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Josefine Schfr
Josefine Schfr

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How to beat Imposter Syndrome 101

A couple of days ago, I asked what triggered your imposter syndrome the most - and there were so many brutally honest, thoughtful answers (Thank you 🙏). That's why after identifying triggers, I wanted to talk about how to deal with Imposter Syndrome.

To skip the preamble - this last post was already one thing that helps me personally a lot dealing with Imposter Syndrome:

Talk about it

By admitting openly how we feel, and by sharing our fears or shame, we start a conversation. Yes, we make ourselves vulnerable, but we also take the first step of admitting it. Saying something out loud already makes it a little less scary. Plus, others will be tempted to share their experience - which might be not as different as you may think: Some studies report that over 80% of people experience Imposter Syndrome.

Accept it

Apologies if my headline was a little misleading there: you will probably not 'beat' Imposter Syndrome. But you can learn to live with it. Instead of beating yourself up about feeling anxious or like a fraud (and creating even more negative feelings), accept it. It's ok to feel this way. You are not alone. Accepting it will make other coping strategies a lot easier.

Coping Strategies

In the end, you will have to find something that works for you. This is not a one size fits all, and many things might be very silly to you. Here are a few things that helped me:

1. Making space for it

I once hear someone recommend this in a talk - the speaker suggested to actually block time in your calendar to deal with your emotions. If you know you have an important meeting which will likely make you very nervous, block 20 minutes in your calendar to take a walk, sit down with a tea or just cry it out if that makes you feel better. Don't put pressure on yourself to function at all times, but allow yourself the space to actually have these emotions. Else they will surface at another (probably less convenient) point in time.

2. Check your facts

If you are a perfectionist, over-thinker or quickly go into an apocalyptic mode when Imposter Syndrome hits you (e.g. "I will definitely get fired once they find out I have no idea what I'm doing...") - check your facts!
Look for evidence. What evidence suggests that you are doing a terrible job? Did you get negative feedback? What did your superior actually say during your last 1-on-1? Likely, they were pretty happy with your work and many of these scenarios were in your mind. This takes some practice, but keep looking for proof if you feel like you'll be exposed any second now.

3. Take baby steps

These patterns in your mind have formed over a long time. I'm by no means a psychologist but from what I have read, it takes a lot of time to practise new thought patterns. One strategy I found really useful is a 'Thought Ladder'. I first heard this in Kara Loewentheil's Podcast 'Unf*ck your brain' and you can read more about it here. The basic idea is to first identify your negative thoughts (e.g._ "I'm terrible at my job and I will get fired"). Then you can identify a positive thought that you would like to believe in (e.g. _"I'm the queen of the world and I can achieve anything I put my mind to"). Now to improve your own thought patterns, you have to come up with thoughts in between, each a little more positive than the last (this could be something like 'I am qualified to do this job and I give my best'). You practise the intermediate thoughts one by one over some time and eventually get better.

These are just some of the small things that helped me deal with Imposter Syndrome. That doesn't mean I don't experience it, I definitely still do. But having coping strategies and people to talk to helps, for sure.

What are your strategies to deal with Imposter Syndrome? Have you found coping strategies that work for you? I'd love to hear about it 🙏

In the meanwhile always remember: Be kind to yourself & others. You belong here. Very much so ♥️

Discussion (2)

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Ganesh Prasad

I always tell my team one thing, "it's better to be incorrect than being silent". Irrespective of experience, skills, correctness your opinions and thoughts matter. If you're not expressing yourself, then you're closing the doors of self improvement and that way you're doing a disservice to the team and the organisation at large.

We trust you, and value you -- not because you're supposed to be correct always (that's a myth) -- but because you have already proven that you belong here with us. We all make incorrect assumptions, write suboptimal code, make partially correct observations during meetings. Rome was not built in a day, being perfect doesn't happen overnight -- maybe it never happens. But we collaborate and build good things, eventually we make it better. It's a process, and accepting this process is the first step to grow organically as an engineer.

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Josefine Schfr Author

Oh I love that, thanks for sharing Ganesh! You are absolutely right, the only way to learn (and get better) is to try and sometimes be wrong 🙌