Say Buh-Bye to Imposter Syndrome

Image Credit: Yossi Gavan

“Do you want to know what a man would do?”

My husband asks me this on a regular basis. Not to mansplain to me or to tell me what I should be doing, but to help me see all the ways I’m holding myself back.

Want to know what a man would do?

He wouldn’t worry about how he might have offended that guy who years ago he declined an offer to work for. That guy would be a great contact in his current role, and a man would reach out and reconnect.

A man would ask for more money. He would ask for a better title. And most importantly — he wouldn’t feel guilty doing it.

A man would submit that conference proposal instead of assuming no one would want to hear him speak.

A man would say “this is the direction we should go,” rather than “what do you think we should do?”

In its own way, each of these statements draws a comparison between a mentality of “I deserve this and I’m good enough,” and “I don’t deserve what I have. I shouldn’t be here.”

I realize that being male does not automatically infer with it a sense of confidence and self-assurance. I also realize that there isn’t much appetite for conversations around men struggling to prove themselves or feel adequate at work and the problem may be more prevalent than we recognize.

And also those truths don’t negate the need to equip all people, and women in particular, with tools, mantras as I’m calling them, to navigate the incredibly common feeling of inadequacy — Imposter Syndrome — whether you’re looking for a job or struggling to believe you deserve the one you have.

On the Job Hunt

What I learned during those conversations, however, was that it was much less about being qualified for the job, and much more about it being the right person for the job. There are tons of qualified people — people with the right years of experience, the right size of company or background in the industry, and the right references.

Who gets the job is about what personality they need right now, for this role. It’s about where they are already strong and weak, and how your unique qualities will complement the team.

During that search, I got offered a job that I was overqualified for…and still had to fight my internal narrative telling me, “Maybe this is the best you can get. Don’t get cocky.”

But here’s the thing. No one is going to get cocky on your behalf. If you don’t ask for what you want, no one will give it to you. The 2018 Hired report on Wage Inequality speaks to this so well. One eye-popping headline (of many, sadly) is that 66% of the time, men are offered more money for the same job at the same company than women — 4% more on average.

But if you keep reading, you see that 63% of the time, women ask for less than men do for the same job at the same company — 6% less on average.

We get less when we ask for less. Not because we’re not worth more.

When my grandfather was battling cancer, I remember admiring my mom as she fought to get what he needed from his doctors and other providers. She said something that has always stuck with me: “No one will advocate for your health more than you do.” Another way of saying that: No one is going to care more about what you need than you do. If you don’t fight for it, no one will.

It’s so relevant to other areas of life that I apply that saying almost everywhere now.

No one will advocate for your career more than you do.

No one will advocate for your happiness more than you do. So as you navigate the job hunt, keep these mantras in mind when the doubt creeps in:

  • It’s not a question of being qualified. It’s about being the right person for the job, right now
  • No one will advocate for my career more than I will
  • I will get less if I don’t ask for more

In the Office

But the doubts that come with actually doing the job are far harder to beat, because the triggers are constantly there.

I did an informal poll in Women in Product to ask “when was the last time you experienced Imposter Syndrome?” Every. Single. Woman who answered said “today.” These are smart, motivated, badass women working across the tech sector, and every single one felt inadequate on a daily basis.

I listened to a webinar with a highly successful female leader of product and engineering, and one of the questions that came up in the Q&A was about Imposter Syndrome. It was both heartening and frustrating to hear her admit that even now, even as a VP in a public company with a dozen patents to her name, that she still feels it and struggles with it.

If you thought this was the point where I would share my proven secrets to beat Imposter Syndrome on the job, I’m sorry. I haven’t conquered it — though I’ve turned it from a daily to a biweekly occurrence, and that feels like major progress.

I’ve noticed that Imposter Syndrome is worst for me when I’m in a new role. It was especially acute when I changed careers and shifted from project management to product management. I felt like I needed to project that I had all the answers, and I became defensive when people questioned my decisions or doubted my rationale. I felt so stuck that I didn’t even feel I could ask for help — after all, someone in my position shouldn’t need help, right?

When I became a parent, how I spent my time away from home became of greater importance than before. Parenting brought its own load of new Imposter feelings (I literally thought, “Who decided I was qualified to take this baby out of the hospital? What do I do now?!”) But it also made me reevaluate the mental effort I was putting into second-guessing myself. I simply didn’t have time to spend that way.

One day I stopped spending energy wondering if I could do the job, and just started doing it.

I started showing up, day after day, putting in the time, making the decisions, owning my mistakes, and learning. And growing. And in doing so, my confidence grew too.

It became a virtuous cycle. People treated me as if I belonged at the table because I acted as if I belonged there. The less I felt people were wondering how I’d gotten where I was, the more confident I came across in my decisions, explanations, and leadership.

I worked daily on “faking it til I became it,” and when doubt crept in, I would remind myself that I earned my position. I hadn’t hoodwinked anyone into giving me a title and responsibility, and they certainly would have let me know if I was off track. I would remind myself that I belong here. I belong here. I belong here.

When you doubt yourself, remember these mantras to kill Imposter Syndrome:

  • Doubting myself does not mean I am weak
  • My time and energy are better spent proving I can do the work rather than wondering if I can
  • I earned this job. It was not a handout. I belong here.
  • Fake it til I become it

Imposter Syndrome is real, and painful, and surprisingly common, even among highly successful people. It’s something that takes continual work, with a few tools along the way to remind you that you belong here. That your time is better spent proving to yourself, and the mythical “others” you think are doubting you, that you can do this. Put your energy into showing up and watch how it creates your own positive flywheel.

You belong here.

Originally published at Ashley Wali | Product Management Blog.

Product leader @discuss.io. Inspired by @adilwali, our 2 boys, & the beauty of the PNW. Passionate about gender equality, travel, & weekends at home.

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