Imposter Syndrome – secret shame or secret weapon?

I’ve had imposter syndrome pretty much my whole career. My disguise at this point is quite convincing: 40-something Creative Director writing ad copy or directing commercial shoots in a short skirt and sensible shoes. I work hard to make it look easy, to speak with authority and project confidence so that no one suspects I’m sometimes quaking in my booties. I don’t always succeed. Once after a particularly tense meeting, the real me left a sweaty ass imprint in these fabric chairs we used to have in our conference room. One of my male coworkers, – an actual imposter, not a fellow syndrome-sufferer – saw it and snickered, forcing me to spend the next three months sabotaging his career till he left the company. (Don’t worry. It was a mercy killing.)

But that gives you an idea of how far imposters are willing to go not to be revealed as a fraud. Fortunately, I’ve found a way to peacefully co-exist with my imposter self and just in time too because, recently, I was given a new position at work. Not instead of my old job, in addition to. Now I have 60% of my job down pat. That other 40%, I’m clueless about. Earlier in my career this might’ve driven me crazy, but now I’m making imposter syndrome work to my advantage. Here’s how:

Embrace uncertainty :
Hate to break it to you but “fake it till you make it” only gets you so far. When imposter syndrome has you feeling out of your league, it can be tempting to “bitch up” as one of my friends call it – go overboard trying to assert yourself and make your mark. Doing so can backfire and  make it painfully obvious you’re ill-suited for the task at hand. Instead of becoming the “I’m not here to make friends” villain on a reality show, why not admit you have imposter syndrome a steep learning curve and look at this as a chance to expand your horizons and grow in your job. Accept that it’s ok to say, “I don’t know.”

Play your strengths:
Instead of focusing on your deficits, focus on your strengths. What are the easy wins? If your organizational skills are on point, help set up new processes or files that streamline the work and make everyone’s lives easier. If you’re great at research, brief the team on what the competition is doing or some new industry trend. Turn your (and everyone else’s) attention to what you can do and buy yourself time to master the things you can’t do yet.

Bring a fresh perspective to the table:
Sometimes what you don’t know can be an asset to the team. You’re not weighed down by the baggage of how things have always been done. So while you don’t need to fix what ain’t broken, use your outsider’s perspective to introduce new thinking to old problems.

Accept that teamwork is the best way forward:
Good news – it’s not all about you. When you’re new in your role or trying to get up keep up in a demanding job, by all means rely on the power of teamwork. When everyone is doing what they do best and creating an environment where each team member is respected and understood, it shows in the quality of work. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, from your teammates, boss and mentors. That’s what they’re there for.

Let fear drive you
Fear can be a powerful motivator. If you don’t let it overwhelm you, it can motivate you to push yourself outside your comfort zone and move forward in your job. Look at imposter syndrome as proof that you aren’t playing it safe and applaud your ambition. It’ll take you places.

One thing I’ve learned as I’ve climbed the ranks in my career is that even in the highest echelons of corporate America, everyone is faking it to one degree or another. Recently, I was doing an on-camera interview of a CEO of a huge company. Knowing he’s a very intimidating man who wouldn’t hesitate to rip me to shreds if the shoot didn’t go flawlessly, I was well-prepared and determined not to let my nerves get the best of me. And they didn’t. He gave me a great interview and seemed perfectly comfortable and relaxed in front of the camera. But as he slid off the chair, I pretended not to notice he’d left behind his own sweaty ass print.

The imposter in me bows to the imposter in you. Namaste.

What about you? Do you suffer from Imposter Syndrome? How do you cope? 


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