How To Beat The Impostor Syndrome

career strategies Jun 18, 2021

Have you ever felt you’re not enough prepared for applying for a job? Or maybe felt inadequate in the workplace?

You may have experienced the Impostor Syndrome. It’s a state of self-doubt that we all feel at some point, but which can paralyze our next steps and progress.

According to this article from the Harvard Business Review, the Impostor Syndrome is a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persists despite evident success. Impostors suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. They think they're a fraud or not enough, self-doubting themselves all the time, unable to internalize their accomplishment; however successful they are in their field. 

The Impostor Syndrome is common for achievers, those who get everything they want and are never happy.  It can also happen with people doing a career change or moving away to a different country and do not know the language and feel like they don’t belong. 

Why do I have the authority to talk about Impostor Syndrome? I’m not a psychologist, but I’m a person with a lot of stories about all the feelings that held back all the progress I wanted in my career. 

A recent part of my story started one year ago when I deployed CL4IR (Career Lab for the 4° Industrial Revolution), which went from an altruistic project to a business. 

Exactly one year ago, I was a finance expert working in a multinational in Italy. I was doing all sorts of things related to Finance and Controlling, but I decided to change. I just followed my heart, and it told me that I was very good at giving career-related advice to people. So that is what CL4IR is about, advising people on their careers, making resumes, coaching them, finding out their strengths, and making them happier. 

When I started communicating with my previous employer that I wanted to change my career and therefore wasn’t interested in renewing my working contract, the first question I got was: “are you certified for doing that?”. That question got me so overwhelmed because I never thought about certifications for doing what I’d been doing for the previous 17 years. I started to feel that I should do something because I was not certified and decided to enroll in a Master’s degree in HR at the Bologna Business School. That was the point when things started happening. My turning point was the infamous question I got. 

It took me weeks to overcome the shock that came from that question. It paralyzed me. I felt like I was doing something wrong. To get over that, I just focused on my clients and realized that I was delivering results, and that was enough. That was even bigger than any certification. 

It took me some weeks to realize that the state of mind was the key to overcoming the Impostor and understanding where my center was. When self-centered, I know what I want, what I can do, what I can deliver to others, and how I can transform their lives. All of that is enough. That is where I don't have to meet anyone else’s expectations, only mine. 

    Some common thoughts may have crossed your mind:

I must not fail!

Why do we have this ridiculous thought that we must not fail? Because we learned during childhood that to be accepted, we must obey the rules. If we want to be successful, we must have good grades and go to the best schools. Then we grow up with those beliefs that we cannot fail, that failing is bad. However, I continuously fail and have learned how to celebrate failure about one year and a half ago. It is good since when you recognize the failure, you can learn from it. That is gold in any career progress and also when it comes to self-development. Failing is good because you can stop, readapt and relaunch.

I feel like a fake!

That is another thought that might hunt you. Usually, it comes when you don't have a certification, such as what happened to me in my career pivoting. If you’re aware of what you can do and what you can deliver, you should not feel like that. 

You are not a fake. You are yourself, do not compare yourself to others since it is like comparing your backstage to someone else’s main stage. 

It’s all down to luck!

That is a widespread one. I’ve worked in several multinationals, and I heard people saying that in all of them, all the time. Thinking someone got a promotion because he/she is lucky or because that person is an apple polisher (those who are underperformers but have good relationships with their bosses) may paralyze you. The recurrent thought is that everybody is lucky, but you. That is another form of comparing yourself to others. Attributing others’ success to luck won’t contribute at all to your personal growth. 

How To Beat The Impostor Syndrome

That is my step-by-step frame. You can apply right now and get rid of the impostor. 

1 - Identify the impostor’s feelings when they emerge. The key is the self-awareness to recognize common negative thoughts.

2 - A growth mindset. There is an excellent and well-known book about that specific topic and a TED Talk from Carol Dweck about mindset. She did a case study about the growth mindset and proved that the state of mind could transform your status, including your career. The main point about the status is to shift it. 

3 - Talk about your feelings and express them in words out loud. Speak to the people you trust - talk and verbalize what you're feeling. If you feel like there’s no one you can trust, seek a therapist. It’s essential since when we verbalize out loud what’s in our minds, we hear ourselves and realize how foolish those thoughts were. 

4 - Contextualize. It's straightforward for our minds to deceive us in the sense of not being enough for not having a certification and not working with that specific topic. When that happens, you should contextualize what you're thinking. 

5 - Lessons learned instead of emphasizing failures. You have to think about your failures as something that will help you grow, so start learning with your failures instead of punishing yourself. 

6 - Be kind to yourself. We tend to be too hard on ourselves, and it doesn’t do us any good. Be kind to yourself, as we say here in Italy, “pian piano,” you're getting what you want slowly. You don't need to make US$1 million tomorrow or be a manager before turning 30. Respect yourself first, and then you’ll get everything you want.

7 - Seek support. Persistent sadness can lead to real illnesses. When you enter the impostor’s state of mind, you’re entering into negative feelings and emotions. Staying in that state for an extended period is terrible for mental health. That’s why I started with self-awareness as step number 1. Once you identify the impostor’s state of mind, act fast to neutralize it. 

8 - Visualize your success. You can build a vision board by pulling out pictures from the internet of all of the things you want as career goals. Printing them out and hanging them on the wall helps visualize precisely the future you want and the goals you want to achieve. Then, every time the impostor comes up, it'll be more comfortable and visualize what you want to do and whom you want to become instead of being paralyzed because of the impostor. 

>>>> Movie tip: Catch Me If You Can. That is an excellent movie and a fantastic example of a real impostor. Whenever I feel the impostor, I remember Frank Abagnale and how brilliant and dangerous an impostor can be. 

>>>> Book Tip: The Secret Thoughts Of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It from Valerie Young.

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