16th August, 2017
Ever feel like you’re getting away with something? Like you’re about to be found out as a fraud? You’re not alone, which says something about imposter syndrome.
In our professional careers there’s a tendency to believe that we’re winging it while everybody else around us is on top of everything.
We look up to people who are amazing in their jobs, winning awards and plaudits – and it makes us feel like we’re stealing a living.
But if you ask a room full of people if they feel a little bit like an imposter in their role, chances are that 70 to 90 percent of people will put up their hand.
“That means that the people you’re looking up to feel like that too,” said Director of Product at Airbnb, Donna Boyer, at the recent Girls in Tech conference in San Francisco.
“When you realise that they’re people and they’re human – and they too have gone through a journey and a process to get where they are – it changes things a little bit for you.
“Odds are that the person accepting the award on the podium doing the speech feels the same way you do.”
When Jodie Foster won the Best Actress award at the 1989 Oscars, she admitted that she felt she didn’t deserve it.
“I thought it was a fluke,” she famously said in an interview with 60 Minutes.
“I thought everybody would find out, and they’d take the Oscar back. They’d come to my house, knocking on the door, ‘Excuse me, we meant to give that to someone else. That was going to Meryl Streep.’”
If somebody can feel like an imposter after being given the ultimate validation, then you’re probably not alone in feeling like a fraud.
But feeling like a fraud when you’re not can have a detrimental effect on your career – and it effects women disproportionately.
The thing about imposter syndrome is that it holds us back.
It makes us feel like chasing that new job or promotion is just a shortcut to rejection.
This effect is worse for women.
When applying for roles, men will apply if they think they have 50 percent of the skills for the role.
But women wait until they have a 95 to 100 percent skill match before applying. They need to be surer of success before they have a go.
If they already feel like they’re out of their depth, they’re certainly not going to give anything else a go.
It’s led to a situation where just under 20 percent of the roles held in tech are held by women. It’s not that women are unsuited to the roles; it’s that recruiters are getting more applications from men.
Imposter syndrome holds us back from chasing new opportunities and makes us feel worse about our current role – we feel unworthy of the work we’re doing despite ample evidence to the contrary.
So how do you fix that?
Boyer said one fundamental quality was key to getting over your own imposter syndrome: trust.
“You have to trust your network. Whenever you have that feeling of not belonging, when you feel like you’re tricking someone – talk to someone,” said Boyer.
“Talk to someone at work, call your friend from High School, talk to your partner …they’ll help you realise that you’re not seeing yourself as other people are seeing you.”
“It’s okay to feel like you don’t know how to do all the things. If you knew how to do all the things, you wouldn’t be growing,” said Boyer.
“You need to trust that you can grow, you can learn. Being inexperienced in something isn’t the same thing as being an imposter. They’re not the same.”
“When you’re looking up to your boss or your manager – the people who put you there – and you’re thinking about how smart they are, remember that they didn’t make a mistake with you this time,” said Boyer.
“They’re smart. They didn’t suddenly make a giant mistake by putting you there. They believe in you and your potential, and they’re on your side.”