Have you ever found yourself questioning your abilities, despite having been accepted back into school or landed a new job? Maybe you’ve experienced the nagging feeling that you might not measure up to your peers or that you’re afraid of being exposed as a fraud. It’s a common experience known as the impostor phenomenon or impostor syndrome.
The tolls of the impostor phenomenon
The impostor phenomenon can take a toll on mental health, making us feeling isolated and questioning our abilities because we assume everyone else knows more than we do. We might think accomplishments are simply due to luck.
This mindset can dampen motivation and lower self-esteem, but there are a few ways to address it so you can move forward toward your goals with confidence.
Acknowledge and celebrate your wins
Combat self-doubt by recognizing and celebrating your achievements and strengths. Remind yourself (and ask others!) of what you’re good at and the progress you’ve made so far in your education and career journeys.
Save positive feedback and encouragement from professors, classmates, supervisors, colleagues, and loved ones to remind you of your strengths during moments of doubt.
Talk to someone you trust
Discussing your impostor feelings with someone we trust. That could mean a friend or loved one, mentor, coach, or counselor can provide a more accurate perspective of your strengths and contributions. Connecting with others can also combat the feelings of isolation often associated with impostor feelings. This is especially important for women, underrepresented minorities, and high achievers, who are more likely to experience the impostor phenomenon.
Embrace progress, not perfection
High achievers and perfectionists often struggle with impostor syndrome. Focus on recognizing the progress you’re making versus things having to go perfectly. It can be easy for setbacks to feel like failures, but they provide an opportunity for learning as you move forward toward the next step.
Think of how you’d talk to a friend who’s felt like they’ve failed at something. What would you say? How would you encourage them? Now take that message and imagine you’re that friend by reading it aloud to yourself.
Adopt a growth mindset
Reframe your thoughts with a growth mindset. Feeling less than confident when starting a new project, a new class, or a new job is completely normal. Try to remember that learning and growth happen in our challenge zones, not in our comfort zones!
Your internal critical might want to say: I can’t do this. I’m just fooling everyone, and they will soon realize that I don’t know what I’m doing. Instead, flip it one its head and see everything through the lens of our own development and progress. So then that voice becomes, I can do this. I may not know exactly how yet, but I will learn. That word, yet, is a reminder that the goal is not perfection but rather improvement over time with intentional effort.
Dare not to compare
It’s hard not to constantly compare with other people and see their achievements, the shout-outs they receive in class or at work, or their humble (or not-so-humble) brags on social media, and think, I must be doing something wrong or I don’t have what it takes.
In these moments, focus on yourself—your strengths, your skills, and your abilities. If you still want to improve in a certain area where others seem to excel, you might try approaching that person, a mentor, your professor, or your supervisor to figure out how you might level up your skills. But in the end, each person defines success differently, and someone’s day one might be someone’s day one thousand. Focusing on your own goals can help you avoid falling into the comparison trap.
Treat yourself with the same kindness and encouragement you would extend to those you love and respect. When you start to doubt whether you deserve to be in school or in your job or whether you can accomplish the tasks ahead of you, cheer yourself on like you would cheer a friend or loved one on. You’ve made the decision to go back to school and you’re doing it–while juggling all that life brings your way. That is no small feat and something to be incredibly proud of.
While the impostor phenomenon might continue to pop in as you navigate new experiences, roles, and challenges, it’s possible to transform that self-doubt into positive motivation and encouragement that gets you closer to your goals.