Overcoming Imposter Syndrome — You Are Not a Fraud
Imposter syndrome is a subject that comes up time and time again when I am chatting to women in tech and it seems to me that it affects more people than we realize—me included.
The term was coined by Suzanne A. Imes and clinical psychologist Pauline R. Clance in 1978 and it is a concept which describes people who have an persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. People who exhibit the syndrome dismiss proof of success by claiming it was luck, timing, or even making people think they are more intelligent or competent than they are.
The first time I came across this description of the syndrome was around seven years ago during a session with a career coach. I was trying to explain my lack of desire to progress my career further, and after chatting, we realized that this apparent lack of ambition was due to my fear of being discovered as a fraud. The career coach promptly told me that almost every executive he had worked with felt like that from time to time, especially very successful women.
Just that one explanation had a profound effect on me, and I knew I wasn’t alone. So I started to look at myself, my career, and my personal life, and decided to make a change starting with faking it 'til I make it.
I still class myself as being on the road to recovery but I wanted to share some of the tips I wish someone had shared with me way back when.
1. Do not compare yourself to others
I am fortunate to work with some amazingly strong, confident women, and I would always compare myself to those ladies. I wasn’t as eloquent, I wasn’t as technical, I wasn’t as good at presenting, etc etc. This mindset of comparing inhibits growth and kills motivation. So instead of comparing yourself to others, look at your own strengths and focus on those. You are good at what you do because you are you, and you don’t have to be anyone else.
2. Take time to learn and grow
It is not easy to take time out when we have such busy work and home lives, but I found that taking the time to learn something new, work on a skill, and understand the business better gave me more confidence and helped me to accept some of my weaker areas. StrengthsFinder is a great book to help in this process.
3. Find a mentor
If you are lucky enough to find a mentor who you respect and admire and who believes in you, you are onto a winner. You just have to remember not to try and “be” them and to accept those compliments you are bound to receive. Please don’t fall into the trap of excusing successes as “lucky breaks” or “team work” – another classic symptom of Imposter Syndrome.
4. Learn as you go
There is nothing wrong with taking on a project and feeling out of your depth. You are smart, you are talented—there is no reason why you cannot research, learn, and practice as you go. You’d be amazed how many women just “fell into” tech roles and do not have a tech-based education. So please don’t let the lack of a technical degree damage your confidence.
5. Speak out
It’s ok to talk to people about how you are feeling. Try talking about your imposter feelings; it can help. I discovered so many women in my circle feel the same way as I do and it really helped me feel less alone. Try it out!
I’m not a psychologist nor am I an expert on this subject, but I hope that some of my tried and tested techniques give you some food for thought.
You can find more of my ramblings as well as curated news from around the web and details on our events on Twitter @TheTechieGirls.
Sarah Lewis is Director Field Marketing at Ivanti and the spearhead for Ivanti’s Women in Technology movement. Sarah started off her tech career in an internal IT support role, moving on into IT Asset Management and was finally lured away into a marketing role where she happily combines technical knowledge with a sprinkle of creativity and indulges in her passion for supporting the women in technology community.