This is a guest post by Jeff Perry, MBA
“It’s not what you are that holds you back, it’s what you think you are not.” ~ Denis Waitley
Impostor syndrome is a common struggle. We all have it — at least to some degree. And those who don’t think they have it at all are probably just too prideful to recognize or admit it.
It’s this feeling like we don’t belong. Even when we’re doing good work, there is this lingering fear that perhaps one day someone with a clipboard is going to come up to us and say, “I’m sorry, it appears we’ve made a mistake — you need to go now.”
But how do we manage it so it doesn’t keep us down, hold us back, and limit our success? Let’s talk about that!
Name It to Tame It: An Example
“Name it to tame it” is a common idea psychologists use to increase awareness of something that patients and clients are trying to improve.
It means simply that acknowledging something that we don’t like, such as impostor syndrome, and even giving it a name, can help us move through the challenging thoughts.
Let me give you an example of one of my clients, whom I’ll call Kim.
She is a brilliant Ph.D.-level engineer with passions and interests that go far beyond research and has had opportunities to take on some big projects in her career thus far.
Yet she feels like she really struggles with impostor syndrome. So she gave it a name.
When Kimpostor shows up in Kim’s mind, expressing doubts, fears, and insecurities, she has a conversation with her. It often goes something like this:
“Hey Kimpostor, thanks for being here. I know you’re trying to help keep me from making mistakes or experiencing failure, but in this situation, you’re not helpful. I’m going to move ahead with this now instead of being afraid and believe in myself that I can do it. See you around.”
This short conversation with her own mind often helps to diffuse the power Kimpostor has in that situation and promotes a sense of empowerment.
So, if you, like Kim, struggle with impostor syndrome, name it. Talk to it. Acknowledge it and increase awareness of it. Then let it go so you can move ahead with confidence.
Look at the Objective Evidence
The strong feeling of “I don’t belong here” is a very common experience as we work through impostor syndrome. We may look around at the people we work with and see their skills, accolades, degrees, and more.
All while discounting or not even acknowledging our own.
The truth is you do belong. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t have been selected into this educational program, hired into the company, or working on this important project.
Engineers love objectivity, so it may help to spend just a moment to look at the objective evidence that you do belong.
Look at things like your degree, the way you’ve performed on previous projects, any awards you have received, any positive feedback you have received from mentors or peers, skills you have acquired, etc.
What do these things tell you? That you belong. You’ve done what you need to do to be there now.
Yes, there is plenty of learning and growth ahead of you. That’s wonderful and exciting!
But you still belong right now.
Focus on Serving Others
One of the realities of impostor syndrome is that it is self-focused. It’s all about you and your feelings of insecurity and fear.
So, one of the most effective things you can do to minimize its power in your life is to focus on serving others. How can you help your boss, your coworker, your team?
If you are a leader, how can you focus on helping others grow rather than just worrying about your own career stability?
And here’s the cool thing: when you help others succeed, it brings more success for you personally! Then, when the success comes, you can include that as another piece of objective evidence that you have what it takes, and you do belong.
If you can be a help and support to others, they will accept you faster than you accept yourself!
Impostor syndrome is something that we all struggle with, no matter how experienced or accomplished we are in our lives and careers.
It’s OK to have it and feel it. The key is to not let it dominate your life and hamper your progress.
By using the strategies discussed above — name it to tame it, looking at objective evidence, and focusing on serving others — you can become more self-aware and intentionally grow without letting doubts and fears control your life.
About Jeff Perry, MBA
Jeff Perry is a leadership/career coach for engineers, building mindsets, leadership, and career intentions to unlock hidden potential and remove self-imposed roadblocks for career and life. For years, he has had the pleasure of supporting engineers and software pros, from new grads to director level. Having been on the front lines in the technical world, he has been able to map out the necessary skills for becoming a quality leader in the field.
You can connect with Jeff on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffcperry/ or visit his website, https://morethan-engineering.com. Jeff also has a new, FREE, on-demand training course for engineers who are job searching or in job transitions. You can see it at https://engineeringcareeraccelerator.com.
New To Technical Leadership?
The transition from individual contributor to technical leader is a difficult one. Jeff put together a FREE, 90-day guide for those moving through this transition to help them be as successful as possible. You can get it here: https://morethan-engineering.com/career-clarity
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below on how you deal with imposter syndrome.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success