nearly a year to figure out that I can deliver exactly what they want with little to know edits if I ask questions along the way.
  3. Seek feedback often!
    It is harder to feel like a fraud if your manager is telling you otherwise. Schedule quarterly sessions with your manager to simply ask “how am I doing” or “is there anything else I could be doing to meet or exceed your expectations”.
  4. Engage with colleagues daily.
    Your feelings of being unworthy and not belonging are more likely to increase when you feel out of place at work. Talking with colleagues about your work can help you learn and can also help to reinforce what you already know. Your coworkers are your teammates, and your wins are also wins for your team.
  5. Document your accomplishments.
    It is so easy to forget what you’re capable of when it goes undocumented. To silence the voices of inadequacy in my head, I created a Positive Notes & Accomplishments folder in my Outlook. Whenever I deliver a project I am especially proud of, or if I receive reassuring feedback, I move the message to my accomplishment folder. When I am feeling doubtful, I go to this folder to remind me of all that I’ve accomplished. This is also a helpful tip for documenting your accomplishments in one place, so that you can refer to it during annual review time.

If impostor syndrome becomes too overwhelming for you, it may be best to seek professional help from a licensed counselor or therapist.

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