A lot of the people I work with struggle with feeling like frauds, even in the face of measurable success. The good (?) news from my perspective is that the people most likely to feel this way are the highest achievers, a phenomenon that was observed in women as early as 1978!
A friend of mine frames these moments as “impostor events,” rather than as an overarching syndrome, which I think is a much healthier way of thinking about it. After all, having a syndrome probably means a lifetime of work and even then, your prognosis is iffy!
So what should you do if you run head-long into one of these impostor events?
Start by separating fact from fiction. If you’re under stress and you make a mistake, your personal Little Mr. Impostor will likely begin to offer you such unhelpful feedback as that you always mess up and you actually have no idea what you’re talking about. But if you step back a little, you’ll see that none of that is true. Look at the measurable successes you’ve achieved, and maybe even write a couple of them down.
Keep track of your accomplishments. This is something I say often because I think it’s so very important. These can be nice emails from your boss or colleagues, compliments from customers, or sweet notes from people in your life. But they can also be things like awards you win, projects you complete and feel proud of, and promotions you win. (And please note that when you get promoted, you’ve won that, not been given it. Words matter!)
Work to stop comparing yourself to others. This is one of those things that we all do to one extent or another, and mostly we know it’s silly, but we still do it. But remember that everyone has struggles, and if you’re looking at people’s social media posts, it’s an unfair representation of that person’s life. (This is okay, of course. When I spent last week picking cherries from my cherry bush, I posted photos of my haul and a batch of jam I made, but not of the hours and hours of me poking out cherry pits with a chopstick. That doesn’t mean it was without effort; it means who the heck wants to see a juice-stained, mildly grumpy career counselor?)
Talk about it. Your friends and trusted colleagues may be surprised to hear you have struggles, too, and sharing your experiences can be very normalizing. Just make sure you don’t get stuck in commiseration! Talk about what you’re doing to address those feelings, and offer uplifting feedback to others.
Finally, recognize these events as signs of your fabulosity. The most amazing people in the world suffer from it. Michelle Obama, Jennifer Lopez, Daniel Radcliffe, Albert Einstein, Jodie Foster, Maya Angelou, Amanda Gorman, the WHO’s Dr. Margaret Chan, Natalie Portman—to name just a few. That’s some pretty good company. Next time Little Mr. Impostor starts saying things to you, tell him to shut up because you’re freaking J-Lo!