28 Oct 2017

By Falon Fatemi 


Most 19-year-olds would be happy just to own a Google phone or a single share of Google stock. When I was 19, I worked for the actual company right here in Mountain View, California. I wasn’t a big shot, but still, I must have been thrilled at my success, right?

Not at all. Surrounded by all those talented people, I felt like I didn’t belong.

Even after reading the litany of praises in my first annual review, I questioned my place. I sat at my desk, stared at my screen, and parsed every “needs improving” comment in the document. To me, each was proof that they were on to me. Everyone, I feared, would soon discover what I felt to be true: I didn’t know what I was doing.

Understanding Imposter Syndrome

Like many high-achieving people, especially women, I was experiencing imposter syndrome, an irrational feeling of inadequacy.

First described by Georgia State University professors Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in their landmark 1978 paper, imposter syndrome can sap your confidence, make you second-guess your decisions, and sabotage your business. It enacts a mental and physical toll, commonly manifested as anxiety, depression, and frustration at being unable to meet internal standards of perfection.

Originally, Clance and Imes thought the phenomenon was gender-specific. They hypothesized that imposter syndrome stemmed from an internalized socialized belief about the inferiority of women. However, research has since found it to be common among both women and men.

In fact, about 70 percent of people — men and women — have experienced the phenomenon for at least a period of their career. A recent study by the U.K. research firm Amazing If found that a third of U.K. Millennials suffer from the phenomenon. (Being youths, they even have their own acronym for it: FOBFO, “fear of being found out.”)

But it’s not unique to regular folk. It affects the famous, too. Celebrated writer Maya Angelou, Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, actress Emma Watson, and even Albert Einstein have all felt it.

You can’t out-achieve imposter syndrome, but that doesn’t mean it’s unconquerable.

How to Fight Imposter Syndrome

For a time, my imposter syndrome was immobilizing. After that first annual review, I grew even more perfectionistic and obsessed over tiny details, which slowed down my work. Fortunately, I realized what was happening and resolved to do something about it. These four steps were key to freeing myself from my feelings of fraudulence:

1. Recognize the root cause. 

Feelings of fear and self-doubt can stem from as far back as childhood. But carefully analyzing them can loosen their grip. You’ll see that they’re either completely irrational or not as big as you thought. Maybe you’re not actually afraid that you can’t do your job — just that you can’t meet a particular deadline.

2. Take a friend’s perspective

Understand that your own self-image isn’t necessarily how others see you. What would your college roommate — or, better yet, your mother — have to say about your abilities? Ask them about your strengths, skills, and greatest accomplishments. This was a critical step for me. By talking to co-workers above and below me in Google’s hierarchy, I discovered that my view of myself was wildly different from how I was perceived by others.

3. Build a network of trusted confidants.

The key here is “trusted.” Trust them to tell you what they truly see in you when you’re feeling your worst. Trust them when they say it’s OK to take a vacation. Having a safety net in place is comforting, particularly when you feel like you’re walking on a wire in high heels.

4. Invest in yourself.

You are the ultimate arbiter of your own worth. Your job, your number of Facebook friends, and even your annual salary don’t describe your value. As film star and imposter syndrome sufferer Lena Dunham discovered, decisions about how much sleep she “deserved” and whether she was “allowed” to unplug from work on weekends were solely up to her.

For me, I started meditating — an unthinkable luxury — early in my career. I’ve found that it helps me feel confident and centered during stressful days at the office. This sort of positive renewal is essential for managing the stress that comes with leadership. It’s what’s best for you, and it’s what’s best for your company.

As I said before, you can’t out-achieve imposter syndrome. No amount of external validation can cure it. Change can only come from within.

So if you’re feeling like a fraud, look inside yourself right now. Ponder the words of the author and spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?”

Read the full article here.
This content was originally published by Forbes Magazine. Original publishers retain all rights. It appears here for a limited time before automated archiving. By Forbes Magazine

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