Imposter Syndrome


We sat in the back corner of Gregory’s Coffee on Park Ave South, NYC a few weeks ago as she downloaded her feelings about this wonderful opportunity she was accepting. Her body and face became animated when she shared details of how she was approached, what an exciting challenge this would be, all of the variables in her personal life and why this new boss would be   difficult but also someone who would stretch her and from whom she can learn. Then she added, “What if I can’t do this? I don’t think he knows that I can’t do this.”

I sat down my cinnamon laced coffee, uncrossed my legs and placed my hand on the table as I leaned it to say to her, “This is the most normal feeling and it has a name.”

Imposter Syndrome tends to first pay a visit around the first promotion or the big step away from what we’ve always known. Some people refer to making Big Hairy Goals for their life but what if it happens or you are doing your job, enjoying it and finally in the groove of it when an opportunity too good to pass up falls in your lap and it is outside of your field or current skills?

It’s perfectly normal to doubt ourselves. It’s also perfectly normal to be happy and excited about a new challenge while also digging our nails into our palms a little and thinking “Oh shit”

Perfectionists and control freaks aren’t the only types of humans to feel this way and yes, it happens to men too. We’re not the only ones cornering the market on whether or not we can actually do this huge new thing, but we do seem to be more open in talking about it with one another, and I would be lying to say it occurs equally in men as it does with women. 

It doesn’t have to be debilitating or anxiety inducing, although a good sweat sesh and a stiff drink will help. Imposter syndrome is part of the human condition and it is useful, so let’s use it.

Someone else sees in you what you cannot see in yourself.  You didn’t just pull off a big con or fool someone whose job it is to be a good judge of character, work ethic, grit, intelligence, skill and personality fit for the team. A person older and wiser interviewed you or reached out to you because he or she remembered you. You stood out! You were worth the risk! You were the best fit!  Taking the focus of how you feel and remembering that someone else looked at you and saw a perfect fit will remove the self doubt, bit by bit. 

  1. Remember that this is a part of the human condition. You are a member of the human family on this planet and no single culture is immune to this feeling and some studies even show that 70% of people have reported this feeling. That means you are normal and it means that what you are considering is such a big move, a climb up the ladder, a stretch of your skills or so deep end swimming. Growth cannot happen if we stay in the same field in the same way, the same company, doing the same role or in the same org forever. Be grateful that you are about to stretch yourself in a way that sets you up for even more success in the future.
  2. Focus on the new skills you will need.  Is the new manager so busy building something you know you will need time to learn?  Meet with her on the first day and let her know that you want 20 mins of her week for the first 30 days, then a check in every other week for the next 30 days and before you begin the final 30 days, you want goals you can measure. Your first 90 days will be demanding. Just know that and be okay with it. Taking the control and asking for you need to be successful, will only make her more successful and you less frustrated.  Ask for a list of 10-15 people with whom you can schedule 1:1s or intro calls/meetings so that you build a solid ecosystem.  You’ll want help navigating the new waters and you’ll need to collaborate, so ask for your boss to identify those folks and start building the relationships.
  3. Reframe this around your new boss or new team: What do they need from you to ensure success?  When you hear these outlined or you read them, you’ll know where to put your energy in a concrete way.  Moving our minds from an emotional state “I don’t know if I can do this” to a practical state, “this is what must be done”, calms the mind and we switch from feeling overwhelmed to knowing exactly what to do.

Just because you’ve not ever been here before, doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to be here now.


Dorothy Johnson

March, 2018

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