I was forever behind schedule in class when I first started teaching nearly two decades ago. The biggest problem was not, as it was later in my career, my desire to tell stories to explain concepts. My issue at the beginning of my teaching career was that I prepared about twice as much material as I needed for any class session.
I over prepared because I thought having excess information would make me look smart. I thought bulk would somehow cover up the fact that I was a young, insecure professor who feared a student asking a question that I couldn’t answer.
It was years after I first began teaching that I learned about imposter syndrome. I’m pretty sure it was in Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, that I first heard the term, which is used to describe the fear that you’ll be discovered as a professional fraud.
I certainly wasn’t alone. It’s been estimated that at least 70% of people suffer from imposter syndrome. Women are more likely than men to experience imposter syndrome, although it’s certainly not a gender specific feeling.
Imposter syndrome has damaging effects. It can keep you from progressing in your career, accomplishing your goals or seeking out new opportunities because you think you aren’t good enough.
Imposter syndrome and perfectionism typically occur simultaneously. We think that, if we do everything perfectly, no one will ever find us out. Because of this unhealthy loop of thinking, we stop ourselves from trying or doing anything we don’t think we can get right the first time.
But dismantling perfectionism is possible and you don’t have to lower your standards to do it. You can still want to get everything right while understanding that you will make mistakes, and neither of these things means you are a fraud.
Here are nine ways to fight imposter syndrome and it’s buddy, perfectionism:
1. Show yourself grace
No one is perfect at anything in the beginning. Give yourself time to become a master. Don’t measure your early efforts against someone’s work who has been doing it for years. I often tell my students that their worst efforts are better than some people’s best efforts. Remember that progress is more important than perfection. No matter how poorly you do something, you still did it better than the person who was too afraid to try.
2. Embrace a growth mindset
People with a fixed mindset think that talent without effort creates success, according to Forleo. They think you’re either born with an ability or you’re not, she wrote.
People with fixed mindsets avoid challenges, resist criticism and perform for approval, Forleo said.
People with a growth mindset think abilities can be improved through effort, perseverance and experience. People with this mindset:
- crave challenges,
- welcome constructive criticism,
- view setbacks as learning opportunities,
- develop a passion for hard work,
- are hungry for growth, and
- think that getting better is a process that requires a good attitude.
The great news, according to Forleo, is that you can choose to have a growth mindset.
3. Talk about your achievements
Imposter syndrome at work stems from a belief that you haven’t achieved anything because you aren’t good at your job.
Give yourself credit for your achievements. I notice that this is difficult for students to do because they undervalue their work/knowledge or they don’t want to seem like they’re bragging. I always say, “If you don’t tell them what you’ve done, no one else will do it for you.”
Don’t be afraid to discuss your achievements in appropriate environments (like job interviews or meetings for promotions). It’s not bragging when it’s true.
4. Take little steps
Don’t try to do everything at once to accomplish a goal. Instead, break the goal into smaller tasks and focus on doing something, no matter how small, every day to move you toward your goal.
5. Expect self doubt
When you begin moving toward your goal, you will experience self doubt. This, according to Forleo, is “a hallmark of progress, not a signal to stop.” When you experience self doubt, recognize it for what it is, regroup and move forward.
6. Recognize your innate qualities
People suffering from imposter syndrome are reluctant to credit themselves with their own success, instead often saying they “got lucky.” You did not get lucky. You had knowledge and abilities that you used to work hard to accomplish your goal. You should frame it exactly like that.
7. Stop internalizing failure
When we suffer from imposter syndrome, we tend to think we’re failures instead of we made a mistake. People make mistakes. Remember that these are happenings, not character traits.
8. Share your insecurities
If you know that you suffer from imposter syndrome, tell someone. Once you say the words out loud, you give them less power. It’s also important to recognize that you aren’t alone. What sounds so silly coming from your amazing coworker are the same things you’re saying about yourself. They’re no more true about you than your coworker.
9. Be patient
Accomplishing goals takes time, sometimes much longer than expected. Don’t give up on your dream just because it takes longer than you expected. Keep going until you’re done. Then start on your next goal.
Overcoming imposter syndrome and embracing a growth mindset is likely to take some time, but recognizing this self talk is the first step to eliminating it. The next time you find yourself thinking you aren’t good enough, flip the script and tell yourself all of the reasons you are.