“I Don’t Belong Here”: Coping with Impostor Syndrome
Impostor Syndrome. You know what we’re talking about, that horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach that you don’t belong there. That you don’t deserve it. That you’re way out of your depth.
Sometimes you feel like everyone else knows exactly what they’re doing, that they’ve got it sorted and are just somehow more capable and comfortable than you are. That eventually you’ll get caught out and they’ll realise that you don’t belong and ask you leave. It’s an awful feeling, but I’ve got some news for you:
Everybody gets imposter syndrome.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a 22 year old junior software engineer in your first job out of university or COO of Facebook, everybody feels like an impostor from time to time.
Sheryl Sandberg says, “There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am” and she’s, well, the COO of Facebook.
The first step is to accept that this is a real thing. Particularly when you’re just starting out in your given career you’ll undoubtedly think you’re the only one who feels like a big fraud in a world of experts. But as you get a little older and wiser you begin to realise that everybody you know is winging it just like you are and they all feel like an impostor sometimes too.
Of course some people really are experts, but that doesn’t mean that they a) know everything about their field or b) don’t doubt themselves sometimes too. Kyle Eschenroeder puts it brilliantly in his blog post 21 Proven Ways To Overcome Impostor Syndrome:
“Realize that nobody knows what they’re doing. Most startups fail. Even the ones that you hear about raising millions of dollars fail all the time. Nobody knows exactly what’s going on. There are a ton of people who will tell you they know the answers. These people are liars.
The world we live in is the result of a lot of brave people tinkering, failing, and succeeding once in a while. Nobody knows what’s next: some are willing to play ball in the face of uncertainty and some aren’t. You’re not an impostor for trying something that might not work. You’re a hero.”
The second step is to find ways of dealing Impostor Syndrome when it strikes. Try the following when it does:
- Think about your past successes, internalise them, own them. Think about the value you add to your company.
- Cast your mind back to one, two or five years ago. Did you know what you know now? Did you make better decisions then or now? The answer is clear. We don’t notice the incremental progress we made every day, but over time it adds up.
- Don’t overstate your importance or the importance of others. Most likely, people are not paying you as much attention as you think, nor are the people around you as accomplished as you think. Remind yourself that the vast majority of people are just trying to make their way, in an imperfect and non-linear way, just like you.
- Request feedback from co-workers or managers. We don’t mean you should ask for an ego massage, but sometimes it’s good to escape from your own self-doubt filled brain and get some tangible insight from someone who knows you well. Chances are they’ll point out things you’re doing well and give you actionable things to change. Actual, real feedback can help you to gauge your progress so far and focus your mind on areas for improvement rather than wallowing in Impostor Syndrome.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. The is maybe the most important one. There is no ‘correct’ age to start your career, change your career, buy a dog, buy a house, get a girlfriend, break up with your boyfriend etc. People do things in different ways, at different times to varying levels of ability. Focus on yourself, forget about everyone else.