Sheryl Sandberg has an impressive resume: COO of Facebook, founder of LeanIn.org, former Googler, former chief of staff to the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. She is one of the most successful women in modern society, and yet she has famously gone on record as saying that she often feels like one day everyone will realize that she isn't worthy of her accomplishments, and that she's gotten 'lucky' to have achieved all that she has.
You might read that and scoff, thinking it sounds absolutely ridiculous for someone of her stature to doubt themselves that way; but the truth is, almost all of us do at some time or another. This phenomenon has been coined "Impostor Syndrome" - and you've probably been a victim of it at one point or another.
I have, too. I married young and had my son by 25. Having a family took center stage, and I wasn't as focused on my career. I felt for a long time like I hadn't found my passion.
Now, all of that has changed. I have been focused and intentional about what I want out of life, especially career-wise. In the process, I became hyper-focused on all the things I worried I should already have or have been doing while I was a twenty-something. Some regret is normal, but other thoughts are harder to drown out - like maybe you're not good enough to be doing that thing you're doing or trying to do. In times of doubt, and in listening to that voice, it certainly seems easier to put your dreams on hold - or even retire them altogether.
Impostor Syndrome feeds on your deepest fears, and hears your doubts that you tuck away from others. If you don't know the signs, it can negatively impact your professional and personal life.
Here are the lessons I learned about Impostor Syndrome and how I moved past the negative self-talk:
Failing doesn't mean you're a failure. In fact, it's normal.
Many equate failure with not being up to par; they believe that they should just quit while they're ahead. The truth is, there is no such thing as an overnight success. Thomas Edison was famous for having said that he never failed, he just found 10,000 ways that didn't work. Failing will teach you far more in the process than you imagined possible, including the value of hard work, resilience, and resolve. It can also sometimes lead you to the path you were truly meant to land on.
Don't compare yourself to others.
Have you ever stalked someone's Instagram and been envious of their seemingly perfect life, as told by the bright, colorful pictures that present only a snippet of their reality? Well, the same goes for someone's job or their LinkedIn profile. The truth is, you only know as much as you see on the surface. You aren't privy to all the details about the hard work it took to get to where they are and all the sacrifices they've made. No two journeys are the same!
As Theodore Roosevelt said, "comparison is the thief of joy." Don't beat yourself up and assume you should be anywhere other than where you are. Focus your energy on your goals and what you CAN accomplish, and let the negativity go.
The definition of success is subjective.
Before I knew better about ignoring the rule of comparison, I began unconsciously chasing the success I had seen someone else achieve; one day I took a step back and asked myself what I was hoping to find. I was chasing a dream that wasn't even mine, and sadly I didn't even realize it for quite some time. I had gotten so caught up in the idea of "succeeding" that I had lost the definition of what success really meant to me. This definition is personal, and only you can decide what it means to you and your happiness - make sure what you're chasing after is yours and yours alone, not someone else's ideal.
Those afflicted are ambitious, high achievers.
The fact that you are on Fairygodboss.com right now shows a dedication to your professional development. If you didn't care about your career or about succeeding, you wouldn't have any fears or doubts, and that is just as scary. Mediocrity has no place in your life, and that can be terrifying. You might be a work in progress, but aren't we all? Doubting yourself is not so much a syndrome as it is a totally normal part of experiencing success.
Fear can be great fuel.
If harnessed and utilized properly, fear can motivate us and push us out of our comfort zones. Great things happen outside of comfort zones - use that energy to make positive change in your life!
If you're afraid to try something for fear of failure or rejection, try and see what happens. My motto is simple, and has served me incredibly well: "What's the worst that can happen?" If you fail or get rejected, you won't be in any different position than if you hadn't tried... and you can always try again. We all have our moments of doubt, but the key is not letting them paralyze us and stunt our professional growth.
Karen Schneider works for bareMinerals in Global Packaging + Creative Services and has worked in a variety of industries over the span of her career, including digital media, fashion & apparel, and wine & spirits. She contributes writing to The Muse and Career Contessa and her career advice has been featured on Business Insider and Harvard Business Review. She is obsessed with learning, life, and career/self-improvement.
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