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How to push past imposter syndrome

No matter the level of success, many people suffer from imposter syndrome, but Marlene Chism has three remedies.

4 min read


imposter syndrome

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Impostor Syndrome. Successful people, executive women, physicians, six-figure professionals, million-dollar entrepreneurs in their thirties and forties, say they feel like an imposter despite being highly accomplished. The signs include self-doubt, feeling that you don’t deserve success, feeling that you don’t belong, and the overriding fear that others will eventually see you as a fraud.

Research on the topic of impostor syndrome is diverse and multi-faceted. For example, one perspective suggests Imposter Syndrome is context-dependent, and others suggest we view Imposter Syndrome from different lenses: societal, institutional, individual, social and interpersonal. Research aside, if you experience imposter syndrome, here are some tips to challenge your identity and help you regain a sense of well-being. 

Shift your focus

Make a distinction between self-awareness and self-obsession. Self-awareness is knowing your preferences, your values and your desires. Self-obsession is worrying about what other people think of you, making choices to impress rather than choosing what you want. Self-obsession disconnects us from others. The more self-focused you become, the more miserable you’ll likely be. It reminds me of the joke when someone realizes they’ve been talking about themselves too much, and they shift the conversation to say, “Well, enough about me, what do you think about me?” Self-obsession equals disconnection, which makes you feel like you don’t belong. 

What to do: When you feel disconnected, stop focusing on yourself. Instead, consciously shift your attention to a genuine interest in the other person or how you can provide value. Self-obsession is a downward spiral of disconnection. Realize that talking about your imposter syndrome puts the focus on your insecurities, which doesn’t elevate the conversation. The feelings associated with imposter syndrome will go away when you do not think about yourself and your problems. Notice how you never feel like an imposter when focused on giving value or being curious about others.

Rewrite your narrative

There’s a narrative that if you don’t feel like an imposter, you aren’t growing. The negative narrative is this:  Since only the truly successful can have Impostor Syndrome, you should want to feel like an imposter and embrace feeling inadequate as a status symbol that you have arrived. This narrative justifies feeling bad as the price you pay to be successful.

What to do: Disconnect from the identity of “imposter syndrome” as quickly as possible. Do it for your mental health and well-being. Refrain from buying into the narrative that the price for accomplishment and success is to feel bad about yourself continually. Rewrite the narrative. If you’re not confident about your current level of growth and have yet to build your capacity or credibility, that’s not imposter syndrome. It’s called learning.

Stop competing and comparing

Sometimes, you feel like an imposter because you are one. You’re faking it. I was there once. (Maybe you were, too.) But eventually, you have to own your success. This isn’t to say there won’t be people who are better than you. Absolutely. There’s no contest here. But if you feel like an imposter when you have a proven track record, the knowledge or wisdom to back up what you’re saying, it’s not imposter syndrome; it’s self-judgment and fear of what others think of you. 

What to do: When you recognize other people’s success, work ethic and drive, let it inspire you, not intimidate you. (By the way, the ones you admire might feel miserable advocating for imposter syndrome.) But seriously, you can only live inside your body and work from your mind. You can develop partnerships. You can learn. You can build your unique capabilities. Comparing and competing is a distraction to your life purpose. If looking at others makes you feel worse, ask yourself if you’ve lost your vision. 

We all feel doubt. We all question our belonging when we feel vulnerable. We sometimes compare ourselves to others that we admire. Sometimes, we simply fear other people’s judgment.  Self-doubt, lack of belonging and fear of being a fraud are not syndromes to want. It’s a bad habit to break. 

The question is this: Are you willing to be fully human, motivated by a future vision, instead of being motivated by a narrative of unworthiness?


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