Lately I’ve been trying to give this small advice to people with impostor syndrome, and I think it seems to work – so here it goes.
Impostor syndrome damages your reputation
People are generally going to believe what you tell them. (Unless much much later they disprove it and change their minds.)
Many things happening around you depend on what people think of you. Job promotions, relationships, people helping you.
If you have an impostor syndrome, you are trying to create the wrong impression of yourself in their eyes. And why would you be doing that so actively?
Don’t belittle yourself and your achievements.
For example, consider how I can tell people about my app.
“I wrote a small app as a pet project, just for fun; didn’t expect many users, but for some reason they seem to like it, dunno, just pure luck, I guess. Nothing really interesting, just a small simple app.”
“I created this app. I have almost 1 mln users already, and they love it! I have recently implemented in-app purchases and a nice webserver for validating them. Lots of people are buying these addons! That means they like the app and are ready to pay for it – to get more features and to support me! They email me a lot saying thanks and sharing their ideas. I learned Android development, Python, and some sysadmin skills while working on it. I’m so happy and very proud of my work!”
Both are 100% pure truth. But guess which one makes people think of me as of a great professional, and which one… doesn’t make people think of me at all.
Impostor syndrome lowers your self-esteem
Yes, even more.
When you behave like you are not important, you make people think you are not important. And it is going to reflect back on you again. You will see that people are not taking you seriously, don’t listen to you, don’t ask you for advice, and you will think: well, maybe it’s true. Maybe I’m not that interesting, not very smart, and my achievements are not exactly something to be proud of.
Then, of course, you show it. You become even more critical to yourself, even more shy about your achievements, you share them even less.
Because of all that, now you feel disturbed, anxiety overcomes you, you worry a lot.
And this is an infinite loop. Every time you diminish yourself because you are very unsure, it is going to make you even more unsure.
When you persuade your friends and colleagues that you are not so good, they still may figure out later you’re actually very competent and achieve great things – but you’re losing time and making them do lots of work to investigate, process the information and change their minds.
They will not be always willing to do so.
Fight! Fight! Fight!
Okay, I hope I persuaded you it’s not good for your reputation to have an impostor syndrome. Moreover, it is not good for your mental health!
Now, how to fight it?
I have a recipe that helps me.
Don’t say or write anything that looks like you doubt your own expertise.
When you write a message, reread it before sending and remove bad words. When you speak, it’s harder, but very much worth trying as well.
For example, hold yourself back from saying “I don’t know, but I think…” when you know for sure.
Hold back from saying “I’m just a beginner”, when in reality you have several years of experience and many completed projects already.
Stop saying unnecessarily “well, I may be wrong, I’m not sure…” – this is your professional area, you have the right to be confident about it.
Call that thing you did an “achievement”. Not just “a thing I did”.
Delete jokes that undervalue you. There are other fun things to add that will not mess with your self-esteem.
No self-judgement! Remove all this:
- “It was very easy actually.”
- “Anyone could have done that.”
- “I think it’s not the best, but…”
- “It’s just luck!”
- “It’s a coincidence.”
- “I didn’t do much.”
- “I am actually bad at it.”
- “Just didn’t know how to do better.”
- “I guess more was expected from me.”
- “I am clumsy, unorganized, ugly, lazy, stupid.”
Simply to speak, let other people decide by themselves if it was easy or not, if it could have been done better, or if you are wrong.
Consequences of fighting
You will feel like your self-esteem slowly but surely crawls back to the normal level. You will notice how people now believe in you, respect you, and notice your achievements. This, in turn, will improve your self-esteem, and it will be easier to speak positively about yourself next time.
Look at how my friends did it.
My friend was speaking of herself as of a “fake product owner”. It was not her primary role, and she was very unsure if she does it well. From her colleague she got some feedback – why was she saying this about herself? She was great! Now she calls herself an “acting product owner”, which is closer to reality, and she feels much more confident.
My colleague – an amazing professional with a rare specialization – was feeling bad because he thought he is not so good in other specializations. Then he gave a short talk about his area, and everyone was super impressed. Now all his colleagues want him to give a series of lectures about his tools, methods and approaches.
My other friend, a brilliant designer, is often asking other designers what they think of her idea. She used to ask like that: “I created a quick mockup, nothing serious, don’t know if I like it, can you maybe have a look?”. She wasn’t being noticed very often. She stripped off all bad words. Now she simply asks: “can you have a look at my idea?”, and she gets more feedback, and it is much more positive and constructive.
It is important to understand this: you are not lying when you list your achievements without undervaluing them. You’re not bragging, not arrogant. You are not being “not humble enough”. You are rightfully proud.
How many mistakes did I make in the very first sentence of this article? How to change it so that it doesn’t sound like, I don’t know, maybe this is really not worth reading?
But I really hope that maybe someone will find it useful. Although I’m not sure this advice will work for everyone, maybe it’s just me. And actually, I’m not that good of a writer, so I’m sure I made lots of mistakes. My examples are very bland and unrelatable. And overall, it’s not a new topic, there are a lot of very good articles written about this, by people much more competent than me, and I really didn’t invent a wheel here. So why don’t I just delete it all?..
Think of the last time you spoke about yourself or on your professional topic. Did you use the “bad” words? Did you precede or conclude your story with some “I-am-not-sure” phrases? Did you let your self-doubts to creep in?
Think about how would you say the same thing without diminishing yourself. Memorize it like a poem.
Next time you are asked, use your new prepared story. Fight the passionate desire to immediately insert something belittling in your speech. Simply list your achievements or ideas and stop. No friendly self-deprecation! No confessions about how deep down you feel incompetent! No excessive modesty!
You may feel naked without these disparaging phrases you are so much used to. Do not add them at any cost.
Don’t try to tell people you’re incompetent – they will believe you. Tell them you’re competent – they will believe you.