Impostor syndrome? Fight it by focusing on someone else

I was thrilled to recently be included in a round-up via Hello Giggles of professional women discussing the moment they broke through their “impostor syndrome.” Impostor syndrome (and let’s just clarify here that both the “-or” and “-er” spelling are grammatically correct), in case you are incredibly secure and/or living under a rock, is helpfully defined in a Harvard Business Review piece as:

“…a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence…High achieving, highly successful people often suffer, so imposter syndrome doesn’t equate with low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence. In fact, some researchers have linked it with perfectionism, especially in women and among academics.”

So how have I conquered mine? Well, for one, I haven’t. Not 100%, and that’s okay. I want to feel comfortable, confident, and secure in my work, and in my ability to lead – but it’s also thrilling and important to find yourself in over your head once in a while.

For me, my mindset began to shift when I saw how others saw me – in particular, younger staff members or students I worked with through my time at Rutgers. It surprised me to get validation of my experience from those lower on the ladder, rather than those above me, but it definitely aligned with my experience in how I admired others in the field as well. Read the full Hello Giggles piece for my take on this, but here’s a teaser:

“When I started shifting from being the one asking for letters of recommendation and connections to getting to play that role of connector for other talented early career professionals, I started seeing my status in a new light. No one tells you that you have become a mentor—”

I have been thinking a lot about mentoring, leadership, and developing capacities for the future lately, as my leadership and management role has increased over time. It truly is an odd shift to move from focusing on building your career and reputation to helping foster it for others, and you never truly feel like you have the resources to focus on both. Abby Wambach’s remarks this commencement season at Barnard College were particularly compelling for me – pushing through her feelings of anger and humility on being “benched,” and instead embracing that role. It’s quickly given me my new motto:

bench
Image from Insight of the Day: http://www.insightoftheday.com/motivational-quote-by-abby-wambach/

Mentorship is extraordinarily powerful in career development, and anyone from an underrepresented background inn a field particularly stands to benefit. It’s not enough to wait for someone to ask you to serve as a mentor – that ask may never come – so I charge everyone in their professional lives to identify and create opportunities to foster the next generation of collaborators and gamechangers as part of your daily work. And, if you find yourself in need of a mentor and not sure where to turn, don’t focus on looking up the ladder – yield this advice from Ann Friedman and tap into your peer network.

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