Q: I’m several years out of college and still don’t feel confident on the job. While I have received positive feedback and promotions, I always feel like someone is going to figure out that I’m not really that good at what I do. How can I handle this?
A: Focus on your strengths, and retrain yourself to reduce the internal messages that undermine your assurance.
The inner game
Start by taking time to settle yourself emotionally, setting aside your fears. Focus on your breathing, allowing yourself to become calm and centered. Notice this feeling so that you can bring yourself back to it when you feel anxious about your performance.
Now, look back into the past, recalling instances when you have felt a sense of self-confidence. It doesn’t need to pertain to work — examples from school or your personal life will also help. Strive to understand the source of your self-assurance; for example, it may stem from your knowledge base or the support of the people around you.
Also look more deeply at the present, listing the strengths that you offer at work. Make a list of the feedback you’ve received so you have a tangible representation of your abilities. How do you feel when you read it? Notice in particular if you have a physical reaction or emotional response, either acceptance or denial. If it’s the latter, pay attention to where and how you feel it in your body. If, for example, you get a sense of tension in your gut, consciously relax it, at the same time affirming the positive messages you’ve received.
Obviously, you haven’t let this hold you back — you’ve received promotions, for example. Acknowledge yourself for your abilities and perseverance, and also learn from the past so that you can consciously use these tactics if needed.
The outer game
Part of the problem with this impostor syndrome is the drain that it places on your zest for your work and feelings about yourself. For that reason alone it’s worth it to transform the negative thoughts about your performance. Instead of dwelling on concerns about your ability, catch yourself when you go negative and counter with the positive. For example, replace, “I didn’t think I could pull that one off” with “I did a good job on that.” It may sound corny, but as you build a new habit it won’t feel so artificial. Check in with yourself, daily at first, to see how you’re doing with this.
The other issue is that this pattern can cause you to undermine yourself with others. If, for example, you dismiss compliments, it sends a message about your confidence that could eventually erode others’ views of you. It can also lead you to pass on opportunities that would help you advance even further in your career.
Find a mentor to help you with this, asking for feedback on your persona and support as you take on this challenge. Many others have been through this and can help you move past it.
The last word
Moving past the impostor feeling will bring you greater enthusiasm and can lead to additional success.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.