Have you ever experienced a “psychological phenomenon in which (you) are unable to internalise (your) accomplishments”?

You have? Then you’ve suffered from good, old-fashioned Imposter Syndrome.

By the way, you’re hardly a member of some exclusive club. Studies suggest that as many as 70% of people experience Imposter Syndrome. While the term “Imposter Syndrome” was coined in the 1970s, it’s in more recent years that the mainstream spotlight is truly shining on what it means to feel like you’re a fraud. Some studies claim women suffer more than men, others state that men suffer more than women.

And, in a surprise to no one, tech workers are no more immune to experiencing Imposter Syndrome than any other professor.

Tiffany DaSilva shared her experiences with fraudulent feelings at Learn Inbound in 2018. Her talk brought the house down on the day and has resonated ever since. It’s our most watched video on our website nearly a year after Tiffany spoke.

So let’s see how exactly do we stop Imposter Syndrome in its tracks and get on with stuff.

13 Years Experience + 500 Websites = Imposter!

Presuming to know someone else’s opinions is always a dangerous game, but, trust us, Tiffany is no one’s idea of an imposter.

A full-time consultant and founder of Flowjo and Fullstack Society, Tiffany comes with a weight of experience in PPC, SEO, email marketing, social media and CRO. She’s worked on more than 500 websites and has managed multi-million dollar budgets. She has an MBA in Project Management and eCommerce, and she started building websites and getting them found at age nine. Nine!

We know what you’re thinking and we agree. This individual is a digital marketing powerhouse.

But Tiffany suffered from crippling Imposter Syndrome.

“I Will Never Set Foot In This Company Again”

A large unicorn company had been taking notice of Tiffany’s accomplishments and offered her a great job. She took it with great excitement, but quickly started experiencing doubt.

Three months into a ten month contract, Tiffany couldn’t handle the fraudulent feelings she experienced every day. Of course, Tiffany didn’t realise this was Imposter Syndrome. Rather, she believed that she wasn’t up to the job and all her previous accomplishments were just a stroke of luck.

After a very long night, which followed a series of very long nights, worried out of her mind that she would be exposed as a fake, Tiffany sent a resignation email (at the unmerciful hour of 3am) to her boss. Her last line, “I will never set foot in this company again”, ensured her message was loud and clear.

Imposter Syndrome and Burnout

Now, our quick summary of Tiffany’s experience isn’t fun reading. You can feel the unfairness of her situation, and no doubt relate with your own experiences.

What isn’t so clear is how damaging Imposter Syndrome can be. It’s not “only” a feeling of being not good enough. That’s pretty awful in itself, but when these feelings become relentless and you constantly feel frightened at being found out, serious mental health problems can arise.

Tiffany was burnt out. You can watch her presentation here to understand just what Imposter Syndrome was doing to her.

Among other things, it had just caused her to give up her dream job. One which she had earned on merit.

Imposter Syndrome also convinced Tiffany that she couldn’t be a digital marketer anymore. She believed that everyone else was smarter than her even though she had won a Tech Woman of Canada award! Imposter Syndrome cruelly breaks us down, and this is what it was doing to Tiffany.

A lot of soul-searching ensured. Tiffany considered many other diverse career paths, including being a hair-dresser, a dog-walker or a nun. For various reasons, none of these suited. Her parents wouldn’t be happy she was going back to study again, she’s not that fond of dogs and she doesn’t like chores which nuns tend to do a lot of.

In total, it took Tiffany three years to go from burnout to figuring out what she wanted to do. Guess what? Digital marketing reared its head, and Tiffany began to acknowledge that marketing was her jam and she knew her stuff.

Having walked this road, Tiffany was now on a mission.

Yes, that’s right. Not only was Tiffany driven to regain her digital marketing kudos, but she was going to bust Imposter Syndrome’s butt too. And share what she learnt taking down Public Enemy #1 with all of us.

Identify What You’re Thinking About Yourself

Tiffany asks if you have ever thought one (or all) of the following phrases:

  • “I’m afraid people important to me may find out that I’m not as capable that I think I am.”
  • “I feel my success has been due to some kind of luck.”
  • “The reason I got my position is because I was in the right place at the right time.”

All three are classic examples of Imposter Syndrome thoughts and the mental damage they cause is palpable in their words.

Alarmingly, nearly all of us believe these statements about ourselves at some point. When Tiffany asked the audience at Learn Inbound who had ever told themselves one of these statements, the entire audience ended up standing. This was a conference room full of some of the most talented marketing professionals in the world. The speakers, many of whom speak at events across the globe, were standing too!

So, after recognising that we’re feeling this way about ourselves, Tiffany advises that we think about how we’re going to handle this feeling. Or, as she articulates it; “let’s check ourselves before we wreck ourselves.”

Choose Your Mindset

A lot gets written about failure. Some of it is helpful, but don’t get stuck in a fixed mindset about failure.

You’re not going to get everything you do right, but rather than constantly motivating yourself from a fear of failure, try something revolutionary. Try confidence.

Adopting a growth mindset lets you do this. See failures as a temporary setback, or even better, as part of the learning curve. But move towards a place of confidence where you use your expertise and skills to build up others and carve out your own destiny. Don’t keep taking action from a place of self-doubt.

Do What You Have To Do To Help Yourself

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome is a combination of placing psychological checks and balances into your life and getting the practical help you need.

On the psychological front, we’ve already discussed the necessity to recognise what you think about yourself. What harming beliefs do you immerse yourself in about your abilities and skills that are on auto-pilot?

Becoming more aware of them switches the auto-pilot off. Now, every time you become aware of yourself saying something damaging about you, you dig deeper and ask yourself why you are feeling this way. Then, you start interrogating that thought and you move deeper and deeper into your fraudulent feelings this way to expose them for the lies they are. Spoiler alert: Imposter Syndrome never stands up to scrutiny.

On the practical side, take a look at what you can do to help you move to a place of confidence.

Once you’ve run the psychological checks and balances, make a checklist of what would help you feel more empowered. Do you aspire to be a brilliant copywriter? Great, then follow copywriters you admire on social media and sign up to their newsletters to see how they use language. Is there a course or workshop you could go on that would really help you? Could you join a copywriting network?

Now, you’re operating from a place of intention. You’re no longer on auto-pilot.

Recognise Your Villains

Villains is a strong word. It’s not always clear who the people are that are fuelling your Imposter Syndrome.

Sometimes the villains in your life are going to be the bullies who have a great line in passive-aggressive put-downs that cut you down. Sometimes they’re going to be really great, well-meaning people whom you’re extremely intimidated by.

You have to do some thinking around who the villains are in your life. Then, you have to figure out how you’re going to deal with them.

A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work.

You need to figure out your own beliefs about yourself and see whether your villain is confirming your own bias against yourself. Some you’ll need to approach directly and explain how their behaviour affects you and some you won’t. Just keep in mind the boundaries that will make your villains less threatening, and then do what you can to enforce those boundaries.

Again, now you’re acting consciously on consigning your Imposter Syndrome to the rubbish bin. You’re no longer on auto-pilot, and that’s most of the battle won.

Don’t Be A Villain Yourself

It’s worthwhile to think about when you might be acting like a villain too. It’s highly unlikely that you’re Dr. Evil, but consider your behaviour in the teams you work in. Is there a more junior, and more timid, person on the team? Are you always kind to them when you’re up against deadlines, trying to make magic happen with budgets that get smaller by the day?

Think about your non-verbal communication. Often we’re perfectly polite verbally, but we might not be the nicest in how we communicate silently. Don’t contribute to someone else’s Imposter Syndrome.

Build Your Crew

Don’t spend all your time on the nasties. You need to identify your cheerleaders too and build your crew.

Think of people in your life both presently and in the past. Remember the sincere compliments that have been paid to you (too often we forget these but inscribe criticisms into our long term memory). Spend time jotting down the names of people who have championed you throughout your life.

And build relationships with people who know what it’s like to be you. In a professional setting, networking at events, establishing meetups of your own or even setting up a regular coffee date can be helpful in building your crew.

Use technology to enable these relationships. Set up a Slack channel, for example, or create a private Facebook group. There are many ways to stay in touch and keep rooting for each other.

Focus On Your Legacy

Imposter Syndrome causes us to play small. We doubt ourselves so we take no risks, set smaller goals (or no goals at all) and live in fear of ever being found out for the frauds we all.

Not Anymore

Getting rid of self-doubt means we get to dream big.

Dream dreams that are crazy to anyone else, but make perfect sense to you. Because now that you’re not spending precious mental energy on dealing with Imposter Syndrome, you can start thinking about what mark you want to leave on the world.

Thinking about your legacy immediately starts putting you in a frame of mind to achieve it. You’ll start to see the steps you need to take to achieve it and playing big will become your default setting.

And it all begins with kicking Imposter Syndrome’s butt. Thanks Tiffany for showing us how!

 

Claire Mason

Claire works as a content strategist for various clients in Ireland, Europe and North America. She's also a writer and has been published in The Guardian, Marie Claire and Irish Tech News among others. She's originally from South Africa but now makes her home in Dublin.

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