Mastering Imposter Syndrome: Strategies for Force Multipliers

Have you ever started a new job and felt like a total fraud? Felt like you were trying to fake it ’til you make it? I’m sure many of you probably have. I’ve definitely felt this way many times during my professional career, including right now in my new role as Executive Assistant to Adam Hergenrother. This feeling has a name: Imposter Syndrome. 

In case you aren’t familiar with the term, let me define it for you:

Imposter Syndrome 
noun
the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills

via Dictionary.com

Imposter Syndrome tends to show up when we take on new roles and responsibilities because it feeds on anxiety and self-doubt. It’s also particularly common for Force Multipliers (Executive Assistants, Chiefs of Staff, etc.) to experience feelings of Imposter Syndrome since we work so closely with high-level professionals and are often in environments where we feel pressure to constantly perform at our best. (Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone in feeling this way!)

So how can you fight back against these detrimental and negative feelings? Try these three simple tips. 

1. Recognizing Imposter Syndrome: Give a Name to What You’re Experiencing

The good news? You’re already on the right track here! If you’ve stumbled upon this post, you either already have a general idea of what’s happening and are looking for advice on how to move forward, or you’ve just discovered a name for what you’re experiencing. Great! Now we can dive deeper.

This is likely not the first time you’ve felt this way. Think back… Were you the “good student”, but no matter how many A’s you received, your anxiety and fear of failure kept you striving for that extra credit? When you landed that first internship, did you congratulate yourself on the hard work you did to deserve the position? Or did you attribute your success to outside factors like luck or timing? Does accepting praise for a job well done make you feel uncomfortable or like a fraud, so you attribute your achievements to others’ contributions? If any of these sound like you, you may indeed be suffering from Imposter Syndrome.

In order to get better at identifying these harmful thought patterns and stopping them in their tracks, it’s important to understand where these thoughts come from and why you think this way.

Imposter Syndrome expert Dr. Valerie Young originally identified 5 types of imposter syndrome:
  1. The Perfectionist: Perfectionists set extremely high standards for themselves and feel intense pressure to excel in everything they do. Despite achieving success, they often believe that their accomplishments are never good enough and constantly fear being exposed as a fraud or failure.
  2. The Expert: Experts feel like they need to know everything before they can start a task or project. They are afraid of being seen as incompetent or lacking knowledge, so they may avoid taking on new challenges or opportunities for fear of not measuring up to expectations.
  3. The Soloist: Soloists believe they have to accomplish tasks or projects on their own without asking for help or support from others. They may see seeking assistance as a sign of weakness or incompetence, leading to feelings of isolation and stress from trying to handle everything independently.
  4. The Natural Genius: Natural geniuses believe that their success should come effortlessly and that they should be able to grasp concepts or skills quickly without much effort. When they struggle or encounter challenges, they see it as a sign of their incompetence rather than a normal part of the learning process.
  5. The Superwoman/Superman: Superwomen or supermen feel the need to excel in all aspects of their lives, whether it’s at work, in their personal relationships, or in other areas. They often put immense pressure on themselves to juggle multiple responsibilities perfectly, leading to burnout and feelings of inadequacy when they inevitably fall short.

It’s important to note that these “types” are not mutually exclusive, and you may experience a combination of these thoughts or exhibit different tendencies in different situations. But recognizing your core beliefs can help you more quickly identify when these unhelpful thought patterns are surfacing and develop strategies to overcome them.

Tiwalola Ogunlesli, founder of “Confident and Killing it” said that “Imposter syndrome is just temporary memory loss, where you have forgotten all the amazing things about you!” She reminds us to reflect on and recognize our strengths on a regular basis to help mitigate imposter syndrome. It’s also important to remember:

  1. No one will ever be perfect, so don’t expect yourself to be.
  2. The best way to get good at something is just to get started—you will always learn more and get better as you go.
  3. Humans were not made to do everything on our own. Everyone has their own strengths to contribute. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
  4. Practice beats talent every time. Success most often comes from hours of practice and dedication (with many failures in between), not from natural ability.
  5. No one can do it all at one time. Different seasons of life introduce different priorities to juggle—some of them are rubber and some of them are glass. Let the rubber ones drop and come back to them later if needed.

2. Record and Celebrate Your Wins 

It’s easy to get caught in the negatives, but the positives are where you should live! Taking a few minutes each day to do the following is a great way to keep yourself in check.

  • Record your successes each day. What were the “wins?” Did you receive any positive feedback? Congratulate yourself on a job well done and record these notes in a Success Journal you can refer back to when your feelings of Imposter Syndrome surface.
  • Also take time to notice where you may have struggled. Were you able to overcome it? Remember that the growth happens here. It will also show you that you are capable of creating solutions when things don’t go your way, which happens more than any of us would like!

Practicing this daily will give you confidence by reminding you of all the things you are doing right and how you are growing instead of focusing on what might go wrong. Take it one step further by answering these 5 Daily Accountability Questions either by yourself or with an accountability partner!

3. Avoid Comparing Yourself to Others

This one definitely hits home for me. Taking on a role that was occupied by someone for over a decade is no easy feat. I find myself comparing myself often to my predecessor; wondering if she would do things differently and if I’m measuring up. It’s important to recognize that we all bring different skills and values to the table. Focus on what you’re adding, not what you might be lacking!

Personally, I tend to psych myself out of opportunities I don’t think I am a perfect match for on paper (any other “Experts” out there??). I had minimal experience as an Executive Assistant (EA) when I applied. I doubted my ability to be successful in a role that was new to me. That being said, I have all the skills and attributes to be an amazing EA. I’m organized, detail-oriented, communicative, and have strong interpersonal skills. But even now, despite being told that I am meeting expectations and performing well, I still tell myself that I’m not qualified enough to be here. It’s a defense mechanism to protect myself from “failing.” The important thing to remember, and something that I am still very much learning, is that failing is part of our growth! Do the best you can. If you make a mistake, fix it. This is all we can do and it is enough

You Are Enough

The irony of imposter syndrome is that it often affects highly accomplished, goal-oriented, qualified individuals. There’s usually no valid reason for the people who suffer from Imposter Syndrome to feel the way they do, yet it happens!

If you are feeling this way, be kind to yourself and recognize that it’s normal to experience self-doubt and insecurity from time to time. Instead of harsh self-criticism, practice self-compassion by treating yourself with understanding and empathy. Remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes and encounters setbacks. Use these experiences as opportunities for growth rather than reasons to doubt your abilities. Fight back, recognize your worth, and celebrate your wins!

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