I’m an Imposter, Get Me Out of Here!

Working women are having a moment. Whether it’s loudly saying #Metoo and “Time’s up” to sexist treatment on the job, or Senator Tammy Duckworth shining a light on the extraordinary challenges of being a working mother, the issues women have long faced in the workplace are finally getting the attention they deserve. But while society has a long way to go before we overcome these external roadblocks, it’s crucial that we also pay attention to the internal barriers that continue to hold us back on the job.

I've been dealing with a healthy dose of imposter syndrome ever since I entered the workforce more than six years ago, and strangely, the more I advance in my career, the more insecure I feel. But while six years may not seem like that much time (and it’s not!), even more strangely, this is something that women at all levels of their careers are known to struggle with, as they take on more responsibility.

Imposter syndrome is a term that describes that feeling of being a fraud, despite how much your accomplishments prove otherwise. It’s a dirty little secret that many women face, but seldom talk about.  

In their groundbreaking paper The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women, Dr. Pauline Rose Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes broke down the results of their interviews with 150 extremely accomplished women who, despite everything, described themselves as unintelligent and unqualified. In their words, they simply had everyone fooled. Imes and Clance’s paper also examined the ways family dynamics, societal norms and basic sex-stereotyping contributed to women often having a deflated sense of self-worth in the workplace. They offer therapeutic methods that can be used to overcome imposter syndrome, but I also wanted to share a few things that have worked for me personally:

  • Finding a coworker or friend who can relate: As mentioned, countless women go through the same thing, so finding someone you can talk to about your struggles can make a huge difference. And if it’s a coworker, who’s seen what a badass you are at work, it’s more than likely she can vouch for you and become your own personal hype woman whenever you’re feeling insecure – and vice versa of course.
  •  Listing all your accomplishments: This does not have to be a physical list, but it can certainly help. Start by thinking through what you’re most proud of or how you expertly dealt with a tricky situation at work. Let those experiences remind you that you are indeed a force to be reckoned with. Don’t be afraid to give yourself the credit you’d likely give someone else who did great work.
  • Speak up in that meeting: This one may be challenging at first, but sharing your ideas in a meeting can be a huge confidence boost. When people are receptive to what you have to say, it can only reinforce the notion that you know what you’re doing and show others that too. Start by challenging yourself to speak at least once in that meeting. Pro tip: Sometimes planning to speak first, or at least early on can also be helpful. Not only do you immediately seem engaged, but people can respond to your comments instead of you feeling pressured to respond to others.
  • Fake it, ‘til you make it: It sounds trite, but in my experience, this actually works. If you don’t know, act like you do – don’t let them see you sweat. And chances are that it’s just the imposter syndrome talking, so remember that, and shut it down. You can handle whatever they throw at you, otherwise they wouldn’t have trusted you with it in the first place.

Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? How did you overcome it? Let us know in the comments below and in case you missed it, be sure to check out Season 2, Episode 1, where Katie Breslin also shares her tips for getting over imposter syndrome.

Take it a step further by listening to Hillah Culman describe how to take control of your career and begin to manage up here.

Written By: Ianthe Metzger