Worried you're a fraud? 6 tips for tackling imposter syndrome

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Lottie Watters of Devex - an ultra impressive media platform for the global developing community - on Imposter Syndrome and how to overcome it.

You can read more about the prevalence and common underlying causes of Imposter Syndrome in the full Devex article here, but here’s an extract of core insights, and my top 6 ways to overcome it.

Andrea Clarke, founder of Career CEO and former international aid worker and news correspondent, says “I work with men and women of all different ages and career levels. I certainly feel like imposter syndrome doesn’t discriminate.” Instead, she suggests men may be less likely to admit it. “We’re all human beings and we all have a degree of self-doubt — until we feel like we mastered a particular task or role.”

“Women excel at analysis paralysis. We, collectively, need to stop over-engineering situations in our own mind. We need to stop speculating, and focus on the content; focus on the work. I think women are very good at filling in the gaps that don’t exist,” Clarke adds.

Clarke herself is no stranger to imposter syndrome. As an aid worker, she was given an assignment in Baghdad to gather stories about successful aid programs in Iraq. “I certainly felt like an imposter,” she confesses, “because I had not been put through any training or preparation to deal with a war zone.”

Clarke now provides training to professionals across corporate Australia and New Zealand to help them build their confidence in communicating with authority in the workplace. Here are six of Clarke’s top tips for overcoming your imposter syndrome.

1. Follow your instinct

In any job or situation where you have doubt, Clarke advises you to “follow your instincts.” Fall back on your skills and capabilities from prior experience.

When self-doubt gets to you, it’s important to recognise and remind yourself of what you know and what you’re good at. “Focus on what you know, focus on your skill, your capability, focus on the task at hand, and don’t let anything distract you.”

2. Embrace vulnerability … then set it aside

Whatever is making you feel vulnerable about a situation, “embrace it, acknowledge it, and set it aside,” Clarke advises. Often, it’s the newness and unfamiliarity of a situation or position that triggers imposter syndrome. If we don’t have practice or experience in something, then we are more likely to feel ill-equipped. However, “just because something is new, doesn’t mean we are fraudulent,” Clarke points out.

“Anyone who has a case of imposter syndrome needs to simply set aside the new environment — or whatever it is that is holding them back — and focus on the content, focus on the work, and focus on delivering. And you will very quickly have a break through and realise that, in fact, not only do you deserve to be there, you are a valuable contributor to the team.”

“I certainly had a case of imposter syndrome when I was assigned to Baghdad because it was new,” she explains, but “what I did know was that I could deliver what I was being asked to deliver.” By compartmentalising the newness of the environment, you can focus on the task at hand and deliver.

3. Wing it

Another key thing to realise in the feat of imposter syndrome is that no one is perfect. Almost everyone is winging it and using the skills they already possess to achieve something even greater.

“We are all a work in progress. Every opportunity we have is an opportunity for growth — it is not an opportunity to be perfect. Once we accept that we need to wing it — literally wing certain situations — then I think we allow ourselves to improvise. And when we commit to improvising, using our skills and our capabilities, that’s the only time we really allow ourselves to grow.”

4. Adopt a flat-management approach

Clarke calls on people not to be afraid to seek help and advice. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in a war zone or … a corporate situation: never be afraid to ask for help.”

If there is a task that you genuinely need guidance for, then ask someone. “That does not mean that you are admitting any level of deficiency,” she explains. It simply means you want to learn and explore something that’s new to you. See yourself as on a level playing field with everyone else.”

5. Get comfortable with courteous confrontation

“We all have a responsibility to confront any level of friction with our colleagues, no matter how small that friction might be.” In doing so, you will build trust and bring yourself closer to them, instead of isolating yourself with your own thoughts.

You need to call out anything that is making you uncomfortable as soon as possible, so it is open for discussion. This will help you build more trust with others and work more effectively.

6. Flip the tone of your inside voice

Clarke explains, the internal voice that is so often self-destructive needs to be turned upside down “so they’re positive and not so negative and critical.”

They need to become positive, encouraging and, “allow us to take more risks more often.” That way, we will see “windows of opportunity” as opposed to daunting tasks where we’re not up to the challenge.

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