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by Kaitlin McManus | December 29, 2020


New jobs are rife with challenges—with all kinds of new vocabulary and work expectations to learn and bosses to impress, experiencing a bit of imposter syndrome is perfectly normal. For the uninitiated, imposter syndrome is a pattern of thinking where a person believes they’re at risk of being exposed as a fraud. As in, “How did I even get hired? Don’t they know that I’m just some dumb student? I really want this job, but they’ll figure me out and fire me if I mess up.” Sound familiar?

Imposter syndrome is often associated with the millennial generation, but anyone can experience it. But make no mistake: You’ve earned your spot at your job through hard work and knowledge. Even so, feelings of inadequacy may creep up from time to time, whether that manifests as being sure that you were hired by mistake or feeling like you’re fighting with your coworkers for a place at the table. So let’s explore some ways to combat this feeling so you can feel confident in your career.

Keep Things in Perspective.

Here’s the big secret: The company hiring you knows they’re hiring for an entry-level position. In terms of your utter inexperience, you’ve already been exposed. And they hired you anyway. Because they want someone who’s inexperienced. Entry-level positions are usually a person’s first steps within a company, and they want people in these positions so they can be integrated into teams as seamlessly as possible, and so the company can teach you to do things “the right way” (translation: their way). It keeps the operation running as smoothly as possible. So why am I letting the big secret out? To remind you of the actual situation you’re in. You’re new, you don’t really know very much, and that’s kind of the whole point. It’s important to keep that in mind.

It’s Not All of Nothing.

While nothing about imposter syndrome is healthy, one particularly insidious trick it can play is using compliments against you. You’ve probably been told throughout your life, “You’re so smart,” or “You’re so dedicated.” But imposter syndrome can weaponize these comments for self-sabotage. For example, say you fail an exam. Imposter syndrome will turn around and whisper, “Guess you’re not so smart after all.” And that emotion gets internalized, until you believe you aren’t intelligent, you’ve just fooled people into thinking you are. It’s the same with hard work. Taking a ten-minute study break or relaxing after a long day can make you think, “If you really cared, you’d be working right now.” Which, of course, is patently false. People need rest, and even hardworking people have to stop sometime to preserve their mental and physical health. It’s important, when combatting imposter syndrome, to recognize negative feelings that it has caused you to internalize. See these feelings for what they are, and overcome them by being kind to yourself. You’re not stupid because you made a mistake, you’re not lazy because you’ve stopped working for the day. You’re human. A good human, at that.

Foster a Healthy Attitude Towards Success and Failure.

This ties in with the above, but it bears repeating since you will show up at your new job and probably have very little idea of what’s going on for awhile: Doing something wrong does not make you a failure. Doing things wrong all the time doesn’t make you a failure. And you will be doing things wrong all the time at first. No matter how many notes you take, no matter how many questions you ask (and you should do both frequently), you will turn in work product that is not what the manager was looking for. They will review the work you did and tell you how it could’ve been done better. But do you know how I know that this is not failure? Because they will hand the assignment back to you and make you do it again. That’s a pretty good sign that the assignment isn’t a test—it’s a learning opportunity. You were supposed to take a stab at it, learn what you did right and what to improve, and do it again, better. Which is very achievable. A healthy relationship with “failure” and “success” is difficult to acquire—it requires a lot of practice, which means making a lot of mistakes. But it’s something that you can work on all the time.

Open Up About It.

Imposter syndrome’s greatest weakness is acknowledgement. It thrives when it’s kept secret. That’s the whole point, and why it makes you feel like a sham—so you never reveal it. Talking about imposter syndrome frankly with peers and mentors (yes, both) can take a lot of the sting out of it. So if you start feeling like you don’t belong at your job, like you don’t measure up to your peers, like you got your spot because of luck or a mistake instead of due to your considerable talents and relentless work, talk about it. Open up to your peers, and I’d all but guarantee that they’ll have had the same thoughts. And you can’t all have gotten in based on luck and trickery. Not to mention, a little emotional vulnerability can go a long way towards building bonds with these people you’ll be working closely with for years. But also open up to your mentors—they’re there to help you. And not just to help ramp you up to the work, but also to help make you feel welcome at the company. Talking openly about any issues you have adjusting gives them an idea of what you’re going through, and thereby how best to support you. And if you’re worried about how being vulnerable will make you appear, know this: While confidence is king, and a confident person is a likeable person, there’s a special kind of confidence in being able to admit that you’re not perfect. Vulnerability is not weakness, and it’s not the enemy. It’s just honesty.

Imposter syndrome is sneaky. It creeps up in the most unexpected times and casts a shadow on even your proudest moments. Recognizing it for what it is, talking about it, and keeping your accomplishments in perspective can help you work through it and keep imposter syndrome from ruining what’s supposed to be a very exciting time—beginning a new career. You’ve tackled a lot of challenges on your career journey—you can take this head-on too.