My most recent bout of imposter syndrome started with a Women’s Equality Day blog post. This blog post, in fact.
I have just started my dream job at my dream company (MyWellbeing) and this post is one of my first contributions. I am beyond excited to help MyWellbeing improve access to therapy. However, I still worry that I don’t belong, that my successes are flukes, and that my failures are a better reflection of what I can achieve.
So, naturally, I wrote a first draft of this post and discarded it. I spent a few hours cleaning my apartment. Then, I did more research on imposter syndrome, got distracted, and stressed out about how everyone else on the internet seems to be a much better writer. Procrastination and fear of my new colleagues seeing me as a “fraud” consumed me.
This sequence and particularly the feelings driving it may be familiar to you. Imposter syndrome, that creeping sense that you’re not good enough and you don’t deserve what you have, affects 70% of people at some point in their lives.
It may surprise you that I said “people.” The conversation around imposter syndrome has traditionally focused on women. In fact, the “imposter phenomenon” was first defined in a 1978 study that only included women. The authors even suggested that the phenomenon uniquely affected women. After further research, one of the authors reported that imposter syndrome wasn’t limited to one gender. But, the idea that imposter syndrome is a “women’s issue” has stuck.
Despite our societal preconceptions, people of all genders experience imposter syndrome. Some studies have found women experience it more often; others found that it has a stronger effect on men. Still others find that there is no significant difference in how it affects individuals across genders.
Whether or not imposter syndrome occurs more often in women, it’s important to remember that female-identifying people, and particularly women of color, experience unique challenges with imposter syndrome. Women can be punished for displaying confidence in the workplace. It’s harder to reassure yourself that you’re not an imposter when you’re worried about seeming too confident.
Everyone experiences imposter syndrome differently. No matter how you experience imposter syndrome, it’s not a comfortable feeling. I’d like to share some of the approaches that have been helpful to me in facing imposter syndrome in the past. These are the approaches I’ll rely on now as I deal with my latest bout:
New challenges and situations, like navigating a career change or starting a family, often raise self-doubt. However, not knowing how to tackle something now doesn’t mean that you’ll never know.
Think back on a time that you handled a new challenge successfully. What helped you succeed? What can you do now to be successful? Making a plan to figure things out can help you deal with what you don’t know.
It is also great to ask for help. You don’t have to do everything yourself. Your colleagues in a new job, your friends who have been through different life changes, and your therapist (we’ll talk more about this later) can all help you navigate change. Everyone has to ask for help at some point in their lives; it’s okay to reach out.
One of the things that has been most helpful to me is transferring doubt from myself to my strategy or idea. The first few versions of an idea or a strategy aren’t always good, but that isn’t an inherent reflection on your abilities. The first draft of this blog post was objectively terrible. At first, I questioned my ability to write because of it. Realizing my ideas needed refining instead of thinking I was a failure helped me gain perspective.
Once, I went to a fair trade industry conference with a friend. I was completely outside my realm of experience and I didn’t know anyone. I had never felt like more of a fraud.
I swallowed my panic and spoke to a few people at my table at the welcome event. They weren’t sure how to market their fair trade stores online, and I specialize in digital marketing. I offered a few tips. Soon, strangers were coming up to me to ask for advice. Instead of feeling like a fraud, I felt that I could be helpful.
Helping others can overcome the sense that you have nothing to contribute. You can share ideas with your coworkers or mentor/tutor someone in need in your spare time. Seeing what you bring to the world and how much others need it can help quiet the sense that you don’t belong.
Perfectionism and imposter syndrome go hand-in-hand for me. I worry that my work is not enough, because it’s not perfect.
To help combat perfectionism and imposter syndrome, find a way to do things well instead of trying to do things perfectly. Limit the time you spend on an assignment, or ask for feedback in the early stages of a project. That way, you can work towards a sense that done is better than perfect.
If more strategies would be helpful to you, Melissa Brody, a therapist and member of the MyWellbeing community, shared some invaluable tips on overcoming perfectionism with us.
Our meritocratic modern society places a lot of pressure on people to succeed. That pressure can lead you to believe that your worth is based on achievement. Tying worth to achievement can feed your imposter syndrome; if you don’t think you deserve your achievements, it can shatter your self-worth.
If you’re struggling with a sense that your worth is based on your achievements, ask yourself about other traits in yourself you value. I appreciate my ability to learn quickly and desire to be helpful, for example.
If you are having trouble identifying those traits, ask others what they value about you. You will probably hear that it’s your ability to make even the darkest days better or your razor-sharp wit, not a specific achievement. This can help you build a sense of your worth that helps you believe in what you bring to the table instead of worrying that you don’t belong.
As I battled my imposter syndrome to write this post, it was helpful to remember that I’m not alone. Many of my heroines, from Serena Williams to Tina Fey, have opened up about their experiences with imposter syndrome. Our founder, Alyssa, just mentioned her own experiences of imposter syndrome in our newsletter.
It can be liberating to hear that people that you see as intelligent and accomplished experience the same problems. If you’re comfortable with it, talk to a friend or mentor about your experiences with imposter syndrome. They may help you understand that they feel the same way and that you do belong where you are.
What works for me and other people on the internet (and in real life) may not work for you. Everyone’s thought patterns and experiences with imposter syndrome are different. That is why my last piece of advice is the most important:
I highly recommend therapy to help break the cycle of thoughts that drive imposter syndrome. A therapist can help you develop the specific coping strategies that work for you. Speaking with my therapist helped me manage my imposter syndrome. Therapy gave me ways to reframe my thinking to reduce my feelings that I wasn’t worthy and didn’t belong.
We have so many important things to talk about this Women’s Equality Day, but I hope you’ll take a moment to reflect on imposter syndrome.
You are worthy. You deserve what you have. You have valuable things to contribute to the world.
It’s okay if you don’t see that sometimes, that’s natural. It’s helpful to develop strategies so that you can recenter around this one important truth: you are enough, independent of what you achieve. You belong, equally.
Mariah was Head of Growth at MyWellbeing. She is a marketing expert in the areas of content strategy, digital advertising, business growth, and anything related to helping therapists grow their practice.