You’re at a conference for your industry, sitting among your peers. People are laughing and talking business with each other. “Why am I even here? I don’t know half the stuff these people do.”
You think about applying to be a speaker for a conference. “This is a terrible idea. People will realize just how much I don’t know about my topic.”
You’re on an online industry forum of some sort, and someone asks for help. “Do I answer? I should just let someone way more knowledgeable than I step up.”
While checking the job sites, you read through lists of job requirements. “I’m not an expert in any of these. There’s no way I could apply for this job.” (By the way, men tend to apply even if they only meet 60% of the requirements. Women will tend to only apply if they meet 100% of the requirements.)
Where does this insecurity come from? Katherine Hawley, Ph.D., in Psychology Today writes, “People who suffer from Imposter Syndrome struggle to recognise their own achievements, and when they do acknowledge some success, they typically put this down to either luck or sheer effort, assuming that others succeed through genuine talent.”
What is making you feel like an imposter?
It’s easy to see people around you and think they have it all together. They are so much more educated than you are. They’ve achieved so many more things. They have so many more friends. Surely, they couldn’t feel insecure with all that!
Maya Angelou said, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'”
Forbes writer Jenna Goudreau wrote in “When Women Who Feel Like Fraud, They Fuel Their Own Failures,” “Tina Fey once confessed that she sometimes screams inside her head, ‘I’m a fraud! They’re on to me!’ Sheryl Sandberg attended a Harvard University speech called ‘Feeling Like a Fraud’ and decided they were speaking directly to her—she’d fooled them all. Sonia Sotomayor was ‘too embarrassed’ to ask questions while at Princeton University, and said, ‘I am always looking over my shoulder wondering if I measure up.'”
It’s not just women. Researchers have found men struggle with feeling like an impostor as often as women do. They just don’t talk about it as much. When doing anonymous surveys, though, they ‘fess up to feeling like a fraud just as much as women do. There is a social cost to men for confessing they feel weak, and there’s a social cost to women who let how they feel stop them from achieving more.
What is the language you use with yourself?
Are you harder on yourself than you would be with others? Do you beat yourself up when you would give someone else a lot of understanding and grace? Do you call yourself names that you would never use with someone you care about? How can we feel good about ourselves when we call ourselves “idiot”?
Allow yourself to be imperfect and wrong. Use being wrong as an opportunity to learn something you don’t already know. Being wrong doesn’t make you a fake. It makes you human.
In 21 Ways to Overcome Imposter Syndrome, Kyle Eschenroeder writes, “The world we live in is the result of a lot of brave people tinkering, failing, and succeeding once in a while. Nobody knows what’s next: some are willing to play ball in the face of uncertainty and some aren’t. You’re not an impostor for trying something that might not work. You’re a hero.”
You are always changing. You are not an expert in everything yet, but all of your life and learning experiences have gifted you with something to contribute to others. Stop comparing yourself, and be the best YOU you can be.
John Boitnott, in “How to Once and for All Rid yourself of Career-Impostor Syndrome at Work,” says, “Even the smartest and most successful people face criticism and make mistakes. The difference between those who feel like imposters and others, is that those with lower self-esteem tend to hold on to these negative feelings.”
In other words, knock it off, and be kind to yourself!
Do something! Jump in! Learn from your experience. Do something again. Learn again. Become better with every effort.
Identify what’s making you feel insecure.
Do you not know enough about something? Can you define what “enough” is? Odds are, you can’t. In our quickly changing world, there’s no such thing. Think on that for a second. There is never “enough.” There is “doing the best you can with what you have at the time.”
What if you took one thing, tore off a chunk of it, and spent time learning it? You could take a class. You could attend some seminars or conferences. Take notes. Take pictures of presentations. If possible, record presentations.
In the WordPress community I’m a part of, there are WordCamps going on all over the world on probably any given weekend. WordCamps are two-day conferences on programming, business, security, etc. that apply to our work. The sessions are usually recorded and placed on wordpresstv.com. If you couldn’t attend a camp, you could watch the sessions later. All the learning!
There’s also no shame in doing a refresher on something you’ve been doing for a while. I’ve recently forgotten some things about a programming language I already know. I’m quickly running through a tutorial book I have on the language to get back up to speed.
In other words, be proactive. If you stay on a path of learning, you’ll always know more about something than you did even the day before.
Ask for feedback
Do you have some trusted friends or mentors who you can ask for honest feedback? Honest can be painful. It can confirm all the ways you feel like a fraud. But it can also point you to areas of possible improvement. You will come away with a laundry list of things you can work on. I always like to say, “I’m never bored.”
That said, don’t take the feedback to heart too deeply, because it’s just an opinion. The person might have a valid point. Maybe they don’t have all the facts. Take the feedback and stew on it. Even if it’s not entirely accurate, you may be able to take away some truths.
Save the nice things people say about you, and come back to them
Put them in a folder on your computer. Save it to Evernote. Embroider it and stick it on your wall. Tattoo it on your arm. Whatever works. Because when you are wallowing in self-flagellation, reading these might make you see that things — that you — are not as bad as you think. I’m always shocked when someone says something nice to me [insert telenovela life story]. It’s nice to remember good stuff. Who doesn’t want to be reminded that they don’t suck?
Most of us are not really trained to save good things about ourselves, except for medals, certificates, and trophies, but you should try to make a habit of it. A nice comment in a thread? Screenshot. Stick it in a happy folder on your computer or something. A letter? In a “feel good” box.
And then — this is going to sound dorky — look in the mirror and say some nice things about yourself. Every day.
Celebrate your achievements
Not every achievement entails a gold trophy, a red carpet, and a speech in front of millions of fans. It could be as simple as getting a new client, getting an article accepted to a magazine, or figuring out a programming problem that has had you stumped for days. Start a gratitude journal. Mention your successes.
You don’t have to know everything about everything to help someone. You just need to know what they don’t know. It’s going to make that person feel better to know something new, and it’s going to make you feel better about yourself.
The WordPress community has a saying: Learn, then teach. Surely there is something you’ve learned and can teach someone else. Look for opportunities to give back.
You are not alone
You can’t look at someone and know their whole life story. They may not be as self-assured as you think they are. They may be looking at you and thinking you have it all together. It could happen. No one is perfect. Everyone is insecure about something. They just might not admit it.
I like to read biographies of people and, as motivational speaker Tony Robbins says, model myself after their great choices and behaviors. But I think there’s another take-away. If you are paying attention, the biographies will also indicate where people have struggled and even failed. And they got back up again. Isn’t that inspiring? Here they had a bio written about them, and they failed in the past? The ones still living are probably failing at something now.
Don’t let your insecurities stop you. Push through. Your honesty about your insecurities might make someone else feel a lot better about their lives.