Starting a new job or taking on greater responsibility in your career can be extremely daunting. Imposter syndrome, the persistent feeling that you are a fraud and don't belong or aren't qualified despite evidence to the contrary, is incredibly common. In fact, an estimated 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. However, imposter syndrome doesn’t have to hold you back. With the right mindset and strategies, you can transform those fears into fuel to power you forward and achieve your goals.
Work Harder Than Anyone Else To Prove Yourself
When starting a new job or taking on a challenging new project, it's easy to feel like you don't measure up to your colleagues. You may worry that your coworkers will discover you don't know as much as they think you do. While some self-doubt is normal, don't let fear paralyze you. Instead, use it as motivation to work harder than anyone else. Establish yourself as the most diligent, detail-oriented, and dedicated employee. No matter how menial or boring the task, attack it with gusto. Doing the grunt work well demonstrates your commitment and earns you opportunities to take on more significant responsibilities.
Former NFL executive Mike Tannenbaum advised players, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” This applies to all careers. Excel at mundane tasks, and people will have faith that you can handle more high-stakes projects. Pay attention to details that others overlook. Arrive early, stay late, ask thoughtful questions, and volunteer for extra assignments. By becoming indispensable through your work ethic, you prove that you belong and silence that inner critic questioning your abilities.
Invest in Yourself to Become More Prepared
Fear often stems from feeling unprepared. Rather than let it stop you in your tracks, use it as a call to action. Make a list of the skills, knowledge, or experience that would make you feel more equipped for the task or role causing you anxiety. Then get to work obtaining those things. This investment in yourself is well worth the effort. The more prepared you are, the more confident and empowered you will feel.
For example, if public speaking terrifies you, take a class on presentation skills. Seek out opportunities to practice speaking in low-stakes environments, like Toastmasters meetings. Read books on commanding an audience and managing stage fright. By actively working to improve your public speaking abilities, you will worry less about judgment. You’ll have tangible skills to draw on instead of focusing on fear.
The same principle applies when taking on a daunting new project. Identify people who have successfully handled similar initiatives. Reach out and ask them for advice on recommended preparations. Use their guidance as a roadmap for getting up to speed quickly. The more proactive effort you put into getting ready, the less imposter syndrome can sabotage you.
Take Risks Now Rather Than Later
As much as imposter syndrome can hold us back from going after opportunities, so can waiting for the perfect moment. When considering a risky move like changing careers, starting a business, or accepting a promotion, it's tempting to delay until you feel 100% ready. But that time may never come. If you wait until you have mastered every necessary skill, the market may shift. Someone else may beat you to seizing the opportunity. Your life may become too rooted in your current path.
Rather than fixing imposter syndrome through avoidance, use the fear of standing still to propel yourself forward now. The truth is there will always be some degree of uncertainty and discomfort when taking on new challenges. You must be willing to tolerate those feelings to achieve your goals. Recognize that the riskiest move of all is standing in place out of fear. Have faith that you will figure things out as you go just like everyone else. Keep your eyes on the long-term vision of where you want to go.
Leverage Others' Expertise
One of the best ways to combat imposter syndrome is realizing you don't need to do everything alone. Find people who have already achieved what you want to do and leverage their expertise. Don't wait for them to offer help. Proactively seek out mentors and advisors you can learn from.
For example, if looking to start your own business, find entrepreneurs who have successfully built companies in your industry. Take them out for coffee to hear their stories. Ask about their biggest challenges and how they overcame obstacles. Apply their hard-won wisdom to your own venture. Stay humble and recognize that you can shortcut years of trial and error by learning from those who have done it before.
You can also hire experts to provide tactical guidance. If the legal aspects of launching a business intimidate you, work with a lawyer experienced in these matters. Let their knowledge remove hurdles and instill confidence. Surround yourself with people whose strengths complement your weaknesses. It takes courage to admit what you don't know, but the payoff is huge.
Imposter syndrome can make any career transition or challenge seem insurmountable. However, viewing fear as a stop sign limits your potential. With the right mindset and strategies, you can transform your self-doubt into rocket fuel. Have faith in your ability to rise to the occasion and silence the inner critic. Work diligently to prove yourself. Invest time and effort into becoming as prepared as possible. Muster the courage to take risks now rather than later. Seek knowledge from those further along than you. The energy that fear takes from you, you can take back. Direct it into powering yourself toward your goals. The path to success is never going to feel wholly comfortable, but you are far more ready for it than you think.
Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.