As a mentor, I am frequently contacted by young professionals who are eager to change jobs or move up, it’s often from their first job post- college/university, yet they aren’t quite sure they’re qualified.
More often than not, when I get the job description I find that not only are they qualified, but in most cases overqualified. So what keeps them in a job they don’t find stimulating anymore, and what cause them to undervalue their worth?
It is the voice in your head that tells you that you’re lucky enough to have gotten the job you have, and that while you’re competent enough, there are probably more competent people you’d be competing against for the job.
Commonly, we fear that they may not actually be qualified for the job we already have and if they apply for a higher position, we’ll be found out.
And its not only professionals, but students also hear similar voices. These voices tell you that you’re probably not as smart as you think you are or your success is all the result of luck, and if you’re not careful everyone will find out you’re an imposter.
That voice is better known as Imposter Syndrome:
We all have negative thoughts about ourselves; however, it is common for the “high achievers” to suffer from Imposter Syndrome. It is one of the reasons we are high achievers because we never feel satisfied with our intellect or qualifications so we pile them on, making us twice or three times as qualified as necessary, yet we continue to aim low when we put our qualifications to the test.
When we are in the grip of Imposter Syndrome those voices say “I told you so” when you don’t achieve what you set out to do or caution you against going for something which seemed a bit out of your reach.
What do you do?
1. Know you are not alone. This is a common experience, shared by highly intelligent and successful people. In the book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women by Dr. Valerie Young, she quoted prominent women who suffer from Imposter Syndrome:
“You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?- Meryl Streep
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out. – Maya Angelou
I experience it each time I publish my writing or submit a proposal to a consulting client. However, it is the knowledge that this experience and feelings are common which allows me to move forward.
2. Acknowledge your feelings. It is important to accept that those feelings are a part of the process, but temporary. They must be balanced against the strength, intelligence and confidence you have relied on and used to achieve your goals so far.
3. Take a reality check! When I’m feeling like an imposter, I sit down and make a list of my skills, experience, and qualifications. Most of the time I never actually complete the list because about half way through I realize the truth, I’m qualified or more than qualified. And it was just those nagging voices, not reality. Just because we feel like an imposter, doesn’t mean we are.
4. Get support. It is important to know that Imposter Syndrome can be a serious psychological condition which can result in paralyzing fear and anxiety. If this is the case for you, I strongly encourage you seek professional support. For others, reaching out to a mentor or peer is a great way to affirm your feelings and get that “reality check” to empower you to accept the truth about yourself.
Just recently I was contacted by two of my protégés or mentees who successfully overcame Imposter Syndrome.
Kay had contacted me when she was informed her Department was closing and she was being reassigned. She was hurt and angry and did not believe the new position they were offering her were a fit for her skill set. However, there was a position which she wanted but seemed out of her reach. Originally, she was unsure if she could make it happen and was considering other options. Proudly, she reached out for support and was able to find colleagues to champion for her and within few shorts months she was promoted to her “dream job”.
Bea sent me an email excited about a job opportunity; however, she felt she did not have the experience or qualifications so she wanted to know how she could “embellish her strengths” on her resume. I sent the following response:
This is what I would suggest! It is more than likely that you are much more qualified than you think. And in many ways, more qualified than anyone they may have [within their organization]…I don’t think you need to “embellish” your skills but highlight your experience.
After collaborating with her on her resume and cover letter, highlighting her hard and soft skills, I was pleased to find out she had an interview this week.
Self-doubt is common, yet a challenge we all face. It isn’t something we cannot always avoid. So more than anything, we must learn to face it, accept it, and move on from it. It is critical to know your worth and know you can achieve what you set out to do. Quiet those internal voices of self-doubt and replace them with the truth!