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Author : Janice Levenhagen-Seeley

Imposter Syndrome: The Quiet Confidence Killer

Imagine you just landed the job of a lifetime. You’re sitting at your desk, surrounded by brilliant peers who are at the top of their game. Slowly, you start to question why you’re there. You’re obviously not as talented as the people around you – they make the job look so easy. Nor did you get here on your merits – you just got lucky in your previous job and only look good on paper. No, somehow you conned your way into this position and it’s only a matter of time before everyone sees you for what you are: a fraud.

None of this is true, of course, but chances are the feeling is all-too-familiar. There’s even a name for it: impostor syndrome. It’s the feeling that you’re undeserving of the success you’ve achieved in life. This creeping self-doubt is a confidence killer, and can often hold women back from reaching their full professional potential. This translates into taking fewer risks, and not asking for promotions and pay raises when deserved.

I succumbed to impostor syndrome early in my career. There wasn’t much female representation among computer engineers when I started out, and the guys I worked with did things differently than I. It was like they were waiting for me to screw up to prove that I didn’t belong. I eventually convinced myself that I was  in over my head, and I nearly left the tech industry altogether before someone else realized this, too.

Looking back, it seems silly; I know now that doing things differently doesn’t mean doing things wrong. But once you start to doubt your self-confidence, it can snowball from there. My story is not unique, but it reveals one reason why increasing the number of women in STEM careers continues to be an uphill battle.

Women are more likely than men to fall victim to impostor syndrome to the point where it affects their career. This stems from a long history of women’s inequality where we continually feel the need to prove we deserve a seat at the table. But there are a few ways to overcome this obstacle:

Uncover the impostor: Whenever those feelings of inadequacy begin to creep into your consciousness, recognize it for what it is: insecurity. You’re not a fraud. You didn’t just pull off the biggest con in history. You got the job because you kick ass. You got the job because the company needed someone like you to be successful. Remind yourself of that every day.

Realize you’re not alone: The vast majority of people suffer from impostor syndrome in one way or another – even the people you most admire and look to as role models. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and actress Natalie Portman are but a few of many women who have been vocal about their own struggles.

Use it for good: Impostor syndrome doesn’t always have to be a bad thing; sometimes it can push us to be even better. Don’t feel like you code as well as the guy sitting next to you? Take a class. Don’t think your idea is up to par? Challenge yourself to present it in a way your boss just can’t say no.

Remember your accomplishments: Be proud of what you’ve done! Did you get incredible feedback on a project you just completed? Save it for a rainy day when you’re not feeling so confident. Call up a former boss, a mentor, or colleague when you’re feeling discouraged. These simple reminders of what you’ve accomplished can go a long way to reinforce your confidence.

Pay it forward: Recognize great work in others when you see it. Compliment your co-worker when he or she gets that promotion. Tell your boss about the ways in which they’ve made you a better worker. By sharing with others the impact they’ve had on you, you’re also revealing to yourself the ways in which you’ve grown.

Don’t let impostor syndrome get the better of you. The key to this is reminding yourself each day that you got where you are because of your accomplishments, not in spite of them. As Tina Fey once said, “I’ve realized that almost everyone is a fraud, so I try not to feel too bad about it.”