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March 2023
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How to Manage Those Impostor Feelings

By Jennifer L Blanck, DTM




How to Help Yourself

Recognize it exists. “Anytime we have a name for something, it helps,” says Jessica Collett, Ph.D., professor and sociology vice chair at the University of California, Los Angeles. Once you identify what’s going on, you can learn more about it and how to address it.

Talk about it with people you trust. “Most people suffer in silence,” says Kevin Cokley, Ph.D., professor and department of educational psychology chair at the University of Texas at Austin. This is especially true in competitive environments, where people don’t want to show vulnerability. If you share your feelings, you’ll see you’re not alone.

Document and revisit your successes. When you do something well, write it down. Save emails expressing appreciation or kudos. Regularly review your accomplishments. “Too often people are so busy trying to accomplish new things they’ve forgotten what they’ve achieved already,” says 2018 World Champion of Public Speaking Ramona J. Smith.

Expand your definition of success. “You are not 100% your job,” says Collett. Recognize there are all kinds of contributions you make—at and beyond your job.

Be authentic. Find job and social environments where you can be yourself; life will be less stressful. When she started teaching, Collett felt like an impostor. “I was trying to be the teacher I saw in [the movie] Dead Poets Society,” she says. “Instead, I found a way to be authentically myself and became a much better teacher.”

Own your experience. When 2021 World Champion of Public Speaking Verity Price, DTM, started facilitating strategy sessions, she would begin the session saying, “Here’s my story, and here’s why I can teach you.” This reduced her stress and helped people connect with her.

Reframe your feelings. Price received her best advice from a friend, who said, “The minute you stop feeling like an impostor, you’ll probably become arrogant and no longer care about doing the best job you can. If you feel like you’re the only expert in the room, that’s when you lose your magic.” Reframing impostor feelings as wanting to do a good job and not let people down helps Price do more and stress less.

Feel doubt and go for it anyway. “Top performers are the first to admit they’re making stuff up and relying on their teams,” says 2020 World Champion of Public Speaking Mike Carr. He believes the only way to be successful is to push outside your comfort zone. “Growth happens in that space between discomfort and distress,” he says. Smith advocates having a defiant fearlessness and dreaming big.

Consider the implications beyond yourself. “If you’re leading a team or program and don’t negotiate for the things you need, you’re setting yourself and your team up for failure,” says Maureen Gannon, Ph.D., professor and associate dean for faculty development at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee. People can be motivated when they understand how their decisions or behaviors affects others.

Practice creative visualization. Picture yourself being successful in the activity that causes stress. “Athletes do it all the time,” says Gannon. “They go through the motions in their heads before they actually do it.” Imagining yourself succeeding at an activity can create a kind of muscle memory and will help you be more confident and successful.

Consider therapy. Talk with a mental health professional. Collett says cognitive behavioral therapy—a kind of talk therapy that develops an awareness and strengthens skills to manage and reduce negative or inaccurate thinking—can be particularly beneficial.

How to Help Others

Be transparent. Creating a culture that encourages employees to be open can decrease competition and comparisons. Cokley says supervisors and leaders can help lessen other’s feelings of impostorism by being more transparent about themselves. “Let others know what you struggled with—that you’ve made mistakes and how you dealt with and learned from them—so people don’t equate success with perfection,” says Gannon.

Be a mentor. Collett recommends looking for people who may be holding themselves back from opportunities.

Establish systems of support. Cokley recommends organizations offer wellness and mental health programs. This fosters a supportive environment where employees can talk about their struggles.


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