How Imposter Syndrome Is Changing the Way Women Work
Recently, I sat on a panel with three other women about imposter syndrome. Even if you’re not familiar with the formal definition, imposter syndrome is something that we’ve all no doubt felt. It’s the feeling that we’re intellectually underqualified for the position we’re in—and this weird, irrational fear of being exposed as a fraud for our accomplishments. It’s that nagging little voice in the back of our heads telling us we’re not capable enough.
If you’ve ever felt like everyone else in the room knows more than you, only to take a step back and realize you’re just as, if not more, knowledgeable, this is imposter syndrome speaking. Imposter syndrome is something I’m still working through, and I know a lot of other successful people, especially women, are doing the same.
Here’s the challenge: I stand on the shoulders of all the women who came before me. There are so many amazing women in Seattle and in my life who have been helpful in creating opportunities as I build my business, Armoire, and my own career. It really does take a community to raise strong women and to get a company off the ground.
While I am so unbelievably grateful for those who have helped me along the way, it can be difficult not to confuse this with me not earning my own place in the room. I find myself needing to remind myself of all the work that I put in, as well. Even if other people helped me get to where I am now, it’s important to find ownership in my own successes. It’s hard not to see it as, “These people helped me and that’s why I’m succeeding.”
We need to flip the script—I am successful, and that’s why these people are helping me. It’s easy to attribute successes to others. Women who are successful are seen as having “earned their careers.” Those women got to be where they are because they earned it. Now they’re helping others because those people earned it.
We just need to believe in our own success.
As I always remind myself, no one would stick their neck out for me if they didn’t truly believe that I would step up to the plate.
But like most things, this is easier said than done. Getting over imposter syndrome can become a high-risk situation. We oversell ourselves and become boastful, even sometimes feeling like we’re almost lying in order to solidify our qualifications. We undersell ourselves and feel like we get overlooked. It’s scary to put ourselves out there. Getting over this hurdle relies on getting over the fear of failing. If anything, failing over and over (and over, and over, and over) is a good thing, as it teaches us to fail gracefully, to get back up, and to try again.
Taking a step back, imposter syndrome can have a few benefits it’s important to acknowledge. Admittedly, sometimes we need to foster our inner imposter. A little self-doubt isn’t the worst thing in the world. This fear of failure motivates us to try our best in the first place. If failure wasn’t scary, we’d have no reason to try. It’s what makes us strive for perfection and rethink our ideas until we arrive at the final product. We see flaws in our designs where others might not, and strive for a perfected version. After all, we are our own worst critics.
If you have that sinking feeling that everyone around you knows far more than you—firstly, you’re probably wrong. More importantly, this is a great learning opportunity! Turn this feeling of insecurity into an excuse to learn, to gain some knowledge and experience. Even if you feel like you’re faking it till you make it, here’s a secret: Everyone is.
So if we’re going to feel like we’re faking it, how do we do it well? We need to sell ourselves in a way that convinces us of how smart, capable, and strong we really are. Growing up, girls are taught to be humble. Talking about our accomplishments comes across as brash or braggy, so we dilute our successes for the sake of humility. So how do we talk about our achievements without sounding boastful?
Here’s my advice:
Think about what your expertise is. Ask for help! Ask your closest neighbors, colleagues, managers, and friends what they think you are great at. Get someone else’s perspective of you. Once you figure out your strengths, start thinking about how natural it is for people to talk about their strengths. How do people whom you consider successful talk about their strengths?
Find a personal cheerleader, a really good friend who can pump you up no matter what. Sometimes, we all need a good friend to remind us of the powerful boss lady we are.
Practice, practice, practice! Read off your accomplishments. The more you hear yourself talking about how great you are, the more natural it will sound and the more you’ll believe it yourself. Normalize the feeling of being scrutinized. If you do good work, people are going to pay attention to it! It’s not a bad thing to sell what you’ve got, but like most things, being comfortable with this requires practice.
It’s when imposter syndrome makes us sell ourselves short that it becomes a problem. It’s the same reason women are less likely to ask for a raise than their male counterparts. It’s the same reason we feel less confident in our work, that we attribute a greater risk to failure and inhibit ourselves from taking risks. It’s okay, even good, to be afraid to fail, but it’s even better to learn from those mistakes. Having the trust that you are capable is all you need to get started. If someone comes to you with a question you don’t know, it’s making the transition from “I don’t know” (enter the nagging feeling of failure) to “I don’t know, but I can find out.”
Coming in with an attitude of “I can learn, I can lead, I am capable, I am optimistic” changes the way we think. At the end of the day, it all comes down to confidence, whether this means proudly owning your accomplishments or feeling your best in the way you dress. This is a huge part of the reason we created Armoire—to help women feel confident in their own boss lady lives.
Bottom line: We need women to be loud and proud about how great we are, to solidify our place at the table, and to help lift up other women.