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Imposter Syndrome

Posted by Matt Nagler, Managing Partner  

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“Oh no, is now when people are going to find me out?”


You’re not the only one who wonders. The feeling that you’re going to be ‘found out’, that someday people will realize you’re a fraud, that you’re not as smart or deserving as people might think you are, is a common one – especially among overachievers. Common enough to have been named by psychologists: Imposter Syndrome. Maya Angelou once said, “I have written eleven 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.’ ” That was after she’d won a Nobel Prize.  Albert Einstein, towards the end of his life said, "the exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler."


So what are some ways you can tame these feelings of insecurity when they come up – especially when they’re hindering you on the way to your goals.


If you’re working on something new, something you haven’t done before or have little experience with, focus on your value instead of perfection. Perfection is never a good goal, but it has the power to paralyze us when we’re feeling especially uncertain. Recognizing that you are adding something of value to your organization is what work is all about. It’s not about never making a mistake or having to prove that you’re better than the people around you. So when you’re feeling overwhelmed by taking on a new project, take a moment to stop and recognize the value you bring to your team and what your good, hard work is bringing to the organization.


When you’re talking about your work, speak of your successes without filtering them through a lens of negativity. This doesn’t mean you have to brag about your greatness or take credit for things that others contributed. But taking ownership of what you did without crediting luck or some outside force that makes it seem accidental is a skill to practice. Give credit where credit is due. Sure. But how often do you do that when speaking of yourself? They way you speak doesn’t only influence how other people see you, but how you see yourself.  


Be brave. Imposter Syndrome can drive us to keep doing the things we know we’re good at instead of taking risks. Playing it safe means we’re less likely to be exposed. But here’s the thing. You’re not an imposter and playing it safe means you’re less likely to grow and thrive. When presented with a challenging opportunity that you want to pursue, say yes - even in the face of discomfort.


Once you’ve taken that risk, do your best instead of trying to be the best. When you compare yourself to other people, all you’re doing is harm – to you and to them. Each of us struggles in ways that other people don’t see. You can’t judging others’ outsides and comparing that to your inside feelings. Not only is the comparison false, but it reduces other people to less that they are and narrows your own view of your self.


Being vulnerable does open you to risk – not of being found out, but of growing. And the more you grow, the more you’ll realize that the imposter isn’t you, it’s fear.