If They Only Knew: 6 Ways to Overcome Impostor Syndrome

I am a total fraud and everyone is about to find out.

If you’ve ever felt this way, you are familiar with imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is the gnawing voice at the back of your mind that questions your accomplishments and tells you, relentlessly, that you don’t deserve the success you have achieved.

Women are especially vulnerable to imposter syndrome, though I know a number of wildly successful men who suffer from it too. As a male patient once commented to me during a session,

When are they going to pull the curtain back and realize I just got lucky?

He had just made partner at a highly competitive New York City law firm and was in his early forties.

Imposter syndrome saps confidence and fuels anxiety. Those who have it live in constant fear of being “exposed” and feel guilty about getting things they feel they don’t deserve.

Here are 6 ways to stop imposter syndrome in its tracks:

1. Trust the process:

Instead of listening to the negative voice in your head, listen to the feedback you get from others. Odds are, your boss isn’t “being nice” when she writes an excellent evaluation or gives you a promotion. Other people are far more objective than you are capable of being with yourself.

2. Channel your inner Sherlock Holmes:

When self-doubt creeps in, do some detective work. Gather specific evidence that highlights how qualified you are for your job. Remind yourself of all you have accomplished. Think of someone’s life you have touched or someone else’s career you have positively impacted. Concrete examples will help make your success feel real.

3. Nobody is out to get you:

Imposter syndrome tends to kick in when we become overly focused on ourselves and concerned about what other people think. Focus on providing value, not on what other people are saying.

4. Keep a Gratitude Wall:

In my office I have a wall of all the kind notes people have written to me. It is a kaleidoscope of positive thoughts and meaningful connections. Looking at it is an immediate confidence booster.

5. Authenticity is overrated:

You are a work in progress, changing and growing all the time. This is a GOOD thing. The “real you” is always under construction.

6. See it as a strength:

Those with impostor syndrome are more likely to say, “I don’t know,” when they don’t know. This is an advantage. Overconfident people assume they have all the answers, even when they don’t.

I experienced imposter syndrome first hand when I graduated from medical school. As a young intern on the wards, I was convinced there had been a mistake. How on earth did they let me graduate and take care of sick people who needed a “real” doctor with far more experience. It took a few weeks and a wonderful chief resident to remind that I was up to the task.

My secret weapon was a handwritten note a patient sent me after she had left the hospital, thanking me for taking good care of her. I kept the pale pink notecard in a pocket of my doctor’s coat for months. Whenever imposter syndrome reared its ugly head, I would reach for it. Over time, it frayed and crumpled and a coffee spill made some of the words illegible. But it didn’t matter. I had memorized them by then and just knowing it was there made all the difference.

I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman