3 Steps to Beat Imposter Syndrome
When I decided to start my website in 2015, I dragged my feet for a while between having the idea and acting on it. I couldn’t shake the worry that I was being somehow silly, or self-absorbed. “There are a million blogs out there,” I thought. “Why should I start another one?”
Eventually, I recognized that worry for what it was: impostor syndrome.
There are lots of ways our feelings of inadequacy can surface. We might say to ourselves, “I’m not the right person for this” or “I just know I’m going to get called out.” Or, if you’re like me, you might look at what you’re creating, and ask: “Does the world really need this?”
Those feelings are especially common when we start something new, share our ideas, or become new leaders. According to a paper published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science, more than 70% of people in the United States have felt like a fake at least once.
But impostor syndrome is rarely a sign that you’re going down the wrong path. Most of the time, it’s simply a defense mechanism against failure and disappointment. When we try to talk ourselves out of pursuing our goals, when we try to convince ourselves that our work isn’t important, we’re avoiding whatever it is we need to do. We don’t want to falter, so we never start. And when we never start, we never succeed.
To overcome imposter syndrome, you need to think about your work in a different way. Here’s the three-step process that’s served me well over the years. It’s what got me through my hesitation in launching my website, and it’s what I use today when I feel that sense of inadequacy starting to rear its head.
- Acknowledge the feeling. It’s completely normal to feel like you’re not the right person for the job, project, or relationship. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone has that feeling, even those at the top of their field. The great writer Maya Angelou once said, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.’”
- Examine your motives. Are you working for attention, or to make a genuine impact? Focus on the latter. Every time I write an article, record a podcast, or create a video, I think: “This is just stroking my ego.” But then that thought is countered by another one: “Well, there might be one person who finds this useful.” I make that the reason why I keep at it.
- See yourself as a student. This is the most important step. When you’re creating or leading, acknowledge that you don’t know everything and that you’re here to learn. If you take on this mindset, imposter syndrome can’t survive in your head, because it has nothing to grab onto. You’re not trying to fake a persona or maintain a certain image — instead, you’re motivated by curiosity.
Treat your work as one big experiment; an opportunity to learn. Because in the end, that’s exactly what it is.