Regaining the Power From Imposter Syndrome

As a coach that works mainly with SEO Professionals, the topic that gets a lot of focus is imposter syndrome. It is what my clients feel holds them back the most, keeping them stuck, and preventing them from having the career progress they desire. 

Each time I hear this, my heart sinks. It sinks because it feels that every week, the term imposter syndrome seems to be getting stronger, more prominent, and in the process, my clients appear to be downgrading their own abilities. 

There is nothing wrong with youthis is what growth feels like. We all go through it, so embrace that feeling.

I’m not suggesting the pain they feel isn’t real. I know it isI have felt it too. In fact, it was in a meeting about how to tackle imposter syndrome that I experienced it last! How ironic. I was on a Zoom call, with a group of very intelligent people, all speaking very knowledgeably, and I started to question what I was doing there. What value could I add?

And then I reminded myself that I had been invited to this meeting, and certainly not imposed myself. I reminded myself that if I showed up as myself, respectfully and authentically, no one could ask more of me, not even me. And by being true to myself, and not caving into the feeling of “not being enough,” I navigated the meeting with grace and dignity, listened and learned, and when it felt right, shared my knowledge. It led to me being invited onto an exciting project, a great privilege.

It left me thinking, what if I had caved into those first feelings, of not feeling enough? I would have sold myself short and missed out on the many wonderful opportunities. 

Maybe it is time to reframe the imposter syndrome situation and rebalance the power dynamic. In this article, I hope to provide some ideas for individuals and organizations on how to do just that.

What does imposter syndrome feel like?

Most people will say it feels like you do not belong. That you do not deserve to be part of that meeting, that discussion, and you are only there by some fluke. And any moment now, you’ll be found out as the fraud you feel you are. 

But in the meanwhile, you sit there, frozen, too scared to speak, and too scared to leave. It can zap you of your ability to think or to contribute; the minutes feel like hours, and all the time, you can feel you are being rendered powerless. Self-doubt and incompetence take hold of youa hold so strong, you can’t seem to break free.

But break free we must. Here’s how.

What can organizations do?

1. Recruit for diversity rather than cultural fit.

Too often as part of the interview process, there is a stage that assesses if the interviewee will be a “good fit.” And as they often really want the job, they will adjust their personality in order to “fit in.” However, what is more important is that team members should feel they can be themselves, authentically, and be valued as such.

So from the get-go, organizations should take steps to enhance a sense of belonging through diversity.

2. Invest in emotional intelligence training for those who manage teams.

Helping leaders feel equipped to have empowering conversations at 1-to-1 and team levels is essential. Help them be more open about their experiences, be more vulnerable, and in doing so, create a culture that encourages the same.

3. Have open conversations about imposter syndrome.

This is an extension of the previous point, but having open conversations, even from leadership, about experiences of imposter syndrome is crucial. The more these feelings are normalized, the less power they have. When individuals see that they are not the only ones feeling these feelings, the shame associated with it can be dispelled.

4. Invest in the team’s personal development, and not just skills-based learning.

A lot of the tackling of this topic is an inner gamechallenging your beliefs, adjusting your inner dialogue, and optimizing your mindset. This type of training often is not budgeted for. And yet, this is exactly what is needed.

5. Foster a culture where people feel comfortable saying they’re stuck.

Creating a community culture where people feel safe in saying they don’t know what to do and that they are stuck can be a real help; a culture where asking for help is the norm, and no one feels stigmatized.

People Are More Important Than Money

In fact, helping each other out and having each other’s back is a core value of the organization, because the team that does this will be stronger and more resilient. And it’ll also be the type of culture that retains great employees.

6. Reward actions and behaviors, and not just outcomes.

If a team member takes a step outside of their comfort zone, one that requires dealing with feeling uncomfortable, reward that, no matter if they “succeeded” or “failed.” Maybe instead of asking “What went well this week?” ask, “What did you learn this week?”

What can individuals do against imposter syndrome?

1. Understand it’s completely normal.

The first thing I tell my clients is that this feeling of not being good enough is completely normal. Maybe you have been promoted, maybe you’ve been given an opportunity to work on a new project; of course it feels new, unfamiliaryou feel out of your depth.

And that is ok.

There is nothing wrong with youthis is what growth feels like. We all go through it, so embrace that feeling.

2. Be kind to yourself.

In this unfamiliar setting, do not make it worse by being harsh on yourself. Listen to how you are speaking to yourselfis your inner dialogue making the situation worse for yourself? Be as kind to you as you would be to a friend.

3. Challenge your beliefs.

Often we will say things like “I always mess up,” or “I don’t understand anything,” but the reality is probably not as bleak. Ask yourself for evidence to back up these claims; you’ll probably find you know more than you think.

4. Document your wins. Consider a “Win Jar” by your bed or on your desk.

It is always a great idea to document your wins, and often I suggest to my clients to journal their accomplishments. But sometimes it is nice to have this visual right in front of you. A win jar is something that sits on your desk or by your bed, and each day you write down something you have learned or achieved on a piece of paper, and place that paper in your win jar.

As the month progresses, you’ll see the “Wins” growing, helping you feel good about your progress.

5. Link your self-esteem to being a learner.

Often, our self-esteem is linked to other people’s opinions of us, rendering us vulnerable. But if you link it to something that is in your control, such as lifelong learning, not only will you learn something new daily, you will become emotionally stronger.

Just the Beginning 

Of course, these lists are not a comprehensive set of ideas. They are starting points for discussions that leadership and team members can use to have great conversations. What do they want the culture to look and feel like? How does leadership want their team members to feel supported? What steps will the organization take to play its part in combatting imposter syndrome in our industry? Because the reality is we are stronger together.

Tazmin Suleman
Tazmin is a coach, corporate trainer and podcast co-host at The SEO Mindset, with over a decade of experience in personal development. She has helped individuals transform their lives both professionally and personally through the power of mindset and self-care.
In a world in which many have normalised stress as an unavoidable professional hazard, she believes well being is the power that can drive success, by building a person’s confidence, resilience and ability to handle any challenge.
Through her coaching program Revitalise, her corporate offerings and the podcast she co-hosts with Sarah Mcdowell, Tazmin strives to help others to develop self and life mastery.

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