Have you ever dealt with imposter syndrome at work? The Harvard Business Review loosely defines imposter syndrome as “doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud.” And, while everyone can feel imposter syndrome, for women and women of color, imposter syndrome can be particularly pervasive, with feelings of not being good enough and self doubt affecting how they view themselves and their work.
To figure out how we can deal with this common challenge, Chronosphere, a company that is redefining monitoring for the cloud-native world, reached out to six employees from different backgrounds and roles who have all experienced imposter syndrome. These employees describe the syndrome as feeling like a fraud, doubting your capabilities, feeling out of place or unqualified and a sense of faking it.
In this article, these six employees share their imposter syndrome stories and their best advice for conquering imposter syndrome as individuals and with company support.
When was the first time you experienced imposter syndrome and how did you overcome it? Or did you?
Anonymous, UX designer: I first experienced imposter syndrome during my education career. I became a "certified" teacher after completing a six-week summer course and was placed at a very crazy school. I didn't feel ready to lead a classroom and felt like I was constantly under the administration's magnifying glass. At any given moment, I felt like I would say or do something incorrectly and would be fired.
In tech, I've also experienced imposter syndrome. I got into tech after completing a bootcamp, so I used to feel like I wasn't as smart as my formally trained peers. I constantly felt the need to prove myself and also feared that my opinions wouldn't be valued. I've been in the field for five years now and still sometimes feel like fresh college graduates know more than me because they have a traditional background.
Alex Miljanic, Sales Development Representative: I have experienced imposter syndrome. I talked myself into recognizing that it is better to approach situations with confidence, because otherwise you manifest your own anxious fears. Everybody feels imposter syndrome at some scale.
Anonymous, software engineer: I experienced imposter syndrome for the first time when I was promoted into a new role at my first real job out of college. I overcame it when I started to talk to my mentor about it. She pointed to my accomplishments and helped me realize that I can feel like I still have things to learn, but I am valued and got my promotion based on previous success in my first role. However, I have experienced it again after that and still do at times.
Natalie Pau, Technical Recruiting Manager: The first time I experienced it was when I transitioned to my first startup after working in an agency environment. I didn't feel like I was fully capable of these new internal tasks and working relationships because I was accustomed to the high turnover and client-based projects in the agency. I got over it through my manager, who would walk me through what was needed to succeed in that environment and also acted as a sounding board. He would constantly check in and gauge how I was doing, and this eventually built up my confidence. It's still something I deal with to this day, but I try to manage my outlook of it.
Rachel Dines, Head of Product Marketing: I gave my first tech conference talk when I was around 25 years old — I was terrified. Not because I was afraid of public speaking, but because I didn't think I was qualified to give the talk. I was too young, too inexperienced and also one of the only women in the room. I was supposed to co-present with an older male colleague, but I had done all of the work to prepare for the talk: many hours of primary and secondary research, building slides and rehearsing.
On the day of the presentation, my co-presenter was sick. When he called me to tell me that he wasn't coming, he reminded me that I was the actual expert on this topic. I was the one who put in the hours of work and preparation, and that he had planned to just "stand up there and look pretty." He told me that he was just a crutch, that I didn't need him to do the talk and everyone had actually come there to see me (not really, but it was nice to hear). I realized he was right. I wish I could say I nailed the talk, it was only OK. But after getting over the hump of my first conference talk, I gained confidence and momentum and have given dozens of conference talks (mostly solo) since then.
Amanda Mitchell, Sr. Content Marketing Manager: Having made a career change from an established career (journalism) to pioneering an emerging, new career type (content marketing), I struggled to be viewed as legitimate in the early days, even when content was in high demand (e.g., high volume, short deadlines, last-minute requests, never enough or fast enough).
Do you think there are ways a company could address or prevent imposter syndrome feelings?
Anonymous: I think that feeling validated is a huge way to overcome imposter syndrome. Hearing that you have good ideas and are contributing to the company is important. Companies can teach managers how to work with various personalities to ensure that each individual feels supported and respected.
Miljanic: We could discuss tactics in talking to higher-ups presentation-wise. In sales, you notice that different people not only want to feel unique, but respected by how they measure themselves. Sometimes it's associated with their roles. Maybe we could collaborate with our teammates more on how they'd like to be introduced to someone.
Anonymous: On a more personal level, I think it's important to ensure that managers feel empowered and equipped to have open conversations with their reports. At a company level, I think it's important to recognize success and call it out. For example, Chronosphere has a Kudos slack channel where folks can go in and shout out someone on a job well done. I think this is big in fostering an environment where folks can grow more confident in what they bring to the table.
Pau: I think that a company can address imposter syndrome by holding open forums, maintaining complete transparency and focusing on programs and partnerships that could increase diversity and inclusion to really create a safe space/environment for the team.
Dines: I think what would help is managers taking the time to remind their employees why they hired them. Remind them that they are MORE than qualified to do their job, otherwise we wouldn't be asking them to do it. And managers could also function as an open door to talk about feelings of uncertainty and share their own vulnerabilities and uncertainties as well.
How do you best deal with imposter syndrome? What advice would you give to folks new in their careers?
Miljanic: Brace yourself — you're going to feel stupid eventually, it doesn't mean that you are. It means you have to change your jargon with the kind of person you're talking to.
Anonymous: The best way to get over imposter syndrome is to talk to mentors about it, constantly find ways to learn and grow and to take the time to review your accomplishments and successes. To those new in their career, I would say that it's important to realize that you aren't expected to know all the answers. You are just starting out, and you are intelligent enough to learn as you go — true confidence will come with time.
Pau: There's no permanent way to get over imposter syndrome. I think it's a matter of self-recognition and constant self-love and confidence to recognize that you got to where you're at by your own effort.
Dines: I don't think imposter syndrome is something you can cure with a magic wand. I still experience it from time to time, especially when thrown into a new situation. But growing up, my mom told me something over and over again that I come back to a lot: "fake it 'till you make it." This is a common phrase, but what I realized is that EVERYONE is faking it until they're making it. I find this really comforting in a weird way.
Mitchell: Frequently share specific accomplishments with close friends and family (and ask about and listen to theirs!) Do it like you'd brag about your kid. My husband and I do this all the time. It will help form and cement those proud thoughts in your brain. Think "Daily Affirmations With Stuart Smalley" (the fictional SNL character known for, "I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!")
Fairygodboss is proud to partner with Chronosphere. Find a job there today!