Get Past Imposter Syndrome

You're not a fraud, and how to see that.

If you’ve ever accomplished anything at all, you’ll understand.

If you’ve never accomplished anything all all, you’re either a.) lying to yourself or b.) one of those cardboard cutouts that stalk people in the perfume department. (Still unsure why those exist.)

Most often when it comes to our own accomplishments, we chalk it up to serendipity. I got lucky, we say, avoiding eye contact with our personal or professional victory, and instead, we marvel at the special coincidences that conspired to hand us the win. And in the instance that we may catch a glimpse of what we’ve achieved, we turn away. It is a blink of confidence, of self-acknowledgement, and if we stare too long, we may start to believe it. And who would want that, right?

Imposter Syndrome, the belief that oneself is inadequate, incompetent, or a complete failure, despite evidence that suggests one is skilled and successful, sits at the steering wheel when we question ourselves and our abilities—we look away, stare into the spaces we haven’t conquered yet. When we hear the voices that tell us we’re not good enough, that we didn’t deserve to win, they are often coming from that same driver. And we feel bound for collision.

Those voices aren't easy to ignore once you realize they’ve made homes inside your head, with luxury timeshares in your heart. They’ve nested.

They compose a self-defeating emotional cycle with a good rate of ROI; the more you pay attention to the voices, the louder they will become.

If you’ve ever given into your doubt, rode shotgun to your imposter, or are currently struggling with knowing your worth in your career, this list is for you:

Focus on the facts, not the feelings.

Feelings. Shmeelings. What facts are in front of you? (Actually, your feelings are entirely valid. All the feelings are valid! #MentalHealthAwareness for one and for all!)

Questioning the facts will give you a more developed picture of reality—instead of the one you constructed in your head from negative self-talk. Our hostile feelings or beliefs toward ourselves can lead us to build skyscrapers of doubt; they block your view by becoming the view. To see more clearly, write a list of what you’ve accomplished, both personally and professionally. What positive feedback have you received from coworkers, bosses, or friends that reinforce the path you’ve chosen? Of what project are you most proud? What validating experiences have you had? Reflect on these lists. You’ll be impressed with yourself, and you’ll see how far you’ve really come.

Reframe. Rewire. Reflect.

Reframe negative thoughts. When you feel yourself start to sink into that invalidating self-talk, interrupt yourself with compassionate thoughts instead. I do have what it takes. I am always learning. I can handle this. Feel secure in the knowledge that even if you fail, growth is available to you. If you reframe the pessimistic habits into constructive, hopeful patterns, your brain will follow suit. The neurons in your brain will re-fire and rewire! It takes practice to train your brain to accept positivity as the default, but putting in the mental work will reward you. Aim for self-compassion, not self-criticism.

Know how to fail.

“The path to success is paved with failure.” I’m not sure who said that, but isn’t it insightful?

You should and will fail at many things. This is a fact. You cannot escape it, which is why self-help literature is such a profitable, enduring genre. But alas, it's not all for nothing! Failures have taught you how not to do something! That is very helpful information! Gather feedback, reflect on your process, and see what went wrong and what went right. And most importantly, know you are not a lonesome failure. Every (perceived) successful and happy person has been dealt the devastating blows of rejection and defeat. No one is immune. Even Oprah was fired from her first television job because she was deemed “unfit for TV.” (Though, I’d argue that’s a failure on part of the boss that let her go. . .)

Everyone plays, or loses, or, um, I guess wins, the failure game.

Jump. Don’t wait for someone to push you.

One day, in the very near future, someone will stride into your office, with multiple gold trophies and a million dollar check (one of the big ones people give to charities), spot you in your lowly desk in the back corner, and announce “You, there! You are a success! Come now, claim your prizes and a lifetime of happiness and fulfillment!” In which case, you will walk timidly yet ambitiously across the room in front of everyone (They will envy your success! Even jerk-face Sheldon who sneered at your last project and told everyone you stole his idea! Ha, what's good Sheldon! ). You will collect your winnings and will never ever feel inadequate again. Not even when people are actually better than you! You’ll also gain immeasurable confidence in your work, love life, and body image. World peace will then shortly ensue.

I don’t believe there’s an account of this ever happening, except maybe to lottery winners or Meryl Streep. But for the rest of us, it doesn’t work like that. No one is going to give you permission to feel successful. No one is going to push you. You have to make the jump. Whether that means taking risks, asking for that raise, finally starting your business, or taking time to figure out what you want, it’s all on you. Intimidating? Sure. But it’s also empowering.

Jump passionately. Jump deliberately. Jump, and know you have what it takes to land on your feet.

Ask for help. Ask for validation. Ask for both.

Turns out, it’s okay to ask for help! Who knew! What’s even more shocking is the amount of people who are willing to help you and who want to see you succeed. They’re on your side! Moreover, they’re in the same boat as you! You’re both paddling through the waters of doubt and insecurity trying to find safe land to establish your desire-driven lives. Lots of revelations here, I know.

Challenge yourself to set boundaries and to allow yourself to feel validated. It starts by simply asking. Whether you need more flex time, a deadline extension, constructive feedback, or just someone to hear you out, ask for it. Choose someone you trust, and be honest. Bottom line, a good boss wants their workers to succeed, a good friend wants their friends to succeed, and so on.

Needing external validation is not a bad thing—it’s a human one. We can use it to improve our work, attitude, and relationships.

Final Thoughts

In sincere solidarity, I am an imposter too. I tell myself I’m not good enough at [insert literally anything here] like it’s a daily ritual.

We shrink ourselves and stifle our potential to fit the inadequate mold our mind has crafted. I am not this enough, I am not that enough. We give our doubt the space to speak, the soapbox in which we keep our most fragile dreams.

I hope these tips can help muffle the voices that make you feel small. And you know what? Maybe you really did get lucky. (If the winner of the $1.7 billion Mega Millions lottery is reading this, my email is Let’s chat about grad school tuition.) But while the odds may have been in your favor, it is more likely that you made choices to put yourself in a position to succeed. (Seriously, even if it’s just a couple million. I could put ‘em to good use.)

But here’s the real kicker, the hot tip, the reason you’ve been reading this, the key to success and happiness and clear skin and good health:

You are good enough. Period. There is nothing else.

I’ll leave you with this: you are not alone.