I’ve changed careers three times over the past five years. Not jobs, careers. I’ve been a teacher, a public relations professional and, now, a manager of corporate learning. Time after time, I’ve applied and interviewed for jobs that, on paper, were not aligned with my experiences. And, time after time they’ve led to opportunities for advancement. Yet, at each turn I faced the uncertain voice of imposter syndrome.
Have you been there, too? The feeling of not belonging, of faking it and fearing everyone would soon realize you had no business being in the room? I remember asking myself, why would a PR agency hire a 6th grade English teacher? What could I possible have to offer? It wasn’t until a colleague at the first agency that hired me told me they found my diverse perspective valuable that I felt comfortable somewhat embracing the role.
At this point we’ve got to ask, how much is society holding us back and how much are we holding ourselves back?
According to this Forbes article, a well-known study by Hewlett-Packard found that: “Women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job. Men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements.”
At this point we’ve got to ask, how much is society holding us back and how much are we holding ourselves back? Imposter syndrome is real, and its effects can be detrimental to our progress. Here are the 5 steps to overcoming imposter syndrome.
1. Count Your Qualifications
Before you decide against applying to the next job you have your eye on, try this. Pull up the list of required and preferred qualifications listed in the job description, and categorize them by: Qualifications I Definitely Meet, Qualifications I Somewhat Meet, Qualifications I’m Unfamiliar With. Chances are, majority of the qualifications fall under the first two buckets and the rest you can learn on the job. Shift your focus from needing to meet every qualification to meeting most of the qualifications, and apply. The worst that can happen is you are passed over for the position, but why should you eliminate yourself from the running before you even have a chance? Apply.
2. Know What Value You Bring
You may be one to write your successes off as lucky breaks. Maybe you’ve found success but feel you don’t know how. If you’ve been with a company for years, maybe you’ve found yourself thinking you’d never be hired there if you were to apply today. Stop for a moment. YOU are the common denominator in all your successes. Reflect on the wins in your career so far, make a written list. Map it back – what led you to each success? Sure, you may have had help; but, what actions did you take that yielded success? Then, think about what you learned from each experience. What do you now know how to do, feel you can offer advice on, that you didn’t before? Your unique approach and perspective, your ability to execute what you’ve learned are all valuable. Compare yourself to others by, for once, focusing on what you can offer over others.
YOU are the common denominator in all your successes.
3. Tap into Your ‘Friend Voice’
By now, you’ve heard this or realized it yourself – we would never talk to our loved ones the way we often talk to ourselves. One step toward self-love is to tap into your ‘friend voice.’ We tend to downplay our own ambitions while building up our friends. We admire others for pursuing their passions while admonishing ourselves for reaching too high. Flip the script. The next time you think to yourself you’re not qualified or something is out of your reach, consider what you’d say to a friend in the same situation. Better yet, write yourself a letter as though you were writing to a friend. Treat yourself to encouragement. Because the truth is that you won’t know you’ve reached too high until you try, and at the very least you will get one step closer to where you’re meant to be.
4. Draw Inspiration from Failure
We often hear about the rookie who made it big, or the people who failed in one endeavor only to later meet immense success. When we hear these stories, we tend to focus only on the final piece of the puzzle – the fact that they eventually made it. We weren’t with them for their lowest lows, when their dreams felt as out of reach as ours do. The truth is, the ones who make it are the ones with grit. They push through the uncomfortable feelings of rejection, of feeling like imposters and frauds. When you hear their stories, focus on their journeys. Be inspired by the knowledge that they were once where you are now, and allow that inspiration to fuel your own persistence.
Don’t disqualify yourself from pursuing your passions.
5. Understand the Trade-Offs
What are you giving up if you give in to imposter syndrome? A more competitive salary? Opportunities for growth? Confidence in your own abilities? Understand that trying for something, regardless of fear or uncertainty, is always better than not even taking the chance. Leave it to others to disqualify you, but don’t disqualify yourself from pursuing your passions because you feel you don’t deserve success yet. Send the resume, pitch that editor, submit that award entry – you can’t win the lottery if you don’t play.
Maybe you’re wondering, do we ever outgrow this pesky imposter syndrome? Well, we can overcome it, acknowledge it and use strategies we learn along the way to navigate past it. And, in a sense, that is how we can win the battle with it – by learning to identify and work through it each time it tries to stop us in our tracks.