How to step into your power when imposter syndrome tries to take it away

Ghina Fahs
February 24, 2023
How to step into your power when imposter syndrome tries to take it away
Employee experience

Here’s a scenario that might hit home:

Adam studied architecture at a world-renowned university, but he regularly jokes about how he got lucky and they must’ve only accepted him because his grandfather was an alumnus. He courageously moved so far away from home to pursue his passion, and the hours he put in used to feel endless, but to this day, he calls himself a procrastinator. Then came his graduation, he got an outstanding award for his final project; he was the best in his class, but something about it didn’t feel legitimate to him. After that, he embarked on the job hunt, skipping over a ton of amazing opportunities all because he thought “there’s no way I’ll get accepted.” But lo and behold, Adam was offered a role with a prominent firm in the city of his dreams, and when he signed the offer letter, all he could think to himself was “What if they find out that I don’t have what it takes? What if they hire me only to discover they made a terrible mistake?” and well… the pattern continues.

That, our friends, is the menacing voice of imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is described by Audrey Ervin, psychologist and academic director of the graduate program in counseling psychology at Delaware Valley University, as “characterized by chronic feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, and fraudulence despite objective success. It’s hard to internalize success and genuinely hold the belief that you’re competent and capable.” While it’s not an officially diagnosable mental illness, it’s very real, very common, and very likely to cloud our judgment, even to the point of entirely hindering a person’s success.

Switching careers or entering a new role are all common triggers, but this sort of heightened sense of self-doubt has been shown to plague everyone at some stage, from interns to mid-level managers, and freelancers to CEOs. Imposter syndrome doesn’t care about how much a person has actually achieved; if anything, it even seems to have a greater effect on the most driven personalities and those in more “powerful” positions.

Now, let’s get to why we’re really here. We want to equip you and your team with tips and tools to give imposter syndrome the boot every time it comes knocking, uninvited. If you find that your colleagues or team members are struggling, share this with them to let them know there’s a way out!

Awareness is the first step; be mindful of the signs

According to research by Dr. Fred Luskin of Stanford University, a human being can have around 60,000 thoughts per day. 90% of these thoughts are repetitive, and 95% of our brain activity is unconscious! Can you imagine how many thoughts are steering the trajectory of our days beyond our conscious awareness?

This is where mindfulness comes in. By definition, mindfulness is simply a mental state that can be achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment, no matter what appears to be happening outside of you at that very moment. Any feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations that come up in this state, are meant to be observed and calmly accepted with no judgment.

Becoming more aware of your thoughts from an “observer” standpoint is key here. Instead of taking every thought that comes to mind as the truth and automatically reacting to it, mindfulness and present awareness will help to pause and assess whether the thought is even ours to begin with, and whether it’s rooted in self-doubt and insecurity.

Anchoring yourself in an observer standpoint is helpful in recognizing and identifying when the voice of imposter syndrome is asking to be heard. With mindfulness, repetition, and consistency, you’ll start to notice yourself becoming more conscious of the type of thoughts that cross your mind throughout the day.


Reframe your thoughts; be kind to yourself

After sharpening your awareness, it’s time to teach yourself new ways of thinking. With more mindfulness, you’ll recognize imposter syndrome thoughts when they come up, but to take things a step further, you can begin to challenge them and reframe them.

Cognitive reframing is a technique in therapy and life-coaching used to shift your mindset so you can look at something from a different perspective. It is the active practice of choosing the point of view that serves you best, and the right thoughts (words) to tell your mind.

Choosing your thoughts is important because the subconscious mind can’t tell the difference between thoughts rooted in truth and thoughts rooted in fear. When your inner critic comes to tell you you’re not good enough, your subconscious takes this as truth. What you’re thinking and telling yourself is what your subconscious mind believes and reacts to. Your thinking creates your beliefs and your beliefs drive your feelings. This is why negative thinking, including “imposter syndrome” thoughts, can be so believable sometimes—because they control our feelings and emotions.

The good thing is that with practice and patience, you can take your power back by focusing on what you can control. The more present and aware you are, the more you can control what you tell yourself and choose your thoughts carefully.

Next time your inner critic says “people don’t actually like my artwork, they’re just being nice because they feel sorry for me,” challenge that voice. It’s so used to you believing everything it tells you and letting it ramble on, but this time, take it by surprise and respond to it with “that’s not true, they wouldn’t have spent their money to hang up my art on their walls if they didn’t genuinely like it.

Here’s the thing, even if you struggle with insecurity and you don’t genuinely think that statement is true, the subconscious mind doesn’t know that. But if you say it enough, if you reprogram your subconscious mind with thoughts that lift you up, replacing the ones that bring you down, eventually, your subconscious mind will believe it, and the thoughts that drive your feelings and behaviors will be thoughts of high self-worth, self-validation, and self-love.


Know you’re not alone

While self-validation is a crucial part of overcoming imposter syndrome, there’s nothing wrong with wanting external validation. Sometimes, all it takes to remember your power is sharing the way you feel and getting it off your chest. Even just the act of saying it out loud can help to notice that difficult thoughts often have more power over you when they stay trapped in your mind with nowhere to go; give them room to breathe and notice that they’ll shrink in size.

Talking to a colleague, friend, or loved one can also help because they see things from the outside, and they don’t carry the bias that imposter syndrome would give you. They probably go through the same thing and will relate to your struggles. Leaning on your support system reminds you that you’re not alone, and it’s especially helpful to hear words of encouragement and affirmation from others when it’s hard to be that voice for yourself.

You might also want to take the route of seeing a therapist, who can help you with the right tools and techniques to recognize feelings associated with imposter syndrome—as well as where they might stem from—and create new behaviors to get past them.

Make friends with both failure and success

Do you think we’d still be so hard on ourselves if instead of fearing failure, we embraced it as a natural part of life?

Imposter syndrome has been linked to a fear of failure and a perfectionist mindset, and you can probably relate to that, but it’s important to keep challenging yourself and practicing unconditional self-acceptance, even in moments where it feels hard to do so.

Failure is a constructive part of everyone’s process; it’s individual, collective, and universal. It’s necessary for growth and development and, as a matter of fact, failure teaches you what doesn’t work, which gets you that much closer to what does. There’s no way to avoid it entirely; so, why not accept that it is always a possible reality? Instead of letting it drive imposter syndrome, use it as fuel to keep you going!

Get back out there and enjoy the ride

If you let imposter syndrome drive your evolution in the workplace, it can be a hindrance to your career development. Instead, rise above it and stand your ground, don’t let feelings of inadequacy get in the way of your success. Remember that you’re not alone; this common phenomenon affects everyone from interns to CEOs. However, anyone can kick it to the curb with the right amount of effort, grace, and patience. By becoming aware of imposter syndrome thoughts, it’s possible to reframe them and choose more positive and empowering thoughts instead. Soon enough, you’ll be on your way to reaching your full potential in the workplace.

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