You might be asking yourself, what is Imposter Syndrome? Don’t worry, I was in the same boat until last week when Feminist Hack ATX hosted an event on the topic at SpareFoot’s new office. It was eye-opening to say the least.
To fill you in, the Harvard Business Review defines Imposter Syndrome as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.” When I learned that definition, it was a bit groundbreaking for me. It’s not every day that I find out my inner struggle is a real thing and other people experience it too. What was even more amazing, was to see a panel of six successful professionals really engaged on the topic in an open and vulnerable way. They discussed many aspects of Imposter Syndrome, but really five themes emerged throughout:
1. Always keep learning
Many of the panelists identified they currently have tech jobs when their background was not specifically in tech. This type of circumstance can often create a knowledge gap that contributes to Imposter Syndrome. It’s important to recognize that there will always be someone with more experience and more expertise, however that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the job. Making sure you are leveraging your strengths and also filling in any knowledge gaps is the key to not letting that imposter feeling take over.
While many of the panelists said they have all received the advice “fake it till you make it” at one time or another, they did all agree this should not pertain to the content or skillset of the role. Venus Piñeyro De Hoyos, a Sr. Manager in Enterprise Governance for General Motors, reinforced the idea that you’ve got to be well-prepared and do your research. According to Venus, not preparing could lead to a misstep that causes people to dismiss your ideas in the future.
What’s Next: Take five minutes to identify an area you don’t feel super confident in and set one action task to learn something new about it!
2. Recognize your negative inner voice and keep it in check
What surprised me during the panel was almost every one of the panelists expressed their previous or current struggle with depression and anxiety. Roman Gonzalez, the CEO & Founder of Gardenio, spoke about his own experience in the workplace of being politely encouraged not to talk about his depression and anxiety and the challenges that come along with it.
Despite the stigma, many people deal with these issues on a daily basis. Each panelist spoke about having an inner voice telling them they are not good enough. Leaving that voice unchecked can amplify Imposter Syndrome and make it difficult to overcome. Taylor McCaslin, currently a Product Manager for Duo Security, went so far as to name his negative inner voice “Terrible Taylor.” He makes a point to call it to the surface when that voice starts to misbehave. Some other panelists chimed in on what they might name their inner negative voice. Personally, I’ve settled on calling mine “Lethal Liberty.”
What’s Next: Take five minutes to identify any negative thoughts that have popped up today. If you want to take it a step further, choose an alias for the pessimist living in your head!
3. Build out your network of support
Throughout the session, there was definite agreement that we need other people’s help when working to keep Imposter Syndrome in check.
Crystal Hansen, CEO & Founder of SameWorks, spoke passionately about using this strategy as a way to combat the feelings of being an imposter. She expressed the desire to be more vulnerable with the outside world, and explained that in her own experiences, “You can’t change that outside world, but you should seek to find people that you can be real with.” Those are the people that can make up your support system to be trusted confidants. These don’t just have to be people in your workplace, but can be others in your industry or professional network. Having a core group of people to bounce ideas off of and confide in can make you more prepared to handle situations that make you feel like an imposter.
What’s Next: Take five minutes to jot down a list of people in your support system. If your list is smaller than you’d like, make it a point to invest in one partnership over the next month!
4. Celebrate the wins, even the small ones
The negative voices in our heads sometimes make it easy to overlook the wins. Giving yourself permission to recognize and celebrate your hard work can keep some of those self-deprecating thoughts at bay.
Holly Gibson, a Developer for Praxent, spoke to her own experience of dealing with her company’s server being hacked. Despite the complexity, Holly worked tirelessly to fix the issue. That experience really acted as a turning point for her to know that she could do anything she set her mind to, despite the nagging imposter feeling. That’s definitely a win worth celebrating! Each of us encounter challenges in our work, both big and small. Figuring out a problem or finally accomplishing a complicated task are moments we should acknowledge and be proud of.
What’s Next: Take five minutes to identify one of your successes this week and celebrate with one of your trusted partners!
5. Call out the good work of others
Recognition is an essential part of being a human in the workforce. We all need that positive reinforcement for a job well done but, each person’s preference in regard to how they would like to be recognized may vary. That said, many of the panelists were emphatic that having a recognition structure in place at work is highly necessary, and one of the keys to fighting off Imposter Syndrome at the company level.
Prachi Singhania, a Software Developer for MCA Connect, said her company has a recognition structure in place for employees to give each other “kudos.” She also explained how it helps employees know they are doing the right thing and that they belong. Even if a company cannot invest in formal workshops or performance reviews, having a channel in place for recognition can really help employees feel valuable, according to Prachi. Many of us know from our own experiences that feeling of satisfaction that comes from someone else recognizing our hard work. Calling out the good work of others promotes an environment where recognition is possible and encouraged.
What’s Next: Take five minutes today to find someone to recognize for a job well done!
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Imposter Syndrome throughout this panel, it’s that I am not alone. There are many other people out there struggling with the same feeling of being “less than.” After listening to the panelists share, I feel well-equipped to tackle my own feeling of unworthiness. I’m also motivated more than ever to help others with it as well!
Taylor McCaslin, Product Manager- Mobile, Duo Security
Venus Piñeyro De Hoyos, Sr. Manager Enterprise Governance, General Motors
Holly Gibson, Developer, Praxent
(Moderator) Arianna Haradon, Software Developer, Moove-it & Feminist Hack ATX co-organizer
Crystal Hansen, CEO & Founder, SameWorks
Roman Gonzalez, CEO & Founder, Gardenio
Prachi Singhania, Software Developer, MCA Connect
If you’d like more information, there are some really great web articles on this topic: