Bad Advice for Imposter Syndrome: Fake It ‘Til You Make It

Common maxis can become bad advice for imposter syndrome. Having worked with so many smart and caring women (re)build their confidence, I know what works instead.

This is Part 3 of a series on alternatives to making plans and beating yourself up–two things that become obstacles to getting unstuck. . Check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 4, Part 5 here.

bad advice for imposter syndrome
(c) / michaeljung

I thought I was the only one who believed that the admissions officers at my undergraduate and graduate schools had probably made a mistake. I was convinced it was mostly luck that had landed me my job at an ad agency. And the brilliant researchers I’d worked for must clearly have been so desperate for any help that they’d hired me, even though I wasn’t completely qualified for the job.

I’d fooled them all.

I didn’t realize I wasn’t alone until, early on in my coaching career, a client described how she got dressed for work every morning. My client worked in a male-dominated field. As soon as she’d landed her job, she said, she went shopping. From what she’d seen during her interviews, the few women who worked in the office looked professional and polished. She knew her comfortable, casual look wasn’t going to cut it.

For many months, she put on her new clothes every morning and looked in the mirror. While she recognized herself in her reflection, she said, she felt “it wasn’t really me. I was playing a part. I was acting.”

She said she had to convince herself every morning that she could continue to pretend.

It was hard work trying to keep up that facade. And that is precisely why…

“Faking it till you make it” is bad advice for imposter syndrome

If you’re like many of the talented and devoted women I’ve talked to, you’re likely to feel you’ve been working hard to fake it for a long time now.

Yet, you still don’t feel you’ve made it.

Let’s face it, it’s still hard for women to get to the top. Harder still for women whose attention has been divided by needing to care for loved ones.

So when you intensify your efforts to fake it, imposter syndrome only worsens as it takes more to keep up the front. Behind closed doors, deep down, you feel even less confident.

And, this is why this commonly given advice falls flat.

Working with my clients has taught me that so many of us struggle. More importantly, our collaborations have helped us find what works to build authentic confidence.

It’s not tricks or quick fixes.

What to do instead when you’ve got Imposter Syndrome

Grounded in social-science research, and tested out by my clients and me, we know what works to get lasting results:

  • First, know that you are not alone. You probably can’t help but compare yourself with others—that’s natural. But consider this: there’s a good chance that they’re also struggling with imposter syndrome or lacking confidence.
  • Stop keeping score. Though teachers issue report cards, and employers may give performance evaluations, your life can’t be summarized by a score. If you focus on outcomes, your feelings about yourself will fluctuate and depend on what happens to you, which more oftne than not you cannot control. It’s like letting someone else get in the driver’s seat of your car for your road trip.
  • Rather than focus on goals, learn to appreciate the process. Watching elite athletes, musicians, other performers can be very deceiving. We see only the end result, which is usually close to perfection. What we don’t see is the critical piece: the rituals and the practicing. When it is just the right challenge, you can focus on the work and find flow.
  • Take up a cause. Smart and caring women often find it helpful to focus on the people they care about or a “higher cause.” For example, I used to be terrified of giving presentations and doing any sort of public speaking, yet I did them often. Thankfully, an adviser suggested an unusual way to overcome my fear. He said I was scared because I was thinking about myself–worried about how my performance–and focused on how I could help my audience.

Your turn

Which one of the tips will you try?

And if you do, let me know how it works out for you

This post is the third in a series. Read the first, the second, the fourth, and the fifth. Don’t miss future articles by subscribing to my newsletter.

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This is a revised and updated version of an older article first published in August 2016.