It’s exactly a year since I moved to New York. Although I had put in 3 painful years at Temple and graduated with a dual- degree,
my first few months in New York were crippled by a relentless, gnawing feeling of not belonging. Living and working in New York means you’re constantly surrounded some of the most brilliant minds, over achievers, impressive life and work experiences, and sometimes all three combined. You would think the fact that I had overcome considerable odds to land a job would erode some of the feelings of inadequacy but it only made me feel worse. In short, despite evidence to the contrary I caught a bad case of imposter syndrome with a cold side of fear of failure and self-doubt.
This article from the New York Times was an eye opener — it turns out that nagging feeling of not belonging is real and affects women and minorities the most. Well, shit. I am a woman and a minority. It’s oddly comforting to know that even the most accomplished women – think Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, Lupita Nyong’o, Sheryl Sandberg, Maryl Streep, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Helen Mirren and many others – have dealt with imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.Wikipedia
Here are 5 ways I’m fending off imposter syndrome:
1. Watching The Self-Talk
Left to their devices, negative self-talks will fester and take a life of their own. I try to catch these thoughts as they occur and counter with 3 positive thoughts. Also, know your triggers. Most my triggers usually occur at work where I feel too inexperienced to manage important work. This one thought of not having enough experience has spiraled — from fear of not being ready to crippling anxiety about messing up, getting fired and being homeless on the streets of New York — a time or two. Now whenever I catch this thought I simply remind myself not only did I finish grueling coursework in school so I am prepared, but also my team thinks I can do this otherwise they wouldn’t assign me the task. Also doing the task is exactly how I will get experience. The tone you use with yourself is just as important as what you say. I try to reaffirm myself from a place of empathy.
2. Taking Mindful Risks
Feelings are not facts. Just because I feel like I don’t belong or a fraud doesn’t make it true. Along with watching how I talk to myself, I have learned to do the exact opposite of whatever I am feeling. From speaking up for myself with my manager to volunteering for stretch assignments and offering up my thoughts in team huddles — I am building up my confidence and growing within my role and as a person. Sometimes I still choke when randomly asked a question in a client meeting but I answer any way. Like Elenor Roosevelt put it…. You must do the thing you think you cannot do. In small doses, mindful risks are exceptional confidence boosters. So go ahead post that article, apply for the job, ask for that raise, start that business, just do it.
3. Personal SWOT
I have taken several assessments to understand my personality, work and leadership styles – a.k.a personal SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats). It’s good to understand your strengths but even better to know how use those strengths well. For example, one of my core strengths is showing resilience in the face of adversity. I tend to remain calm and focus on a resolution to the issues. To build this strength, my mentor advised to look for opportunities that are outside my comfort zone because I have the strength to persevere. The down side of this strength is I could underestimate how difficult a challenge might be and end up biting more than I can chew, so to speak. Solution? Ask others in the team how easy or difficult they found similar challenges to be and an informed decision.
None of us have it all figured out. The key is in finding your strengths and intentionally flexing them and simultaenously taking mindful risks to improve your challenge areas.
4. No Fear of Perfection
Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.Salvador Dali
I’m a borderline perfectionist, which means I want whatever I am doing to be perfect before anyone sees it. The down side is I almost never feel like anything I do is ready. Take these photos, for example. First I was beating myself up for not noticing people behind me while shooting, and then made an attempt at mastering Photoshop in an afternoon to remove the noise. I failed, of course. I didn’t want to post because they are not as perfect as I’d like. Then I caught and checked myself — the photos show the outfit and that’s enough. I’ll do better next time. It’s good to strive for the best but there’s a fine line between the best and perfection obsession. We will never reach perfection anyway so do you thing, imperfectly. This realization is as freeing as it is comforting.
5. No Comparison
After a long hiatus from blogging I had started comparing my numbers to other bloggers and thinking maybe it’s too late to return. Comparing yourself to others is really toxic and serves no purpose other than to drag you into the depth of inadequacy. I have my own style and a different way of expressing myself. I’m learning to honor and respect my experiences — whether at work or in my blogging journey — and understand they are just as valuable as the next person’s. I belong, and so do you, in whatever space and life experience you find yourself in.