Imposter Syndrome Redux

Now you’ve done it. You’ve taken a step out of your comfort zone. It’s not even a big step, and suddenly the Imposter Syndrome has returned. You know better than to listen to it, but somehow you can’t shut it out. Imposter Syndrome is widespread no matter our gender, field, or level of expertise. It shows up at all point in your career, and it continues to appear as you become increasingly successful. Many of the most powerful people face it in their lives.

As a reminder, Imposter Syndrome is that voice in your head that questions if you’re good enough. It suggests you are out of your league, everyone is going to realize you are a fraud, and you are going to fail. It’s the voice that always knowns the right things to say to shred your confidence. It appears when others are going to see something you have or are going to do. People are going to be judging you. Are you going to measure up? Or are you going to be found out?

So how do you deal with it. Alaina Love’s post, Overcoming Imposter Syndrome, offers 4 steps to take to overcome it. Maybe some of these tools will help you when you’re faced with it:

  1. Examine Your Inner Demons – What happened in your past that continues to haunt you? What project didn’t go as planned? What are you expecting or fearing will go wrong? Love recommends writing some of these down and reviewing them. By examining your concerns head on, you will likely see the places where you’re being unrealistic as well as where you’ve succeeded in the past (even when things didn’t go exactly as planed). We can take away from Imposter Syndrome’s hold on us when we see where it is bringing up old fears not valid concerns.
  • Create a New Narrative – Now that you know where your thoughts are creating issues that aren’t there, we can take the time to envision true success, something that actively stills the negative voices. Love points to athletes who mentally go through an upcoming game and rehearse their moves. Envision yourself as succeeding in your challenges, picture the successful end result, and think about how you will feel to see this through as a way to override the message from the Imposter Syndrome.
  • Rein in Your Quest for Perfection – The need to do it perfectly is almost inherent in why Imposter Syndrome shows up. Excellence, not perfection, is the goal. The bigger the project, the more room there is for making some errors. You will never get it all right, but that doesn’t mean you weren’t a success. After the project/presentation/etc., instead of focusing on what went wrong (because that’s what we always notice first), reflect on and write down what went well and where you’re pleased. If there were problems, take time to learn from them and see what you could have done differently, but keep your focus – and inner voice – on the positive.
  • Make a List of Your Successes – Keep a record of your small and large successes. Create an e-portfolio or some other record if that helps. It is amazing the achievements we can forget as we move on with our lives. As I said in last week’s blog, You Are Successful Now. Keep track of that success and reduce the Syndrome’s appearances and how long it stays. Love refers to this record as a “highlight reel” of your accomplishments. It is something to review as you take the next step out of your comfort zone – and for when your Imposter Syndrome starts squawking. Use it whenever your mind begins that negative talk, possibly doing it every day.

Knowing how to manage Imposter Syndrome is an important tool. I have written about Imposter Syndrome in my blogs, discussed it in some of my books, and included it in several presentations, and still there are times when it has power over me. If you’re going to be a leader and stretch out of your comfort zone, Imposter Syndrome is going to come back. Love’s recommendations can help you manage it when it appears. (It wouldn’t surprise me to learn she had to face down her own Imposter Syndrome when writing it.) Find ways to own, remember, and build on your successes, and that pesky voice won’t get in the way of your next steps.


Feeling Like an Imposter

You know the feeling – you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone and begun questioning your decision. You probably are thinking:  What did I get myself into? Is this beyond my skillset?  What if others can do this better?  If those or similar thoughts have entered your mind, you are suffering from the Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome afflicts successful people as well as those who are just moving into leadership. You question your qualifications and are sure you will be exposed for not measuring up to the task. But if you succumb to it, you will never try anything new and will miss opportunities to learn and grow.

The first step is recognizing that the Imposter Syndrome had arrived. Once you realize it’s not you but the Syndrome, you can take steps to deal with it. The internet is filled with suggestions on how to combat Imposter Syndrome. Most use mindset which is always helpful if somewhat difficult to achieve at times. Gemma Leigh Roberts’ has developed a slightly different approach in Boosting Confidence and Conquering Imposter Syndrome. These tips allow you to embrace its value while not letting it take over.

Apply the Benefits of Imposter Syndrome – Roberts points to focusing on humility, reframing fear as fuel, and building resilience as ways to use Imposter Syndrome to support you rather than hold you back. Being humble helps us build relationships as well as develop “an authentic and unique leadership style.” Using fear as fuel draws on the adrenaline fear creates and has you making sure you are thoroughly prepared. This in turn builds resilience. Every time you successfully get through a bout of Imposter Syndrome, you build a foundation to draw on in the future when it comes back. (And it will.)

Accept the Feeling Roberts states, “Feeling like an imposter doesn’t make you one. No one succeeds at every new endeavor without making any mistakes.”  This is part of the process – like it or not. Fighting it drains energy, energy you need to use the fear as fuel. The arrival of the Imposter Syndrome is an important reminder – it means you are being a leader. You are growing. Once you have completed this challenge you will have accomplished something that powers you to the next step.

Keep a File of Positive Feedback – Each time you step out of your comfort zone, move through Imposter Syndrome, and grow as a leader, hold on to the positive feedback you received. Don’t let compliments go unremarked. You earned them. Savor them. Bank them for days when the going gets tough. They are the energy drink to use on those days.

Chat to Someone in Your Support Network – It’s important to have people we turn to when we need someone to talk us off the ledge. It may be one person you trust or a social network group for librarians. They will understand and listen to you. There will always be a few members who can give you the advice and encouragement you need.

Use an Experiment Approach – If you regard the challenge you have undertaken as an experiment, you can reduce some of the anxiety you’re feeling about it. Whatever happens – you’ll learn something you can use in the future. Reframing the situation helps you keep successes and setbacks in proportion. No matter what, you’ll gain something from what you’re trying which will help as you go forward. You may expand on it – or not. This approach should help you breathe easier.

You will always have to deal with the Imposter Syndrome, but you don’t have to put on boxing gloves to knock it out. Accept its presence and know it’s proof that you are learning and growing. Consider it a badge of honor.

ON LIBRARIES: Managing Self Doubt

Leaders need to exude confidence regardless of the occasional and perfectly normal feelings of self-doubt.  Fear plays a big role in self-doubt.  Whenever you step out of your comfort zone, you are in risky territory.  As William Jennings Bryan said, “The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of successful experiences behind you.” When you keep taking risks, based on your knowledge and passions, you will have some failures, but you will have so many successes people will quickly forget the ones that didn’t work.

Sometimes the doubt comes in the form of Imposter Syndrome. It’s when you begin second-guessing yourself and the voices inside your head say you are not up to a particular challenge. Or you are not that good.  Even very successful people suffer from this on occasion.

We have a tendency to see what others do that we cannot.  Maybe you are using Twitter in a limited away, but you see so many librarians leading Twitter chats and showing all they accomplish. How can you think you are a tech integrator when you don’t know how to do these things? We don’t see the things we do that others cannot.  We assume everyone is doing that. You know, the other thing that we can’t do and what we can do is nothing special.

Recognition is key when you are suffering from Imposter Syndrome. Once you notice it, you can have a good talk with yourself and work to redirect your thoughts. Make sure you remind yourself of what you have achieved so far which is a good indicator that you can take this new path as well.

Even if you have done something before, the new iteration will bring a challenge which can cause a flare-up of self-doubt. I’m experiencing it myself. I just signed a contract with ALA Editions for a book entitled Classroom Management for School Librarians. The manuscript is due mid-February, and it needs to be about 60,000 words.  I look at the task before me and wonder if I can get this done. I know what I am covering in each chapter, but do I have enough to say about the topic to meet the targeted number of words?  Sure, I have written many books and met both deadlines and word counts, but at the beginning of the project, looking at the road ahead, I can feel the self-doubt creeping in.

I handle it by recognizing its presence and plunge ahead.  One step at a time. I set internal targets for completing the chapters and the word count for each. I know I will never hit them exactly, but this gives me a framework and keeps me from being paralyzed by the size of the task.

Lolly Daskal provides her own solution for dealing with self-doubt in What to Do When You Doubt Yourself as a Leader.  Her eight suggestions are:

Know you’re not alone – When you are mired in self-doubt, it’s easy to believe no one has ever felt that way.  I guarantee just about everyone with whom you come in contact has those moments, days, weeks.  I doubt there’s a single leader who hasn’t experienced it.

Remember that breakdowns can lead to breakthroughs – If you focus on how to get through this time, you may discover you have come up with an alternative that is better than your initial plan. Daskal notes the breakdown may “mean you’re on the edge of a terrific period of growth and discovery.”  It may not feel that way in the moment, but if you keep moving forward you’ll get to that breakthrough.

Ride the wave – It’s what I am doing now. Focus on why you want to tackle the project.  What is the reason you are allowing self-doubt to creep in?  I find beginnings are hard.  There is such a long road ahead.  But I am working on reminding myself, the journey has its own rewards.  I will be learning as I go—and that’s a good thing.

Treat your struggle as the beginning of a success story – If you are a regular reader of my blog and/or have been to my presentations, you know I draw on my personal experiences.  I include failures and successes because that’s life. Everything you do adds to the richness of it.  As a Chinese proverb states, “Pearls don’t lie on the seashore. If you want one, you must dive for it.”

 Don’t try to go through it alone – A very wise suggestion.  We tend to hide our self-doubts as though it were a shameful secret. Who are the people who always believe in you? If you have a mentor, that’s great.  If not, this may be a good time to get one. These are the people who can give you the positive self-talk you can’t seem to give yourself.

If you can’t change the situation, you have to change yourself – Realistically, do you need to learn something to accomplish the task?  If so, take the time to build the needed skill. At the same time, focus on your strengths to build your self-confidence. Together the learning and the knowing will help propel you forward.

Get outside help – This is much like “don’t try to go through it alone.” When you need someone to talk you “off the ledge” go to your PLNs whether this is your local AASL chapter, on Facebook or other places.  You will find the support you need.

Lead from within – Regain your faith in yourself by being a quiet leader. Support others on their journey.  Be the one to help someone else with self-doubt.  You will be amazed at how this will help cure your own.

Confidence is not a permanent condition.  Life will always bring challenges to chip away at it. Be prepared to deal with it.  You are a leader, a confidence-builder in others. Remember to do this for yourself as well.