How I overcame the impostor syndrome
By Marie-Noëlle Morency, PR & Communications, Randstad Canada
Reflecting back on my career path, I cannot help but think about my mother. I heard her ask me the same question over and over again: "You are smart, educated, you can write, you can sing. I wish I had so many talents. Why are you so unsure about yourself?"
Simply put, I was afraid that someone, sooner or later, would realize that I'm not that smart. I'm not that talented. Yes, I was suffering from the ever annoying, relentless, wing-clipping impostor syndrome.
The impostor syndrome is of course not a new concept. It was discovered by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. People who suffer from it are deeply convinced that they are frauds, and tend to diminish their accomplishments. Everybody can fall into that trap, but studies show women are more affected by this than men, and this phenomenon is especially observed among many high-achieving women.
Escaping the spiral of self-doubt
No matter how good people would tell me I was, self-doubt was always sitting quietly right on my shoulder, waiting to shout in my ear and crush my enthusiasm on a whim. At the beginning of my career, I would not talk in meetings because I was scared my questions or comments would sound dumb or pointless. I would be reluctant to participate in brainstorming sessions because I was afraid I would not have any spectacular, jaw-dropping idea to share.
But, I was good at what I was doing, so I accomplished things, led successful projects, made a difference in my workplace. I gained confidence over time. I also realized that to overcome the impostor syndrome, you must be the exact opposite of an impostor: you have to be real.
For a long while, I thought that to be successful in my career, I had to become that extraverted smooth talker who masters the art of working a room. We forge so many preconceived notions of what success is, that we forget who we are.
I'm not the one who will come up with a thousand clever taglines on the spot. I am the one who will regroup to gather her thoughts and come up with a well thought-out, creative and executable campaign. And it's fine. I'm not the scrupulous planner who sees every last detail of any project. I'm the strategic thinker who connects the dots and sees the big picture. And it's fine.
Owning who you are
- Don't force yourself to be something that you are not.
- Don't fake an answer if you don't know.
One of my bosses said to me once: being strategic is not about knowing the right answers, it's about asking the right questions. Take a break from talking, and listen, ask, challenge, probe, read, consult. Make mistakes and take risks. No matter what happens, you will gain precious insights, view things from a different point of view, be exposed to different realities, and open up to new ways of thinking, creative solutions and smart ideas along the way.
Take care of yourself. It's not about working harder, it's about working smarter, balancing it out, learning how to delegate and prioritize, keeping your body and soul healthy and recharged.
Take credit for your bright ideas and keep track of your accomplishments. Refrain from the temptation of using the words ''team effort'' every time you talk about your successes. Of course the contribution of all team members is important, but when you are the one who steered the team in the right direction, who found an innovative solution, or who made a brave decision, acknowledge it.
Know yourself, inside out, and define your personal brand. Summarize in one or two sentences what you are, what are your unique talents, how you want to contribute, where you want to go. If it's clear for you, it will be clear for everybody around. It will help you make the right choices that are in line with what you truly are and want.
This is how I overcame the impostor syndrome. And yes, my mother is very proud.
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