Overcoming impostor syndrome

By Sandy Schussel

Sandy Schussel, LLC


Several years ago, I was interviewed by Josh Hinds during a teleconference on which I answered questions about my work. Listeners got to hear one participant, Matt (not his real name), tell us how he was preparing for the acceptance of his offer to work with a big, new client.

"How do I deal with the feeling that I may have oversold them — that I'm not really capable of delivering what I promised?" he asked.

"My wife calls what I'm going through impostor syndrome," Matt continued, "but whatever you call it, it is really making me feel like a fraud and as though, at some point, they're going to figure it out."

Imposter syndrome describes those feelings of inadequacy that persist even in the face of information that indicates that the contrary is true. It is the feeling that you are not really competent; that you are only posing as someone who knows what they're doing. It often hits professionals at the worst time: when they are negotiating an exceptionally large contract.

Josh and I both came to Matt's aid. I pointed out that Matt should tell himself that it is OK to have this fear.

"Instead of trying to fight it," I recommended, "acknowledge that it's there, that it's OK to be afraid, and then take steps to do what's necessary to get rid of it. Be the expert you told them that you are."

I explained to Matt that the first step anyone takes in order to become an expert at something is to declare that he or she is an expert. Then, he or she needs to "walk the talk."

"Get whatever training, materials and books you need to make what you told them a reality," I advised him.

Both Josh and I also pointed out that Matt needs to trust his clients' gut feelings. "Believe that they have thoroughly considered your credentials and background," we coached. "If they have more faith in you than you do," we told him, "then you need to borrow theirs."

Many of us have a gap between what our abilities are and what we perceive them to be. While it sometimes works the other way, usually, our abilities are greater than our perception of them. If you're feeling the symptoms of impostor syndrome, more often than not, that's probably what is going on.

If the feedback you're getting is overwhelmingly positive, trust in your client's or employer's perception of you. If you're still afraid, acknowledge the fear, and then move forward as your best self, syndrome-free — with confidence.