Letting Go of Self Doubt and Your Inner CriticFeatured
We’ve all heard the career advice to just “fake it ‘til you make it” and that “practice makes perfect” will give you the confidence you need. But what happens when despite all of that effort, you still feel like you’re just faking it and you never quite get to making it?That’s imposter syndrome. It is a pattern that makes you doubt your knowledge, experience, and accomplishments, despite having piles of evidence that indicates you are skilled, qualified, and successful in what you do. Imposter syndrome can impair psychological safety and creates a loss in confidence. Since imposter syndrome affects confidence, and lack of confidence can trigger imposter syndrome, it can keep you stuck in a loop and focused on perceived flaws rather than all of the strengths to bring to your work.For women, BIPOC, trans people, disabled people, queer people, those living with a chronic illness, and anyone else in a marginalized group, it likely hits harder, especially if you’re in more than one of these groups. You’re disproportionately more likely to have to navigate the effects of imposter syndrome because the measures of competence and expertise are unfairly set much higher because of bias, both conscious and unconscious.To put imposter syndrome into context, here are some examples of how it may show up at work:You’re a new manager working with a team of deeply technical engineers. Even though your experience makes you uniquely qualified to lead this team, you may doubt it and feel like you don’t measure up because you “aren’t technical enough.” You joined your company 10 months ago and have been crushing it. A huge project comes up and your manager asks you to lead a team of people to deliver it. You say yes, but feel a little panicked. “Do they really think I’m ready for this?!”Someone invites you to speak at a conference. Your first thought is, “Me? Why? There are so many other people who know more than I do. I won’t be good at this.”You over prepare for a big presentation, letting other tasks and responsibilities slip in the meantime, because you’re so afraid of making a mistake. You assume one small misstep means they’ll figure out you have no idea what you’re doing and you’ll get fired immediately.Here is what some women in tech have to say about their imposter syndrome and how they manage it.Amy Smidutz, Director, Delivery Engineering at Netflix “After I was promoted to Director, I immediately experienced nearly debilitating imposter syndrome. It affected my confidence to the point that it was really impacting my day-to-day. Reaching out to my manager and peers for help was really difficult because I was worried that if they knew, they would lose confidence in me. I’m so glad I did though; they were incredibly supportive and almost all of them told me about their own struggles with imposter syndrome and how it shook their confidence too. Hearing that imposter syndrome is almost a rite of passage helped me get past it. My advice to manage your imposter syndrome is to solicit feedback and trust the feedback you are receiving. If you regularly receive positive feedback, the chances are high that what you are experiencing is imposter syndrome. It is important to solicit constructive feedback too, we can only combat imposter syndrome by building a realistic mental model of our strengths and weaknesses.”Sara Kimelman, Leadership & Development at Facebook “I've experienced it when I'm in any new situation that's unknown, when I'm about to have a crucial conversation, or when I start comparing my journey to someone else's. When I feel it starting to creep on in I remind myself of all the accomplishments I've made so far and celebrate them, I personify my inner critic thoughts to be a person and nurture the heck out of the inner critic with loving words and kindness, and I get out of my head and move my body to switch the focus.”Bronwyn Lewis, Senior Product Manager at Netflix“When I'm feeling uncertain, I try to lean into vulnerability. I have a couple of colleagues that I feel comfortable reaching out to when I'm struggling with feeling like "not enough", who I know will give me honest feedback. This helps me know whether the thing I'm worried about is in my head or something that actually warrants my attention (spoiler alert: It's usually in my head). These same colleagues sometimes share their own insecurities with me, which also helps—I know exactly how awesome they are. Realizing that they also struggle helps me feel like I'm not alone and reminds me that the insecurity will pass. And when I need a lot of help, I watch this video of a child giving herself a pep talk in the mirror, do some power posing or martial arts moves to get my chi up, and remind myself that I can do anything good.”Sarah Magruder, Marketing Program Manager “For me at work, it would come up a lot when I wasn't getting external validation! In many roles I would get a lot of praise and then if I stopped getting it, I would all of the sudden think they no longer viewed me as a top performer or that I must have done something wrong. This caused me to spiral into comparison and jealousy, and a lot of nervous energy. I also started to think more about all of the things I don't do very well, and became certain they had "found me out." I also had a really hard time admitting mistakes because I wanted to keep up my perfectionist persona! So through understanding all of this, I realized that in order to work through this, I needed to give myself the validation I craved rather than trying to seek it from other people and I needed to allow myself to make mistakes and learn from them. It's been hard but so worth it!”Even Michelle Obama feels this. She says, “I still have a little impostor syndrome. It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.”I have some bad news and some good news for you.The bad news: Imposter syndrome often comes and goes throughout your career. It can resurface when you start a new job, get a promotion, are asked to speak at a conference, or are tasked with managing a new project. When you’re in a transition or doing something brand new, your inner critic likes to speak up.The good news: You can learn imposter syndrome resilience skills! You can develop a toolkit of personal resources to rely on when your confidence decreases and your self doubt takes over. Imposter syndrome is manageable!Here is your imposter syndrome management cheat sheet!For people struggling with imposter syndrome:Talk to people about how you are feeling. You are likely to hear similar stories that will remind you how common and normal imposter syndrome is at work.Seek out a mentor or a coach to help you get clarity on your real strengths and weaknesses rather than focusing on your perceived weakness.Check out resources, books, or articles that can help you better understand what you are feeling and how to manage it. Listen to what your inner critic is saying but don’t believe everything she says. What is your inner critic trying to protect you from? How can you change the narrative and let her know you’re actually quite capable and you’ve got this?For managers:Remind new hires that they are the right person for the job and you hired them for a reason. Talk about the strengths they bring to the team.Give feedback early and often to build trust and be transparent about critical feedback.Share your own growth areas and experiences. By sharing openly, a manager can make it clear everyone has room to improve and that it’s safe to talk about and get support for their imposter syndrome.So Elphas, let’s work together to let go of self doubt and stop letting our inner critics make so many decisions for us. The world needs our strong, uninhibited, resilient leadership now more than ever.