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my imposter syndrome story: tips to overcome it based on a proven track record

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

What you are about to read is an intimate story, told by a struggling graduate (you guessed it, myself), about cherishing your success and evaluating it based on your own values, as well as the importance of admiring others but setting boundaries while doing so. I’ve included some take-aways which I hope will help you navigate your journey of letting go and overcoming your restrictive behavior.

The first impression is not always the right impression

When I stumbled across the female factor website, I was genuinely moved. Imagine this - you're a graduate who’s been applying & trying to make a debut in her career for six months. You've faced around 100-150 rejections, you're taking your first steps into networking and then… COVID-19 hits. Suddenly, it seemed like I became completely stuck. Finding out about this wonderful community felt like hitting the jackpot.

The natural reaction after discovering the female factor family was to look up their members. Who are they, where are they working, am I going to find people in a similar position? At first glance, I felt like I wouldn't belong, and my imposter syndrome hit, no matter how hard I tried to suppress it.

All I could see were shiny job titles, polished LinkedIn profiles and what seemed like an unachievable list of accomplishments. It got to me, shrinking my confidence.

I know imposter syndrome is about feeling like you don’t deserve your achievements or position, but it also brings feelings of inadequacy, of not being enough just the way you are.

What is imposter syndrome, how to spot it and a bit of a pep talk

Imposter syndrome is a persistent belief that you are a fraud – despite being skilled, smart and deserving of your accomplishments and praise. Rather than celebrating their achievements, people affected by this phenomenon live in fear of being 'exposed' and worry they aren’t as brilliant as they appear to others.

I would not limit myself to this definition - imposter syndrome also causes feelings of inadequacy, of not being enough just the way you are.

Signs you might suffer from the imposter syndrome – been there, so this is me speaking from experience:

  • you feel like you aren’t worthy of being in a particular group.

  • you think asking for help implies you’re a failure.

  • you feel like your success was by chance, not based on your skills and values, especially when you find yourself struggling with certain tasks.

  • you find the fear of failure unbearable.

  • you avoid presenting yourself as confident because you think people will see it as overcompensating.

"Why am I comparing my chapter 1 to someone else's chapter 20?"

My intention is not to play the victim, but to remind you that you are not the only one that feels like this when you are surrounded (even if it's online) by people who you perceive to be better than you. I want to emphasize on perceiving - your perception of others is based on your personal metric of values. If your goal is to become an expert in your field or somebody people would look up to for advice, then you will perceive people who are already there as accomplished, based on your own definition of success.

That's exactly what happened to me upon analyzing the female factor members: I felt like I don’t have what it takes to be part of what seemed like an elitist community. What could an unemployed graduate, going through one of the worst economic periods since the 2008 financial crisis do in a place populated by professionals with impressive titles, working for known companies, having graduated from notable universities?

And then it struck me - why am I comparing my chapter 1 to someone else's chapter 20? Admiring somebody's success is a kind act, and more often than not, it has the power to motivate. There is nothing wrong in looking up to someone and recognizing their efforts and achievements, but moderation is key. The problem occurs when you start drawing a parallel between your own situation and others’.

How to overcome imposter syndrome?

Tips to overcome – with a proven track record:

  • make a list of your achievements and strengths. When doubt creeps in, this list will remind you of what you have accomplished. If you have the energy to do daily/weekly/monthly to-do lists, spare some for a list of all your triumphs and traits you are proud of. Facts don’t lie!

  • talk to others – you are not alone! have a conversation with a friend about this and you’ll realize how common this feeling is. We are often too focused on what’s going on inside our minds, forgetting that people around happen to have similar problems. Reassurance can be a great confidence boost.

  • do not compare yourself to others and be kind on yourself (I hope my pep talk helped).

  • silence that inner perfectionist voice. While helpful in certain contexts, perfectionism can be a roadblock for productivity, development and, yeah, you guessed it, for overcoming imposter syndrome. More often than not, people who suffer from imposter syndrome are high achievers (myself included) – they are setting extremely high standards and are committed to do and be the best. Since there is no such thing as perfection, no one does everything perfectly, and holding yourself to that standard is nothing but counterproductive.

Acknowledging and embracing our differences

Outcomes in life, both personal and professional, vary a lot - they have to do with your country of origin, the culture you were brought up in, the people you surround yourself with. We don't want to admit it - but especially in business, it's generally more about who you know than what you know, and this plays a huge part in achieving success.

Then there are major life changes, just like the pandemic, which can change the course of your life and career alike. So my question for you is…

why are you being so hard on yourself?

Compare yourself with an older version of yourself only, not with others. Say it again and this time, louder for the people in the back: Are you at least 1% better than you were yesterday, are you constantly trying to better yourself and are you already taking steady steps to do so? Great - it means you are worthy of becoming part of a community of like-minded people, even if each and every member is at a different stage in their life.

We all started somewhere - no matter how fancy someone's job title sounds, remember they too were once a newbie. They climbed up that ladder, yes, but the most important thing is that they started. There is a quote by Robert F Kennedy which guided me during my 'opportunity searching in the covid era' - "Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly."

This principle felt like one of the main themes of the limitless conference from May - seeing top notch professionals speak about failures, not having it all despite the public generalization, being vulnerable and raw - it all gave me so much hope and empowered me in ways I could have never imagined. And let me take a moment to blame social media for this imposter syndrome of mine. As brilliant as it is sometimes, it has a major downside - it serves as the perfect environment for comparing yourself to others. Don't get me wrong - I have a great relationship with my confidence and I am naturally that one friend in my circle who motivates others, but even the most balanced and emotionally developed individuals fell into this trap at least once - it's deeply ingrained in our psyche. Why do you think a big part of behavioral psychology is busy with studying hedonic adaptation and social comparisons?

my take-aways for you on how to not let anything stay in the way of your success

If there is something I would like you to take away from this piece, it is this:

  • cherish your accomplishments with a clear consciousness that you did all that was in your power at that specific time of completion, and own it.

  • make your life easier by not putting so much pressure on yourself - society takes care of that already.

  • use your values' metric to compare yourself only to older versions of you, not with current versions of others.

  • don't overthink your worth - remember there is a starting point for everything and everybody.

  • join the female factor community - no really, it did wonders for me.



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