“Fake it till you make it, then fake it some more!”
That’s not quite how the age-old saying goes, yet it’s the version that most resonates and brings a smile to my face.
I’m an imposter. As I write these words and think about my career thus far, I’m certain that this is true.
How did I get here?
Who taught me these things?
Why does anyone trust me?
I have no clue what I’m doing!
I started my career a year out of college and within a week had the role shift on me (to one I love). I had no clue what I was doing when I stopped to think about it, so the hack became ‘don’t stop’! Learn more, achieve more, prove more so I did know what I was doing.
If you haven’t cringed a bit yet, spoiler: this isn’t always healthy.
What I’ve described is known as imposter syndrome. It is the self-doubt one experiences that you’re going to be exposed as a fraud and really aren’t equipped, prepared, skilled, or able to do what you’re doing. It’s an endless cycle of doubting and fear, followed by a sigh of relief and belief you do belong — then immediately back to the ‘ah, no I don’t!’
When imposter syndrome was first coined in the 1970s, it was thought to apply mostly to high-achieving women. It’s since been classified as more widespread. The International Journal of Behavior Science published an article in 2011 estimating that 70% of people experience imposter feelings at some point in life.
This imposter feeling is literally exhausting.
The high-achieving nature impacts us imposters by seeing us take on more and more work, wanting to achieve potentially unrealistic goals. Often, there’s a level of ‘trying something new’ which furthers the ‘fraud’ feeling as we begin to see success. This puts us into a cycle of having to constantly ‘prove’ we’re able to do what we’re doing, yet always feeling like we’re not.
Add in the need to be really good at what we’re doing, it often makes it difficult to ask for help/share responsibility, accept recognition and accomplishment as earned, and even procrastinate to extremes due to the overwhelming feeling of completing tasks.
Imposter syndrome is filled with unwarranted self-doubt. The catch, those facing imposter feelings can’t often convince themselves it’s unwarranted.
I am not an expert. *Note, I really am not, don’t just assume that’s my fraud-self speak.* Yet, I am fairly self-aware and good at grounding myself. Here is how I learned to re-ground/stay grounded and keep those self-doubts, imposter fraud feelings away:
- Ask a lot of questions. I try to understand every detail of a conversation. I’m certain this drives people crazy. But, I need to understand the details and thought process. If I can understand, I can dissect the problems and solutions and contribute in a thoughtful way that allows me to be confident in my advice, efforts, etc. These questions also give me time to think. If I’m thinking, I’m analyzing. And if I’m analyzing, I’m not faking it.
- Don’t be overly-confident. I used to be a know-it-all. <Immediately goes to turn off notifications from friends and family since I used past tense there.> Early in my career, I wanted to stay being right and that meant not being overly-confident. My go-to: “I need to look into this more.” If I have initial ideas, I’ll share them when consulting, but always with that disclaimer.
The outcomes – I am right and I can follow up and tell them. Or, I learn something new and share it with them. The best outcome in all of it is by not being overly-confident, I gain confidence and earn the respect of the person I’m working with to know I’m going to find the right info/solution/answer for them. And their confidence reminds me I’m not a fake.
- Say thank you. I’ve always struggled to accept compliments. I grew up in a healthy household where we were complimented for a job well-done. We weren’t under unnecessary pressure to achieve things. My dad regularly would tell us we looked beautiful. Yet, I am still too socially awkward to just ‘believe’ you and say ‘thank you.’ This isn’t a super uncommon trait really. We’ve all diverted the thank you of looking nice to the fact the shirt was on-sale, am I right?!
When feeling an imposter, this can be a result of believing your achievement isn’t earned so struggling to recognize it. And, if we discuss said achievement for too long, the flaws and fraud of it all will be found. So by making myself pause and say thank you, I’ve forced myself to grasp that moment of accepting thanks. I then tuck it away for later when I recall that I value the opinion and trust the person who gave me the compliment. And if they can believe in me, then surely I can believe in myself.
- Share responsibility. It took breaking down early in my career, then again in my personal life, until this became a ‘duh’ way to live and cope with feeling a fraud. Since I love helping people, solving problems, and not having attention on me — sharing responsibility is the greatest way to achieve all of this. I don’t feel like an imposter when I know I have a kickass team around me and they are in no way frauds. They can validate my ideas, I can validate theirs. And then, the achievement is not mine to doubt on. I trust their success, so the doubt isn’t even a thing!
If you are an IS-er, the catch is accepting that you might break and sharing the responsibility before you get there. I was such a high-achieving person, the thought I would ever break wasn’t even an option. But it did. And it will again. And you know what? I do know now it’s not a result of not being good enough or a fraud. It’s just life for me. And I’ll debate believing that in the next meltdown, but I know the words to be true.
Feeling like an imposter is exhausting. It doesn’t keep me awake at night (that’s all the caffeine’s job), and it doesn’t consume my life. Yet, it does creep in and waves hello often enough. As a high-achiever, it’s the last thing you ever want to admit, yet that’s why I ‘faked it’ as a writer and penned these words. Maybe instead of imposter thoughts waving next time to me, it’s you to say ‘me too!’ And you know what? If we faked it this well this far, we might as well just keep faking it some more.