4 Tips to Combat Imposter Syndrome

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To look at Suzanne, one would think she had everything. She was attractive, self-assured, and handled her responsibilities with aplomb. Yet in our coaching session Suzanne confessed that, even though she was a highly respected leader who had the C-suite’s ear, she felt like an imposter and worried that she would be exposed as a fraud.

Suzanne is not alone. Many women feel like this.

If you don’t feel like you deserve your success, read on.

Even Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has said, “There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud.” It is estimated that 70 percent of people (not just women) feel this way, according to a study in the International Journal of Behavioral Science.

Impostor syndrome–the idea that you’ve only succeeded due to luck, and not because of your talent or qualifications–was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes,” writes Abigail Abrams. The psychologists initially believed that impostor syndrome was experienced only by professional women, but this has been proven untrue.

Clance published a paper in 1993 acknowledging that impostor syndrome was not limited to women, according to Abrams, and later developed an online test for impostor syndrome. And some psychologists now believe that impostor syndrome is not a distinct, permanent condition, but a complicated state people experience when they are feeling stretched.

Who suffers from this condition?

Imposter syndrome doesn’t discriminate, and can happen regardless of the level of success a person has achieved in their field,” writes Danielle Page, for NBCnews.com. According to Page, certain factors can increase your chances of experiencing impostor syndrome. Your gender is one of them. Women are socialized as little girls to be more risk-averse than little boys, and this socialization can show up in later years in work-related situations.

Then there are the perfectionists. Perfectionists live with the fervent desire for success, but they focus on avoiding failure, which often leads to procrastination and self-sabotage. “Perfectionism and impostor syndrome often go hand-in-hand,” writes Melody Wilding. “Think about it: Perfectionists set excessively high goals for themselves, and when they fail to reach a goal, they experience major self-doubt and worry about measuring up.”

How imposter syndrome could be hurting your career

Your struggles with impostor syndrome could be causing problems for you at work. Think about it. Are you sabotaging your best efforts? Are you overcompensating and working yourself to the bone? Do you hang back from the spotlight? Or do you set yourself up to fail by finishing a project late–or not finishing it at all? Each of these behaviors only serves to underscore your sense of not being good enough or knowing enough. And can lead to trouble with your team and potentially damage the trajectory of your career.

“Imposter phenomenon can also correlate to worse outcomes at work–perhaps due to these unhealthy working habits,” writes Belle Cooper. “A study of over 200 professionals at the University of Salzburg found those experiencing imposter phenomenon tended to be paid less, were less likely to be promoted, and felt less committed and satisfied at work.”

Imposter syndrome can turn into a cycle of self-doubt, self-monitoring, fear, and self-criticism, which can, in turn, cause you to overwork and suffer burn out or miss opportunities because you assume you aren’t good enough.

How to turn it around

If any of this sounds familiar, and you think you may be dealing with impostor syndrome, try this: Think of yourself as a work in progress. Find someone you admire and ask them to go out for coffee. See if you can talk about your self-doubt and ask them how they handle their own. You may be pleasantly surprised at their answers.

Impostor syndrome doesn’t have to last forever. There are a host of strategies and tactics you can employ to help you move through the imposter mindset and into a healthier and happier you. Try asking for feedback and really listening to both good and critical comments. Accept compliments with a gracious and straightforward acknowledgment, and stop being so afraid of failing or making mistakes. Someone who is a work in progress learns from doing things right–and from doing things wrong. You’re going to be just fine, you’ll see.

I gave Suzanne the following assignments in our last coaching session:

  1. Accept that you have those feelings instead of beating yourself up
  2. Overcome it by regularly reviewing your accomplishments (writing them down helps)
  3. Develop a script so you can at least “act” deserving and confident
  4. Ask for feedback often, the more you hear about the value you’re bringing to others, the more you can internalize it

I’m confident she will work through each of them and, in time, her feelings of self-doubt will be a thing of the past.

Note: be on the lookout for my new book, The New Global Manager, due out in September! Click here to get early notice of the book’s availability and receive a free gift.

A version of this post was first published on Inc.

Photo: 123rf.com

5 Ways to be Happier at Work

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Who doesn’t want to be happier at work? Or in their personal life, for that matter. But, as most of us know, being happier at work is often easier said than done. Turns out though, that being happy isn’t just good for your personal well-being, it’s also excellent for your career–and for your organization, as a whole.

Positive people not only influence the environment around them, but they’re also more productive, goal-oriented and successful, according to the study Why Does Affect Matter in Organizations? The co-author, Sigal Barsade Ph.D., says, “If you’re in a negative mood, a fair amount of processing is going to that mood. When you’re in a positive mood, you’re more open to taking in information and handling it effectively.”

You can decide to be happy.

As crazy as that sounds, you can make a conscious choice to be happier at work and to do things every day that sustain that happiness. Simple but not necessarily easy. “Happiness at work comes from the inside out, says Annie McKee, author of How to Be Happy at Work: The Power of Purpose, Hope, and Friendship. “It’s something we create for ourselves, she adds.

According to McKee, many people will lose or leave a job and go somewhere else and find that they’re just as unhappy. McKee believes that people need to feel that work is meaningful, that they are doing something linked to their values, that they’re making a difference, and that they feel hopeful about their future. People need to see a clear link between the work they are doing now and the future that they want for themselves. “And additionally, we need friendships,” she states.

Here are five simple things you can do to be happier at work:

1. Meditate.

This doesn’t mean you have to get down on the ground and spend an hour in silence. Meditation just means taking some time to think quietly. Just a few deep breaths can quickly reduce stress. You can do this anytime–walking to meetings, going to the bathroom, waiting at the copy machine, or getting water. The key is to be aware of where your thoughts take you and to breathe. We often, in our stress and activities, forget to breathe.

2. Branch out.

As part of your decision to be happier at work, try expanding your social horizons. Network with colleagues with whom you haven’t spent much time. A best practice is to make a list of all the people you’d like to meet or who would be good for your career to know. Then systematically invite them for meetings or phone calls. You may find yourself being inspired and energized by their new perspectives, interests or skills. And you may find yourself having fun.

3. Join a cause.

Many companies have corporate social responsibility initiatives. Jump on board. Doing things for others can add meaning to your life and help you keep perspective. You may find yourself forgetting your own problems (at least for a little while), and you may enjoy feeling as if you’re contributing something meaningful (which can fill the void if we think we aren’t doing so professionally).

According to John Rampton, writing for Inc., “…research from Harvard professor Teresa Amabile has discovered that no matter the size of a goal–whether curing cancer or helping a colleague–having a sense of meaning can contribute to happiness in the workplace. People stay in their jobs if they feel like they’re contributing something worthwhile.”

4. Give praise.

A sincere compliment can go a long way in the workplace. Some benefits include a more positive mood, greater engagement, improved performance, and enhanced job satisfaction. What’s more, showing gratitude is a great way to improve your mood, too. You can do it in public or leave a note or email.

Try to get in the habit of verbalizing what you’re thinking, rather than keeping it to yourself. If you’re thinking something positive about someone (whether it be that you like the color of their sweater or you appreciated the points of their presentation), say it!

5. Embrace those silver linings.

Sometimes you make mistakes. Sometimes things go wrong. While failure can feel awful in the moment, it can also be a valuable learning experience. Embrace the silver linings in those situations if you can. When dealing with mistakes and disappointments, try to find the lesson in the situation and shift your focus from feeling unhappy to improving the work tasks at hand.

No one is asking you to blast “Don’t worry – be happy” over the company intercom to help your team members embrace optimism. But you can decide to be happier at work. You can also lead by example, and adopt the five tactics I have just described. As you encourage a sunnier outlook, you just might be surprised at the boost in your performance and your team’s, as well.

Need help with your career? Contact me.

A version of this post was first published on Inc. 

Image: JamesOladujoye/Pixabay