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These Three Steps Will Cure Impostor Syndrome

These Three Steps Will Cure Impostor Syndrome

Impostor syndrome - when you don’t feel you belong, don’t see yourself as the leader you are, and minimize your voice - affects almost 70% of women at work. This prevents women from speaking up, advocating for themselves, and achieving the career success they are capable of.

One study found only 39% of women ask for a raise and another found 87% of women believe gender discrimination still exists in the workplace. Although gender discrimination and the gender pay gap are factual issues that exist in our society, women's suffering with impostor syndrome also plays a role. It shapes women’s thoughts about themselves and their colleagues in a way that prevents them from stepping into their potential.

These statements indicate that impostor syndrome may be something you’re struggling with:

  • You don’t speak up at meetings.
  • You spend time questioning if your input is valuable.
  • You assume others in the room know more than you.
  • You never sit in the front row at large meetings.
  • You assume your input isn’t needed and take notes instead.
  • You look to others to validate your opinions.

I will never forget a senior leadership meeting I was invited to. It was for senior leaders and their direct reports. There was enough room at the table for about 20 people and chairs lined around the walls of the room.

I walked in and wasn’t sure where to sit. I questioned if there was an unwritten rule that leaders sat at the table. I took the safe choice; I sat against the wall, but toward the front. I didn’t want to risk sitting at the table and being asked to move.

I watched as each person walked in the room. The senior leaders sat at the table. Some of the direct reports sat at the table, but only the men. I watched as the women direct reports sat against the wall. No one told us to sit against the wall. We just did. We put ourselves there. We, at some level, felt we didn’t belong, that we were impostors.

Similar to a meeting, when you attend and don’t speak up because you’re questioning if you should or if you’ll be rejected, so instead you become focused on taking notes, you aren’t sure if you can sit at the table, so you don’t. Question how often you are choosing to take notes or choosing not to speak up vs. thinking the issue is your company culture.

Company culture can foster an inclusive workplace or hinder inclusion by having unspoken rules or expectations based on gender or tenure. However, sometimes we as women are trying to protect ourselves by assuming our voice isn’t valued and feeling we don’t belong.

Impostor syndrome can be a real show-stopper for your career and can keep you stuck where you are. It causes feelings of doubt, fear, and even self-sabotage. You worry you’ll be too visible, you’ll be rejected, and that you don’t really belong. You start looking to others to see how you should act and you keep yourself small.

There are tips to help you feel confident in a room, but mastering your internal thoughts before working on your actions is necessary to overcome impostor syndrome for good.

There are three steps you can take to feel you belong and get over impostor syndrome, regardless of your company culture.

1) Be aware of how you feel.

As humans, we all have feelings and each feeling generates an action or inaction. The next time you feel like an impostor, write it down. Document the circumstance, what you thought about it, all of the people involved, how you felt, and what you did or didn’t do as a result.

For example: You attended a meeting and didn’t share what you wanted to. You believed your colleagues didn’t want to hear what you had to say. You felt frustrated and that you weren’t valued. You didn’t speak up and instead checked your email on your phone to pass time.

[Related: Reprogram Your Autopilot and Take Your Leadership to a New Level]

2) Separate the facts from the story.

For each thought you had, determine which thoughts were facts. Facts can be proven in a court of law and everyone in the world would agree with you that they are true.

We have thousands of thoughts each day and 80% of them are negative. Our brains are wired to protect us, avoid pain, and make things easier for us. Since our thoughts are connected to our feelings and to our actions, it’s important to be aware of the thoughts we have and which ones are grounded in fact.

[Related: Emotions at Work: Keeping Them in Check]

3) Identify the patterns.

Now that you’ve identified the connection between your thoughts, feelings, and actions, what results are you getting? Notice how your thoughts are helping you achieve your goals and hindering you. For the thoughts that are not true, question what you could think instead would help you take a different action.

For example: Instead of, “They don’t want to hear what I have to say,” try, “They might want to hear what I have to say.” This is likely to generate a different action from you - speaking up. The more you act from this place, the more you will cure the feeling that you don’t belong.

[Related: Investing in Yourself is a Habit You Need to Build]

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Melissa Lawrence is an experienced coach and host of the Career Women Becoming Fearless podcast. She helps women who work in male-dominated industries identify their next career move and overcome challenges that are holding them back.


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