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Navigating Imposter Syndrome

Suffering through it isn't our only option.

by Katherine Hosie |
imposter syndrome

If you’ve ever found yourself feeling like you’re not good enough, experienced enough or knowledgeable enough to be where you are in your career, you’re not alone. Many people experience this feeling we’ve come to know as “Imposter Syndrome.” But suffering through it isn’t our only option.

To address Imposter Syndrome, I recommend starting from a place of self-compassion and acceptance. This will enable to you to work towards shifting into growth. Accepting how you feel now—like an imposter—and achieving growth are not mutually exclusive. Don’t trick yourself into believing that the only way to grow is by judging yourself. In fact, self-judgment actually blocks you from experiencing sustained healthy growth. Here are my tips for navigating Imposter Syndrome:

1. See it as a sign of success. Imposter Syndrome is normal and is generally a sign that you’re enjoying some degree of success in your life. So take a moment to pat yourself on the back for being in a role that’s challenging enough to warrant having Imposter Syndrome about in the first place!

2. Look for signs of burnout. To what degree is this feeling of being an imposter valid, and to what degree is it “just the burnout talking”? Career burnout is very common and can be primarily traced back to three causes: 1) over-caring, 2) lack of appreciation, and/or 3) not working to your strengths or appropriate ability. Burnout directly impacts our self-confidence, and our self-talk invariably suffers, where we start to believe we’re not actually that good at what we’re doing, which feeds back into the burnout… Not a fun loop to find yourself in.

3. Look for the truth in it. Sometimes people experience Imposter Syndrome because it’s true. You may be in a new role or a new industry. Your role may be growing faster than you are. Allow yourself to explore, to the degree that it’s possible without judgment, what you’re experiencing so you can clearly identify where and why you’re feeling “not enough.”

For example, where may you be procrastinating, making excuses, blaming others, not addressing root cause issues, ignoring structural problems, not developing yourself but instead just coasting, not delivering but instead going through the motions? Look for where you’re out of integrity with yourself and what you know you need to be doing. And I can’t encourage this enough: Do this without judgment, but instead with curiosity and self-compassion.

4. Sometimes the job is just hard. And that’s okay. You don’t need to be perfect. If you are in a highly complex role, I recommend these four things (from Professor Michael Cavanagh’s Four Factor Model): 1) Develop your Perspective-Taking Capacity by stepping back and consistently looking at the big picture; 2) Prioritize your Mindfulness practices, whatever they may be, and turn them into a habit, ideally linking them to something you already do regularly; 3) Ensure you have, or create, a clear shared Purpose with your team so you can hold to your north star when other things are unclear; and 4) Prioritize Dialogue, talking and listening often and broadly, including people you wouldn’t normally tap into, as this will give you more context and help with meaning making.

5. Shift from performance or outcome goals to a learning goal. Performance and outcome goals are useful when you’re in familiar territory, but when things are new and/or complex it’s far more useful to put your attention on how and what you can learn, commit to a plan, and measure your progress around that. You’ll feel a sense of control as you track your learning, and soon your feelings of imposter syndrome will be replaced with a genuine sense of confidence, as you’ve done the work and you know it. PM

Katherine Hosie, M.Sc. is a leadership coach with Powerhouse Coaching. For more information, visit Powerhouse-Coaching.com.

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