Trusting Yourself Through Imposter Syndrome

Published April 15, 2023

Imposter syndrome is so wild! The idea that somehow this success or opportunity that I'm experiencing is attributed to luck, change, favor… something other than my own successes, skills, and performance. A fear of not only belonging, but also the belief that other people also believe you don’t belong, and that if they don’t, they’re going to figure it out real quick. I have my own thoughts on where it comes from, but regardless, it affects far more people than we realize. A 2020 study by KPMG found that 75% of executive women experience imposter syndrome at some point in their careers. Let’s take a second to let that sink in: SEVENTY FIVE PERCENT. 

Baby's First Imposter Syndrome

I’ve never felt more seen in a statistic. I felt imposter syndrome so deeply after getting recruited as a division II softball player. I had spent the last eight years traveling competitively, had received all-state honors in high school, consistently recognized as a top player at my high school; and yet, there I was, stepping onto a college softball field as a scholarship athlete and believing to my core that I somehow was not good enough to be there. 

I doubted myself all through that season of my life. My first at bat in a game I hit a triple and remember saying to my, then boyfriend, now husband, “man I had such a lucky hit”. What I didn’t know at the time, how deep-seated that lack of trust in my own abilities would be, and how long it would follow me into my professional career. 

I wish I could say I learned quickly how to rewrite it. It took me years to finally find a new voice and process to begin re-writing the age-old feeling of inferiority, and lean into trusting myself. It's not groundbreaking, but it is a skill. And like any skill, you can easily build it with repetition. Let’s do it, shall we!? 

Building Your Trust

STEP 1: CLARIFY EXPECTATIONS

Our brains have an exceptional ability to create a story isn’t there, which can often look like increasing the stakes. Before you let your brain runaway with you, ask yourself “What is actually being asked of me right now?” I was recently chosen as a breakout speaker for a conference in Cedar Rapids, IA. As a breakout speaker, I would be participating in their first ever speaking competition, where they gave aspiring speakers the opportunity to hone their skills with an audience and a panel of judges. The judges would score the speakers, and the top-rated breakout speaker would receive a keynote at a future conference. 

Before my brain could jump in with “you’re not a speaker” “you’ve never spoken at a conference outside of your organization”, I clarified what was being asked of me. Here’s how it looked: 

  1. This was a breakout session for aspiring speakers. 
  2. I would be speaking on a topic that I felt passionate about
  3. I would be speaking to a room full of strangers that I could never see again if I wanted to. 

Ah. That feels better already. 

STEP 2: BUILD YOUR CASE

Regardless if you’ve done this exact thing before, this is your opportunity to match up your talents, successes, skills, and experiences with this ask. Ask yourself “Have I done this before?” if not, “have I done something that looks like this before?”. 

Here’s what I found when I started to build my case for the breakout session: 

  1. I had never spoken at this conference as a breakout speaker before, BUT I had been spending the last 4 years leading workshops in the company I worked for. 
  2. I had never spoken to a room of 100 strangers, but I had spoken to a large room of coworkers and friends rooting me on. Those rooms far exceed the 100-person count. 
  3. I studied theatre in college and have performed in front of hundreds of people over the course of my acting career. 

Wow. At this point, I’m already starting to believe I can actually do this breakout session and feel confident about it. But, I’m still a little nervous, which means there’s only one thing left to do.

STEP 3: DO IT BRAVE

The idea that we have to be 100% confident in anything we do is preposterous (I only save the word preposterous for the most preposterous of scenarios). Of course we’re always going to be a little scared; but fear doesn’t have to be the action. Fear can just be the information. Doing it in spite of fear is bravery. 

It also lets me off the hook that I somehow have to always feel 100% comfortable with what I'm doing. Being a little bit uncomfortable is what’s going to put me a step higher the next time I do it. Because the next time I come up against the feeling again I get to clarify expectations, build my case, and do it a little more brave next time. 

And what do you know, we have a cycle. An easily repeatable process that I can do over and over again.

Maybe it looks like this: 

Or, maybe, instead, if we turn it on it’s side it actually looks like this. 

Which means we’re never starting in the same place twice. By the time we do it brave, we’re already a little bit higher than we were when we started clarifying expectations. And before you know it you make it to the top; you’re not even going to be able to imagine a world where you don’t trust yourself. 

Oh yea, about the competition. I won! Guess I'm not an imposter after all?