How to Ditch Impostor Syndrome Once and for All
Whenever I try something new, a little voice pops up and whispers some variation of:
“Are you sure you’re ready?”
“I don’t know if you’re good enough.”
“What gives YOU the right to try this?”
“You’ll be so embarrassed when you fail.”
“Don’t even bother.”
Any of this language sound familiar?
When I start to obsess over whether or not I’m smart enough or funny enough or strategic enough or whatever enough, I slowly stop creating and I become a smaller version of myself.
Aside from being straight up mean, that little voice is symptomatic of something called “impostor syndrome,” a phrase coined in the late 1970s by two psychologists. It refers to high-achievers who experience an unrelenting fear of being exposed as “frauds” to their peers and struggle with intense feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Though impostor syndrome is commonly attributed to women, it actually affects almost everyone and results in self-imposed limits marked by a sensation of unworthiness.
Here are a few strategies I’ve learned in order to ditch impostor syndrome once and for all.
WATER YOUR OWN GRASS
Maybe you’ve seen this quote on Pinterest: “I’m too busy working on my own grass to notice if yours is greener.” A funny, cheeky response to “the grass is greener on the other side” concept, the saying acts as a good reminder to focus on your own endeavors before getting distracted by what other people are doing.
When I start to obsess over whether or not I’m smart enough or funny enough or strategic enough or whatever enough I slowly stop creating and I become a smaller version of myself. I assume that somebody else is doing “it” better than me, so my voice doesn’t matter. I make a mental list of the reasons why I have no right to make, do, have, or be. I tell myself that I should quietly stand in the corner and get out of the way of someone more worthy.
The moment I start to fall down this rabbit hole of impostor syndrome, I take a deep breath. I shut off my phone. And then I put up an imaginary fence in my brain. This fence encloses my thoughts, ideas, feelings and plans—my creative “grass,” if you will. This is the grass that I can control. I can mow it and water it and lay down in it to look up at the sky of my imagination. I can kick rude people and old sayings and past actions off of it. This fence is also electric; it zings with emphasis the moment I start to be distracted by comparison or envy. To do my best work, I need to stay on my own damn lawn.
There will likely always be someone “better” than you in some way, but nobody is better at being you than you. Water your own grass before stressing about what your neighbor’s yard looks like.
OWN YOUR HUSTLE
Successful women are often asked how they made it, got their big break, or reached the top. I’ve noticed that no matter their level of ambition, hard work, or education, many often write off their talent as a matter of luck or timing. To some degree, I get it. Women are constantly walking the line between being considered “nice” or “difficult,” and any sentiment of bragging can be a fast track to the latter label.
Don’t be afraid to talk about your wins. Feel proud of your role in getting to where you are today—yes, mistakes and all—and allow yourself to speak your strengths.
But can we stop doing this?
Don’t be afraid to talk about your wins. Acknowledge your achievements. Feel proud of your role in getting to where you are today—yes, mistakes and all—and allow yourself to speak your strengths. Your boss gave you a raise because you earned it or asked for it or some combination of both. Your business can only experience highs and lows because you started it in the first place. Your story got published because you edited ten drafts. Your art sold because it was beautifully created by you.
You didn’t just “get lucky.” You weren’t “in the right place at the right time.” There’s no need for a demure shoulder shrug here: Promotions are earned, capability leads to responsibility, innovation results from courageous creativity. You did the work, you’ve got the smarts, you put in the time and money, you stayed the late nights, you came up with the big idea.
You deserve to be here. Own your hustle.
ASK FOR HELP
If it feels incredibly challenging to identify your abilities, then ask for help from a dependable mentor, friend, or colleague. (Note: Choose someone capable of constructive criticism!) Use phrases like: “I’m having trouble recognizing my areas of expertise. What do you think I do well, and why?” And, “I’ve never put together this type of presentation before, and I’m nervous about messing it up. Can you take a look?” Or, “I love this idea, but I feel overwhelmed. Where can we break it down into more digestible tasks?”
In this same spirit of asking for help, I enlisted friends to share how they combat feelings of impostor syndrome. Below is a short list of some helpful tactics you may want to try:
“I keep notes and cards of compliments and praise to help on the days when I’m doubting myself. It’s okay to ask people you trust to help remind you of what you’ve accomplished. Sometimes you aren’t able to step back and see it when you’re constantly running or jumping hurdles.” —Macy K.
“I write out the mean things I’m thinking so that they don’t ruminate. And then I write out who I would like to be.” —Janssen J.
“I repeat this mantra to myself: I am healthy, I am strong, I am worthy, I am loved.” —Erin M.
“I talk about it. By saying it aloud, I disempower it. I look myself in the eye and say, ‘I belong here,’ and then I do something bold to remind myself of my own impact.” —Christen B.
"I ask myself, ‘If I'm a giant fraud, how did I get here in the first place?’ In my experience, frauds don't get very far before they are called out for their lack of authenticity. So, I have a purpose for being in this place.” —Jana K.
Affirming yourself is hard work, so let other people raise you up or help you get back on track when you need to feel more confident and capable.
BE FLAWLESS—NOT PERFECT
Every time I sit down to write, I want to quit. I convince myself that I can’t start until I’m “ready” to write inspired words in one fell swoop, until it’s juuuuust right. Or I leave the blinking cursor on the white screen and think about how everyone has already said everything worth saying and I suck and I’m not even a real writer, anyway. (Impostor syndrome at its finest, friends!)
Somewhere along the line, we all became convinced that perfection was the end goal, and it isn’t. It only blocks your path under the false premise that you should wait around until you’re worthy enough to move forward.
Somewhere along the line, we all became convinced that perfection was the end goal, and it isn’t. It only blocks your path under the false premise that you should wait around until you’re worthy enough to move forward. To combat these mind games, I have one strategy: I listen to Beyonce’s “***Flawless” on repeat. You see, when the Queen Bee sings about being flawless, she’s not proposing perfectionism. She’s talking about authenticity and confidence, vibing to your own beat, hustling for those big dreams of yours—despite the blunders, missteps, and errors along the way.
Newsflash: You are not perfect. You’re human. Your self-worth is not tied to how quickly you check off your to-do list, and your value is constant no matter how many gold stars adorn your resume. Basically, when I wait to be “ready”—aka, perfect—I waste a whole lot of time. Instead, I try to push past those feelings and write something, even a shitty first draft. My best effort on my worst day is better than no effort at all.
FEAR IS BORING
Similarly, it’s helpful to remember that fear will ALWAYS creep up the second you try something new. Fear hates vulnerability. When you feel like you’re winging it, when you’re making it up as you go, when you hit the limits of what you already know how to do well, when you push up against the edge of your comfort zone—that’s exactly when fear shrilly lists the ways you will crash and burn.
In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert writes,
“My fear is the most boring thing about me. It only ever has one thing to say, and that thing is: ‘STOP!’ Fear never has a more interesting insight to offer. Never. Just that one word, repeated and repeated with increasing hysteria: ‘STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP!!!!!’ My fear wants me to stop, because my fear wants me to be safe, and my fear perceives all motion, all inspiration, all work, all activity, all passion whatsoever as potentially life-threatening. My fear wants me to live a smaller life. The smallest imaginable life, ideally. My fear would prefer that I never got out of bed.”
When scary self-doubt rolls in, try to embrace it and then keep on living your interesting, unique life. Fear will always be chattering in the background, but that doesn’t mean you always have to listen.
You’re not an impostor and you’re not a fraud. You deserve to be heard and you’re allowed to explore, dream, discover, change, and expand. You don’t need to be perfect, you just need to be flawlessly you.
You woke up like this. Ladies, tell ‘em.
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