Welcome to CB’s work-advice column featuring Emily Durham, a Toronto-based senior recruiter at Intuit, public speaker and content creator known for her funny and relatable TikToks about all things work. Each month, Durham will answer reader questions on topics that affect our ability to thrive in our jobs, and she’ll offer her real-world insights on how to handle even the most rock-and-a-hard-place conundrums. Have a work-related question? Send it to [email protected].
Q: I recently got a promotion at work and am now overseeing important—and large-scale—projects. I worked really hard to get this position, but now that I have it, I am doubting my abilities to do the job and think I just lucked out. I feel like I’m not qualified and in over my head. My imposter syndrome is making me feel like a fraud, and that it’s only a matter of time before my boss realizes he made a mistake putting me in charge of this work. How do I overcome these feelings?
First off, let me say that you are not alone in feeling this way, and experiencing imposter syndrome is not a reflection of your talent. Did you know that about 70 per cent of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives? Imposter syndrome, which is a term used to describe our inability to believe that our success is deserved, can make us feel like frauds. It’s more common among women—especially BIPOC women—as progress around representation and diversity has been slow in many professions. If you don’t see people who look like you in positions of power at work, it’s easy to feel like you don’t belong there.
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Imposter syndrome shows up in many ways, both big and small, in the office and outside of it. When I first started my career, I found myself holding back in meetings, not sharing my ideas and downplaying the work that I did. Ultimately, all of these things had a negative impact on my mental health and career growth. I was too shy to lean in on high-profile projects or apply for roles I thought I was under-qualified for. These feelings had nothing to do with my actual ability, skill or aptitude.
Even award-winning poet, author and civil rights activist Maya Angelou openly shared her feelings of being an imposter, saying, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody.’” There’s something comforting about knowing the most successful people have also felt unsure of themselves or their work at some point.
But overcoming these feelings, however common they might be, won’t go away without a little work. Here’s what I recommend.
Surround yourself with people who want to see you shine
Imposter syndrome makes it easy for us to doubt ourselves, so we need people in our corner reminding us of what we are capable of. It is critical to have leaders, peers and mentors who celebrate your wins, advocate for your career growth and deliver feedback in a way that is constructive and empathetic. Nothing will worsen your imposter syndrome more than a boss who doesn’t uplift and support you.
When I first started my role as a senior recruiter at Intuit, I immediately joined our women in tech employee resource group (ERG) to identify potential mentors and connect with women leaders to support me on my journey. This was especially helpful when my confidence wavered. If your organization does not have ERGs, you can still find mentors and supportive peers in other places. One of the best ways to connect with people in your field is at industry events, networking sessions or through LinkedIn. There’s nothing wrong with reaching out to someone whose work you admire and offering to buy them a coffee to connect—you never know what experience or support they can offer you.
Value facts over feelings
One of the most valuable things to remind yourself is that you are in the room because you deserve to be. Your feelings may make you think you’re under-qualified or a fraud, but feelings are not facts. Keep an ongoing list of every single accomplishment (big or small) in a spreadsheet and update it regularly. Not only is this an effective way to remind yourself that you are amazing at your job, but it is a great point of reference for when you are having down days. Research shows that reflecting on our successes can make us feel more optimistic for the future.
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Tracking and reviewing your accomplishments not only shifts your mindset, it is a great tool for career growth. If you have a running list of your workplace wins, you can share them with your boss during your check-ins, and also use them during promotion discussions. Bosses can forget all the work you’ve done in a year, so it’s important to remind them.
Be scared, but do it anyway
Even with these tools and reminders, the sinking feeling that we aren’t enough can creep back up when we least expect it. My advice? Be scared and do it anyway—whether that’s taking the promotion, leading a large-scale project, or saying yes to representing your company at an event.
Learning to use your fear or doubt as fuel to prove yourself wrong can make all the difference in your career, and really propel you to new professional heights. After all, your success is a direct reflection of your hard work, tenacity and devotion to what you do. If your promotion was really just luck, you likely would have won the lottery by now.
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