5 Ways to Conquer the Impostor Syndrome

Ever feel like a fraud at work? You’re not alone, says Valerie Young, the author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women. She offers tools for upending this mind-set to beat insecurity and own your achievements.


See It, Name It.

Photo by Tomi Um

Normalize self-doubt by calling it out. “When you’re vocal about the phenomenon, that makes it less personal and takes the power out of the feelings,” says Young. Telling a trusted coworker something like “I felt like such an impostor in that room” in a normal, no-big-deal tone creates a sense of relief. It also opens up a dialogue. When you see that those close to you have aspects of the same insecurity, your perspective begins to change.


Have Postgame Debriefs.

You’re entitled to make a mistake at work. Take time to learn from it rather than berating yourself. Young says to think like an athlete: “When a team loses a game, they don’t drop out of the league. Instead, they’ll say, ”We weren’t at our best today.“ Then they watch the tape and figure out how to do better.” Ask for specific feedback from your boss or a colleague with whom you’ve collaborated. “What do I need to work on?” is a great way to phrase it, says Young. Then, instead of ruminating, take action. Find a coach, practice, take a class. “Learn what you don’t know,” says Young. “If you flip the negative event into an opportunity, you’ll combat that uncomfortable, nagging feeling of inferiority.”


Humanize Your Critics.

Maybe your boss is just having a bad day and is taking it out on your work. Perhaps your client sees things through a different lens (profits) from the one that you presented (future ideas). “Realize that criticism isn’t always a question of you or your ability—it’s a challenge of how you chose to do something,” says Young. “When you begin to look at those around you—your coworkers, your manager—as people, with strengths and weaknesses and various priorities, you will learn to accept the complexity in yourself, too.”


Don’t Be Afraid to Say, “I Don’t Know.”

If you’re in a meeting and you’re stumped by a question, what do you say? “There’s a quiet power in confidently stating that you don’t know something,” says Young. Don’t apologize; just use the right tone. If you’re at a junior level, you should say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out!” If you’re in a leadership role, you can say, “I don’t know. What do others think?” Either way, it’s not a defeat.


Watch Your Words.

“There are certain verbal tics that instantly diminish what comes after them and chip away at your confidence,” says Young. She is referring to phrases like “I feel” and “You’ve probably already thought of this.” To combat this habit, Young suggests, “speak slowly—don’t be afraid of silence. It gives you more time to choose your words.” She also suggests jotting down a reminder at the top of your meeting notes: “Don’t use negative disclaimers!” The visual cue will help to retrain your brain.