How to Crush Imposter Syndrome

Have you ever felt that you achieved something because you got lucky? When you try to sell yourself during an interview, deep in your heart do you feel “I’m really not that good”? Were you scared that the interviewer could see you through and might call you out? Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome?

If you have, you are not alone. According to a 2020 review, as many as 82% of people experience impostor syndrome. Many people experience symptoms for a limited time. Interviewing and starting a new job are definitely the occasions that can trigger it. 

Whether you’ve never heard of imposter syndrome, think you might have it and want to be sure, or have been struggling to kick it for some time, we’re here for you. Let’s explore the best ways to crush imposter syndrome

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

According to Harvard Business Review, imposter syndrome can be defined as a feeling of inadequacy that persists in spite of success. It is a mental pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

Imposter Syndrome Symptoms

A person with impostor syndrome has:

  • a sense of being a fraud
  • chronic self-doubt
  • fear of being discovered
  • difficulty internalizing their success

I have experienced imposter syndrome before. When I first started interviewing for the Product Manager role, I was very nervous about my ability. This was in spite of the fact that I had done a lot of Product Manager work in my current company and had completed 100+ hours of training and preparation.

During an interview with a VP of product, my answer to a case interview question was a little bit different than what he expected. I could see that he was confused and was trying to process my answer. I panicked. All my fears had come true: “He must know that I am BSing. He knows that I am not as good as what’s on my resume!”

I was devastated and about to give up on that interview. Then the interviewer said that he found my idea insightful and interesting, and he quite liked it. And I passed that interview. I had misread his facial expression. What’s worse, I had projected my fear onto the interviewer and almost made it come true.

Imposter syndrome can be caused by many different factors. In my case, it was caused by trying to break into a new career without enough confidence. Other factors can play a role too: Maybe you feel inadequate because you have been used to internalizing failure, blaming yourself, and externalizing success as luck. Maybe you have been traumatized by a picky boss or parent who seems to always be able to find your mistakes and weaknesses. Maybe you’ve always been a perfectionist.

The Effects of Imposter Syndrome

So what’s the impact of Imposter syndrome, besides creating stress and anxiety? It can affect your life tremendously as it makes you doubt yourself and think you are less than who you really are. As a result, you may hesitate to demand that promotion or pay raise that you well deserve, or fight for the job that you really want. What’s worse, you may unconsciously restrict risk-taking, and in doing so close doors and turn down opportunities.

It’s also important to note that women are more vulnerable to imposter syndrome because the world still doesn’t depict women in positions of expertise or authority to the same degree as men. And our culture tends to encourage women to be “modest” and “not too aggressive.”

How to Tell if You Have Imposter Syndrome

So let’s admit it, there are some stressful situations that can easily trigger imposter syndrome. Here are just a few examples:

  • A new transitional experience: new career, new promotion 
  • An unfamiliar environment where you are judged: an interview, competition, or public speaking 
  • You are in a group that is commonly viewed as “experts” or “successful”

How does Imposter Syndrome show itself? What are some hints to watch out for before getting yourself deep into the rabbit hole of self-doubting? Are you talking to yourself in any of the following ways?

  • “What if they figure out I don’t belong here?”
  • “What if they find out they made a mistake in hiring me?” 
  • “I only got here through hard work/luck, not talent.”
  • “I’m not good enough”
  • “I am embarrassing myself and they are laughing at me”

If you notice that you have these thoughts, then congratulations, you made the first step of overcoming the imposter syndrome by being mindful.

While a certain level of self-doubt is healthy and normal, what we don’t want is for this doubt to become a persistent and ongoing experience. When doubt becomes chronic, you will start projecting an unrealistic image of yourself. 

When you notice these signs of self-doubt, try to pull yourself out of it by asking yourself these questions:

  • “How often did this thought come up in the past month?”
  • “Is this self-doubt temporary or persistent?”
  • “Am I being realistic or over scrutinizing?”

Three Ways to Crush Imposter Syndrome

Once you’ve recognized imposter syndrome, the next step is to coax yourself out of it and work to build your self-confidence. Here are some tricks to help you crush imposter syndrome.

Talk to Someone

Talk to people, but choose your audience carefully. You want to speak to someone who knows you and believes in you. Job hunting is stressful, and so is starting a new position. Having a supportive community helps tremendously as you can talk it out with people who share similar experiences and know exactly what you are going through.

Sometimes all you need is several kind words to pull you back from the dark spiral. When I went through the stressful 10 interviews per week process, I talked to another Product Gym member who was at the same stage. We talked about the mistakes we’ve made during interviews and just laughed them out.

Fill In Your Gaps

Sometimes you are doubting yourself for a reason. Figure out your gaps and fill them in. Try to pinpoint your real challenge and then work on it.

Identify the area that you need to work on and make an actionable plan to improve on it. Then your thinking may change from “I am not good enough for this new role” to “in order to succeed in this new role, I need to improve my skills on A, B and C and here’s what I am going to do.” Sounds more manageable, right?

Fake it Until You Make it

We can never be 100% ready for every situation. Not even the most accomplished people can. So take a deep breath and tell yourself to fake it for today and just act confident.

And the cool thing is, it is possible to fake feelings of power until we truly feel more powerful. Harvard Business School professor and social psychologist Amy Cuddy has conducted extensive research on imposter syndrome. Her suggestion is “fake it until you become it”.

It’s very simple: try some power posing next time when you feel stressed — expanding your body with chest lifted, head held high, and arms up, instead of hunching over. You will immediately feel more confident. And let’s go from there!

Stop Thinking Like an Imposter

Similar to imposters (those with imposter syndrome), non-impostors are also driven to constantly improve. However, they do it not because of the fear of being found out, but because they see this as a normal process. People learn things as they practice, and no one can be perfect on their first try. Here are some practices to try out to build a non-imposter mindset.

Constructive Feedback

Try to grow some thick skin. If your first try is not as perfect as you expected, well that’s just the way life is. So calm down and cut yourself some slack. The next time you feel frustrated after an interview, try to find two things that you did great and two things you would like to improve.

For example, “Well I think I did pretty well with my pitch and question A, but I may need to work on X topic so that I can answer question B better”. In this way, you are giving yourself some constructive feedback. And in fact, your performance may not be as bad as you thought! 

One thing that you need to remember, especially during the interview process, is that just because you haven’t done something before doesn’t mean that you don’t have the ability to do it. And it certainly does not mean that you can’t learn and successfully do it in the future.

Preparation

Sometimes you have imposter syndrome because you are not confident enough with your stories and you are afraid you will be caught off guard with some unexpected questions. The solution for that is simple: preparation!

  • Step 1: learn as much as possible, understand the technology terminologies (Week 0 Homework!)
  • Step 2: Try to apply what you have learnt to your story. (How did you do A/B testing for your product?)
  • Step 3: Add some plot points: what went wrong? How did you find it out? Who did you work with? etc.

It’s like writing fiction. You are basically creating a world, pulling together characters, events, and (hidden) plots. When you give your answer to an interviewer, you only show a small part that’s relevant to the question. However, if the interviewer digs deep, you can feel confident knowing you have all the meaty stuff ready to share.

With more knowledge and interview experience, your fiction world will get bigger and richer, and you will feel much more confident in sharing it.

Good luck, you got this!

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