Women are running our families—and they’re also running our economy. A recent Pew Research study found that 40% of all households with children under 18 include mothers who are either the sole provider or the primary source of income for the family.
That’s why it’s more important than ever for today’s working women to be in high-paying jobs where they can move up into even better positions.
The thing is, even many highly successful women, myself included, have suffered from a phenomenon I call “impostor syndrome”—the feeling that they are somehow less competent or qualified than their peers, and that sooner or later they’ll be “found out.” This is particularly true for minority women and those from less privileged socioeconomic backgrounds.
Women who have impostor syndrome are typically high-powered, ambitious professionals who feel they need to work longer and harder than everyone else to prove themselves. When they receive a compliment for a job well done, they can’t really take it in. They’re constantly comparing themselves to colleagues and supervisors in the workplace whom they perceive to be superior.
For professional women who feel like phonies and lack self-confidence as a result, changing this fundamental attitude takes self-awareness, time, and effort. For my book, I interviewed many well-known and influential businesswomen, from fashion icon Eileen Fisher to Debra Lee, Chairman of BET Networks, who shared stories of coping with impostor syndrome. We all eventually learned to embrace our true power and success—but it didn’t happen overnight.
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Here are four ways you too can work on conquering impostor syndrome.
1. Get a reality check from someone you can trust. Seek advice from a career coach or a trusted colleague who can give you an objective assessment of your attitude. Ask this person to evaluate the reasons behind your impostor syndrome behavior. Face your fears and don’t be silent about it.
2. Stop comparing yourself to others. We tend to make comparisons with our peers based more on our feelings—e.g., of self-doubt or admiration—than on facts. When you compare your skills and accomplishments with others, you’re defining yourself through them. Instead, try to look objectively at others and realize they have flaws and weaknesses too.
3. Develop a skills and accomplishment log. Despite their success at work, many successful women believe they lack the very qualities their bosses and peers have in abundance. Have a sit-down with yourself and identify all the skills, talents, and accomplishments you bring to this position. This simple activity can be surprisingly effective.
4. Assess your company culture for culpability. Sometimes impostor syndrome is not just about your fear of not measuring up to everyone around you. Your work environment also plays a role in helping newcomers, women, minorities, and others, such as introverts, feel part of the team—or not. For example, your supervisors and colleagues may not believe that women have the same leadership potential as men. And many companies have a culture that puts demands on women to constantly prove their worth. See if you can determine how much the workplace culture contributes to your impostor syndrome.
Bottom line: Realize that feeling like a fraud is not uncommon among successful women. Usually, over time, as your career progresses and you start to chalk up a roster of accomplishments, impostor syndrome becomes less prevalent. However, right now is a good time to start internalizing the validation of others, and looking inside yourself to become more aware of the fears, personal history, and maybe even outside factors that are causing you to feel like a fraud. The sooner you embrace your power, the better it will be for your well-being and professional happiness.
Want to know if you have impostor syndrome? Take a free quiz here.