In a recent talk at TED NYC Idea Search, I spoke about this topic. Here it is in more detail along with my original ten steps.

In my more than three decades of speaking and leading workshops on Impostor Syndrome, I’ve spoken to an estimated 100,000 people.

Up until just a few years ago, I always ended my talks by giving audiences a list of ten ways to combat impostor syndrome.

Audience evaluations were overwhelmingly positive. The one criticism? “I wish she’d given us more solutions.”

Or during the Q&A someone would come up to the mic and say, “This was great… but do you have any other solutions?”

My response was always, “Of the 10 things I just gave you, what have you tried so far?”

To which they’d invariably reply, “Well, nothing – I just wondered if there’s anything else we can do?”

I spent years thinking, “I just gave them TEN things to do! Is it them? Is it me? What am I missing?”

Then one day it hit me.

What people want is to walk into the room feeling like an impostor and to walk out of the room not feeling like an impostor. 

That’s not how it works. In fact, feelings are the last to change.

So now, before I even get to the solutions, I make sure my audience understands that people who don’t feel like impostors are no more intelligent or capable than the rest of us.

The only difference between them and us is that during that same situation that triggers an impostor feeling in us, they think different thoughts. That’s it, folks.

Which is really good news — because it means all we have to do is learn to think like a non-impostor.

And because impostor feelings are indeed the last to change, today I make sure everyone understands that…

The only way to stop feeling like an impostor, is to stop thinking like an impostor.

Then I tell them how to do just that.

To be clear… it’s not that there’s no truth to my original ten steps.

It’s just that my new approach is far more useful – and lasting.

Today I give my audiences three simple but non-negotiable strategies. And they’re much happier.

I’m often asked about my original ten steps. So, here you go!

    1. Break the silence. Shame keeps a lot of people from “fessing up” about their fraudulent feelings. Knowing there’s a name for these feelings and that you are not alone can be tremendously freeing. 
    2. Separate feelings from fact. There are times you’ll feel stupid. It happens to everyone from time to time. Realize that just because you may feel stupid, doesn’t mean you are.
    3. Recognize when you should feel fraudulent. If you’re one of the first or the few women or a minority in your field or work place, it’s only natural you’d sometimes feel like you don’t totally fit in. Instead of taking your self-doubt as a sign of your ineptness, recognize that it might be a normal response to being an outsider. 
    4. Accentuate the positive. Perfectionism can indicate a healthy drive to excel. The trick is to not obsess over everything being just so. Do a great job when it matters most, without persevering over routine tasks. Forgive yourself when the inevitable mistake happens. 
    5. Develop a new response to failure and mistake making. Henry Ford once said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” Instead of beating yourself up for being human and blowing the big project, do what professional athletes do and glean the learning value from the mistake and move on. 
    6. Right the rules. If you’ve been operating under misguided rules like, “I should always know the answer,” or “Never ask for help” start asserting your rights. Recognize that you have just as much right as the next person to be wrong, have an off-day, or ask for assistance. 
    7. Develop a new script. Your script is that automatic mental tapes that starts playing in situations that trigger your Impostor feelings. When you start a new job or project instead of thinking for example, “Wait till they find out I have no idea what I’m doing,” try thinking, “Everyone who starts something new feels off-base in the beginning. I may not know all the answers but I’m smart enough to find them out.” 
    8. Visualize success. Do what professional athletes do. Spend time beforehand picturing yourself making a successful presentation or calmly posing your question in class. It sure beats picturing impending disaster and will help with performance-related stress. 
    9. Reward yourself. Break the cycle of continually seeking °© and then dismissing °© validation outside of yourself by learning to pat yourself on the back.
    10. Fake it ‘til you make it. Now and then we all have to fly by the seat of our pants. Instead of considering “winging it” as proof of your ineptness, learn to do what many high achievers do and view it as a skill. The point of the worn out phrase, fake it til you make it, still stands: Don’t wait until you feel confident to start putting yourself out there. Courage comes from taking risks. Change your behavior first and allow your confidence to build. 

    You are welcome to reprint this post with the following attribution:

    Dr. Valerie Young is an internationally recognized expert on Impostor Syndrome. She has delivered her often humorous and highly practical approach to overcoming impostor feelings at such diverse organizations as Boeing, Facebook, BP, Intel, Chrysler, Apple, Bristol Meyers-Squibb, McDonald’s, Emerson, IBM, Merck, Ernst & Young, Procter & Gamble, Motley Fool, Raymond James, Space Telescope Science Institute, American Women in Radio and Television, Society of Women Engineers, Women in Trucking, Lung Cancer Partnership, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and many more.

     Her career-related advice has been cited in popular and business outlets around the world including BBC radio, Yahoo Financial News, CNN Money, Wall Street Journal, USA Weekend, O magazine, Entrepreneur, Science, Elle, Redbook, Woman’s Day, and The Chicago Tribune, The Sydney Morning Herald.

     And her award-winning book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive In Spite of It (Crown/Random House) is now available in five languages.

    Click here now to learn how you can bring Valerie in to speak at your organization.

     

     

Valerie Young

About Valerie Young

Valerie Young, Ed.D. is an internationally-recognized expert on impostor syndrome and author of the award-winning book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It (Crown Business/Random House) now available in five languages. Valerie has delivered her solution-oriented message to over 80,000 men and women at such diverse organizations as IBM, Merck, Boeing, Intel, Chrysler, Facebook, BP, Ernst & Young, McDonalds, Stanford, Harvard, MIT, and many more and her career-related advice has been featured in major business and popular media on five continents.

5 Responses to “10 Steps You Can Use to Overcome Impostor Syndrome”

  1. Jim

    Egad, can we not use clichés? Fake it ’til you make it? I would like to suggest that there’s a better narrative to describe “winging it.”

    I’m a high achiever and never experienced imposture syndrome because I entered management young (at 21) and discovered that I could think on my feet quickly and solve problems as needed. It’s not that I never made mistakes, but that I did in fact solve many difficult problems quickly and on a regular basis.

    It’s not about “faking it” or “winging it.” It’s about having problem solving skills and knowing that no plan can account for every contingency — so you need those skills to accomplish anything. Recognizing your accomplishments, which is one of the steps, becomes very useful here. It’s not about bragging. It’s about having a healthy and realistic self-perception that recognizes your successes and failures and gives them relative weight. When I started doing that, I earned my confidence, and once earned, no one is able to take it away from me. No one can discount the things I’ve already accomplished, especially if they haven’t.

    Reply
    • Valerie Young

      Thanks for chiming in Jim. Agree fake it til you make it is a highly over used. I stopped using it in my talks a number of years ago.

      You’re right it’s definitely not about faking it. And there is a difference between the problem solving and contingency planning skills you describe and the need to indeed occasionally fly by the seat of our pants. I have an entire chapter that looks at the nuances of this conversation if you’re ever interested in learning more.

      Your experience is in part what I refer to in my talks Jim. Being someone who does not feel like an impostor, your thinking and therefore feelings, vary from those who do.

      My goal is to get people who — for a host of reasons — do experience impostor feelings to become consciously aware of the conversation going on in their head so they can then
      reframe it the way a non-impostor would.

      Thanks again for your comment.

      Reply
  2. Nancy Knettell

    Thank you as always Valerie for your sage advice. I am definately a poster child for Imposter Syndrome. After all I am a woman in tech. We are not supposed to be competent in that field. (PS I never believed that) Never-the-less CEO of my own technical company thanks to you. Fake it until you make itm Oh yeah…And oh boy have I had humiliating failures. Pick yourself up…dust yourself off…start all over again. Doesn’t get any easier but I keep reminding myself if anyone can do this why can’t I. Read her book. It is excellent.

    Reply
    • valerie young

      Thanks for the kind words about my book Nancy.

      No easy task to start your own business, and all the more impressive that you did it in a field with so few women

      The fact that you have such a healthy response to failure is why you’ve been able to be successful. I tell my audiences that you can disappointed if you fail — crushingly disappointed. But not ashamed. The only time you should feel shame is if you didn’t try.

      Reply
  3. Nancy Knettell

    Thank you as always Valerie for your sage advice. I am definately a poster child for Imposter Syndrome. After all I am a woman in tech. We are not supposed to be competent in that field. (PS I never believed that) Never-the-less CEO of my own technical company thanks to you. Fake it until you make itm Oh yeah…And oh boy have I had humiliating failures. Pick yourself up…dust yourself off…start all over again. Doesn’t get any easier but I keep reminding myself if anyone can do this why can’t I. Read her book. It is excellent.

    Reply

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