Women at Work: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

You’re not who you say you are. People are going to find out you’re not as smart/talented/competent as you pretend to be. You’re faking it and you’re not making it.

Sound familiar? This is your brain on imposter syndrome. After I posted Women Working With Women: How to Work & Support One Another on this blog, I received so many calls and emails about imposter syndrome that I wanted to dedicate another post to just that.

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

To be honest, I had no idea imposter syndrome even existed or that what I heard in my own head were things that other women struggled with too. It was actually a relief when I realized it had a name. That happened when I watched a Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy that mentions imposter syndrome. It’s not the subject of the talk (below for your viewing pleasure), but it opened by eyes and I have since spent more time reading, researching and learning about how to overcome it.

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy argues that “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can boost feelings of confidence, and might have an impact on our chances for success.

As women, I believe we are harder on ourselves than anyone else could ever be. The voice in our head that tells us we aren’t good enough is louder than the one cheering us on. This does more than negatively impact our self-esteem. It holds us back, makes us question our career choices, and even stops us from applying for jobs that we’re qualified for, but believe the opposite is true.

recent study found a third of millennials experience self-doubt at work, with 40% of women saying they felt intimidated by senior people, compared to 22% of men asked.

In 2011, the Institute of Leadership and Management surveyed managers about how confident they felt in their professions – and half of the female respondents reported self-doubt in their jobs, compared to less than a third of men.

We Can Overcome Negative Self-Talk

So how do we get rid of this nasty internal voice? Amy Cuddy has some great tips in her TED Talk. It’s also important to seek out strong mentors and surround ourselves with a strong network of friends and colleagues who let us express feelings of anxiety and self-doubt. We all need a cheerleader, and we have to learn how to become our own champion instead of our own worst enemy.

Sometimes, as it was in my case, simply recognizing that you’re not the only one who feels this way can help reign in negative self-talk. At its heart, imposter syndrome is the inability to internalize your successes, coupled with the fear of being outed as an unqualified fraud. It can hinder all kinds of ambitions, from contributing more to meetings, to asking a potential mentor to coffee, to requesting a well-deserved raise. (Source: Grammarly. See their tips here.)

People who have reportedly experienced imposter syndrome include multiple-award-winning writer Maya Angelou, Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks, actress Michelle Pfeiffer, best-selling writer Neil Gaiman, business leader Sheryl Sandberg, U.S. Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor, and actress Emma Watson, among others.


Personally, I’m taking more time for myself in the form of meditation so I can get away from work and business to decompress. Meditation is like a “brain reboot” and has really helped me be my most productive self. If you’re curious about meditation (especially if you’re a skeptic), there’s a great app by Dan Harris, the bestselling author of 10% Happier, that offers a clear and simple approach to meditation.The 10% Happier app has a library of video lessons and guided meditations that help you improve your relationships, work, and health. For podcast lovers, there’s also a 10% Happier podcast with new episodes every Wednesday.

Finally, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone, that even the highest achieving women experience self-doubt, and you can change that voice in your head by shining a bright light on it. Seek support and BE support. It’s a great topic for leadership training and support programs, like Lean In Circles. Giving yourself permission to fail can also give you the freedom to take risks without feeling like a fraud.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

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