Career Advice | Here’s what to do when “imposter syndrome” rears its ugly head.
Q: I’m feeling like I’m just not good enough at my job and that sooner or later someone will notice. What should I do?
A: It sounds like the “impostor syndrome” rearing its ugly head.
We all have strengths and weaknesses in our performance; it’s fine to recognize your opportunities to improve. However, you undermine your strengths if you place too much emphasis on perceived shortcomings.
For one thing, you may not have the most realistic perspective. For example, perhaps you’re surrounded by extroverts and have a quieter demeanor. You may interpret this as “I’m not outgoing enough,” where others may see a valuable calming presence.
Thus, if you’re not getting feedback that you need to change, as your question suggests, your issue may be purely internal.
There’s an easy way to find out — ask! Set up time with your boss to get some fresh feedback. Bring specific topics and areas of concern, and treat it as developmental. Link your request to specific requirements of your job in terms of both skills and competencies, and send it in advance. Your boss will want time to reflect and may also choose to get feedback from your peers if you don’t already use a 360 feedback approach.
Then really listen to the feedback. This may be difficult if you’re wired to only hear negatives. Ask yourself, “What do I need to hear in order to ease my concerns?” If you honestly can’t think of a message that you’d find believable at an emotional inner level, you may need to spend some time changing your thought processes.
This takes preparation and practice. First of all, create a list of your accomplishments, strengths, gifts and contributions. If it’s hard, start with small things. Think back to compliments you’ve received and positive feedback you’ve been given, formally or informally. If it’s still hard, pretend you’re talking about your best friend instead of yourself.
List in hand, turn these into strongly worded affirmative statements about yourself. Start with words like, “I am” or “I can.” Then when you’re being hard on yourself, stop and replace your thoughts with a positive statement.
Think how much better you’ll feel when, instead of, “pretty soon they’ll figure out I’m screwing up,” you think “I did an excellent job on my last project.”
Sometimes people think this approach sounds trite. But when practiced regularly, it becomes a positive habit, and reprograms the brain out of its old negative scripts.
It also may sound deceptively simple. But as anyone knows who tries to acquire a good habit, if it were easy, we’d all be doing it. Be patient with yourself, reflect on your successes, and reward yourself in small ways that are meaningful to you.
As you focus on believing in the positive, you’ll be better able to develop new skills and enjoy the success you deserve.
Submit questions to Liz Reyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.