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This article was published on September 4, 2020

Turning your imposter syndrome from enemy to ally

Practical tips and advice to improve your self-esteem

Turning your imposter syndrome from enemy to ally

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This article was originally published on .cult by Mynah Marie. .cult is a Berlin-based community platform for developers. We write about all things career-related, make original documentaries and share heaps of other untold developer stories from around the world.

It’s a familiar feeling which creeps up on you in the most crucial moments. You keep it under control and look around you. You know, deep down inside, that you’re not alone. You know that, most probably, 90% of the people around you struggle with the same problem.

It’s a common topic of conversation amongst professionals and friends, friends of professionals, and even students. We all suffer from it in silence to one extent or another. It brings up uncomfortable waves of laughter or intense conversations during therapy. It’s the constant struggle we feel… or not. Maybe we grew up in an environment prone to imposter syndrome and we just learned to live with it, so much so that we don’t feel it anymore. 

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After all, this constant discomfort when facing the outside world and our professional life is what everyone is experiencing, right? Isn’t it how things are? Isn’t that how life is supposed to be a battleground where we go out in the world armed with our people’s skills, knowledge and degrees and learn to navigate the undercurrents of success?

But the illusion is so perfect. How is that possible? Everyone seems so confident. Everyone seems to know so much. No matter how you look at it, other people always seem better equipped for life than you are.

That’s what the imposter syndrome is: an illusion and a damn powerful one at that. It spreads like an infection and tricks your mind into believing an alternate, biased vision of reality shaped by all your emotional wounds, traumas and experiences. 

There’s good news though: imposter syndrome is not a doomed condition you need to learn to live with. You can learn to navigate it and turn it into an ally. 

So how do we break the illusion?

Focus on the good news: because you think you’re an imposter, you probably are NOT

When we start facing our imposter syndrome, the first question that usually comes up is: “How do I know that I’m not an imposter? How do I know that I’m not lying to myself?”

Here’s how I decided to look at it: the simple fact that you care so much about your work, that you’re always wondering if you’re good enough, means that, most probably, you are doing everything you can and should be doing to be great at what you do. Does it make sense?

If you spend your time questioning yourself and struggling with your self-confidence, it means that you really care about and love your work. 

Being an imposter isn’t about skills, it’s about honesty. From the moment you are working on yourself and putting energy to improve and grow your skills, you’re doing things right. You can trust that fact and give yourself a break. 

Find someone who can act as a clear mirror

When I was in the deepest of feeling like an imposter, my perception of my reality was completely distorted. I was lucky to have a close friend that patiently took the time to remind me what my reality, as seen from an outside perspective, really was. 

Finding the courage to open up is challenging but it’s the first step in healing. Maybe we are ashamed to admit that we feel like an imposter or we think that revealing this means that we admit to being an imposter. 

Opening up to someone who cares about us is the first step in taking responsibility for improving ourselves to ultimately have a better quality of life.

Learn to adjust your internal dialogue with yourself

The words we use to talk about ourselves, even only internally, can have a powerful impact on us. Learn to observe the kind of words you use when you’re talking to yourself. Anything that implies bringing yourself down (“I’m so stupid… I’ll never be able to do this.”, “Who am I kidding?”, etc…) needs to go.

A very simple trick that helped me battle my negative internal dialogue is the rubber band method. For a few weeks, put an elastic around your wrist. Every time you catch yourself thinking negatively, pull the rubber band (it should pinch you a little but it’s not about inflicting pain or anything! Just a small pinch). 

If you apply this with discipline and consistency, you’ll be surprised at how fast you’ll see a change in your mental patterns and it feels good! Energy increases as less is wasted in wrestling with yourself, and the voices finally quiet down.

Understand what the imposter in you is trying to communicate

Like it or not, your imposter syndrome is there for a reason. It usually roots itself in fears of failure or success, childhood environment, or other kinds of traumas. 

In its nature, it’s a reaction to something. What are you reacting to? What are you really afraid of? Understanding the root of the pain allows us to possibly readjust areas of our lives that are not serving us properly.

Imposter syndrome can help us answer questions like:

  • Am I pushing myself in a direction that I don’t really want to follow?
  • Why do I feel the need to resist in this situation? 
  • What’s my core belief behind this lack of confidence?

The bottom line is, if we understand it and ask the right questions, it can lead us to discover very interesting aspects of ourselves.

Turning our imposter syndrome from enemy to ally is not always an easy task. But if we do decide to put in the internal work necessary to improve our quality of life, we can turn it into a precious tool that helps us define clear boundaries and helps us get back on track in the best direction to achieve our goals and dreams. 

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