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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: Practical Steps to Boost Career Confidence

Tiffany Tate of Career MavenWake Forest School of Professional Studies has partnered with Career Maven Tiffany Tate to offer SPS students relevant career resources. As founder of Career Maven, Tiffany works with clients to demystify the job search process while also partnering with organizations to reimagine the future of work.

“I shouldn’t try for that promotion. I’m not ready or qualified enough.”

“I lucked out closing that client. It easily could’ve gone the other way.”

“Why would she ask me to lead the project? I’m sure there were better choices.”

These are all examples of imposter syndrome, which can be a significant barrier in the workplace, often causing talented professionals to doubt their abilities and hinder their career progression. If you’re feeling like a fraud despite your accomplishments, it’s crucial to address these feelings to advance confidently in your career.

Here are a few actionable steps to help you manage imposter syndrome effectively.

Recognize the Signs & Reframe Your Thoughts

The first step in overcoming imposter syndrome is to recognize its symptoms. These can include a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud, attributing your success to external factors like luck, and a tendency to downplay your achievements. Awareness is the key that leads to change, so take note of these feelings when they arise.

Imposter syndrome thrives on negative self-talk and irrational thinking patterns. You can disrupt these thoughts by reframing them and using objective facts. For instance, if you think, “I just got lucky,” consider the skills and effort you applied to achieve that success. Replace negative thoughts and feelings with factual, positive affirmations about your skills and contributions to keep yourself grounded in reality.

Action Steps:

  • Keep a Feelings Journal: Start by jotting down instances when you feel like an imposter. Note what triggers these feelings and how you react.
  • Self-Assessment: Periodically review your journal to identify common patterns and triggers. This awareness is your first tool in combating imposter syndrome.

Document Your Achievements

Keep a record of your accomplishments and positive feedback. This can be as simple as a digital document or a physical journal, sometimes called a “brag sheet” or “win journal.” Whenever you receive commendation, complete a challenging project, or meet a goal, add it to your list. Reviewing this document can serve as a tangible reminder of your capabilities and successes when doubts creep in.

Action Steps:

  • Create an Achievement Log: Maintain a detailed list of your successes, including small wins and major accomplishments.
  • Review Regularly: Set a reminder to review this log weekly. This will help reinforce your competence and success in your mind.

Share Your Feelings & Set Realistic Expectations

Talking about your feelings of imposter syndrome can demystify and destigmatize these experiences. Discuss your thoughts with trusted colleagues, mentors, or a coach. You’ll likely find that many others share similar feelings, which can normalize your experiences and provide comfort and strategies for overcoming these feelings.

Perfectionism often accompanies imposter syndrome, setting you up for unrealistic expectations and inevitable disappointment. Recognize that perfection is unattainable and that mistakes are opportunities for growth. Set achievable goals and celebrate the progress made towards them, not just the final outcome.

Action Steps:

  • Define Achievable Goals: Break large tasks into smaller, manageable goals to avoid overwhelming yourself.
  • Celebrate Small Wins: Make it a habit to celebrate every small success to build confidence and affirm your abilities.

Seek Professional Development

Continuously improving your skills can boost your confidence by reinforcing your sense of competence. Attend workshops, take courses, or engage in professional development activities relevant to your industry. This not only enhances your skills (also known as upskilling!) but also provides external validation of your capabilities through certifications and recognitions.

Action Steps:

  • Ask for Stretch Opportunities: Identify skills gaps and look for opportunities to upskill at work.
  • Apply New Skills: Implement new skills in your projects and track the impact they have, reinforcing your growth and learning.

Establish a Support Network

Build a network of supporters who encourage and believe in your abilities. This can include peers, mentors, family members, or a professional coach. A robust support system can provide encouragement, offer advice, and help you see yourself more clearly.

Action Steps:

  • Network Actively: Attend networking events and engage with individuals who inspire and motivate you.
  • Seek Feedback: Regularly seek constructive feedback from your peers, managers, and other stakeholders to improve and validate your skills.

Reflect on Feedback Often

Instead of dismissing positive feedback, take it to heart. Reflect on compliments and constructive criticism alike, and use them to adjust your self-perception and improve your performance. Genuine feedback is a more accurate reflection of your abilities than the distorted view imposter syndrome presents.

Action Steps:

  • Keep a Win Journal: Use a piece of paper on your desk or on a digital app, and schedule time each week to reflect on your workplace wins. Keeping track of what’s going well keeps it top of mind. 
  • Keep a Feedback File: Set aside time to reflect on both positive and constructive feedback to understand your growth areas and strengths better.

By implementing these strategies, you can begin to dismantle the foundations of imposter syndrome that undermine your career development. Remember, the goal isn’t to never feel like an imposter again but to develop the tools and mindset to manage these feelings effectively when they arise.

Wake SPS students can access Tiffany’s webinar, “Managing Imposter Syndrome in Your Career” in the Pearl Cafe here

Tiffany’s next open office hours will be held on June 11th at 12:00 pm ET – sign up today.