While I’ve avoided contracting full-blown impostor syndrome in my career, I can certainly recognize its symptoms. I think self-awareness is the key to dispelling impostor syndrome when it starts to show up. Here are some suggestions to consider.
Reconnect with the energy that got you where you are today
If you’ve always loved solving problems, but are feeling overwhelmed by the ones you presently face in your job, find other places where you can solve problems. Go to sites like StackExchange.com or Quora.com and look for questions that you particularly feel like answering. Notice why you feel that way. Maybe they involve just enough challenge to be engaging, but not too much to be taxing. Maybe they give you a chance to help someone who has the exact same problem you once struggled with. Maybe they involve learning something new that you’ve always wanted to learn. Maybe they provide a great context for you to explain something that you’ve been wanting to explain. Go ahead and answer some of those questions and experience how good it feels.
Now, reconsider your work problems from this state of mind, full of abundance energy. Notice how your attitude shifts, expands, loosens up, relaxes. Consider what practical changes in your work environment or other routines could enable you to experience this abundance energy more often.
Practice taking multiple perspectives
Next time you’re feeling bored in a meeting, try this game. Pay really close attention to the person who’s speaking. Listen not just to what they’re saying, but also to their accent, their cadence, the kinds of words they use, their nonverbal communication, etc. Pretend like you’re a TV journalist and they’re a political candidate. What insights about this person could you provide to viewers that might otherwise be missed? Now put yourself in that person’s shoes and contemplate those insights. What’s their personality like and how is it different from yours? What skills do they have, what skills don’t they have? What pressures do they face in their job that you don’t face in yours? What pressures don’t they have that you do have? How does all of this shape the way in which they interact with you and others in the meeting? See if you can do all of this as nonjudgmentally as possible, allowing yourself to experience their worldview even when (especially when!) it disagrees with your own. Remember, it’s just a game. You can keep or refine whatever views you prefer at the end of the day.
The more you practice taking multiple perspectives, the more fluid this process becomes. Whether someone praises your work or criticizes it, you’ll be able to readily shift perspectives and see it from their side. You’ll be able to put their feedback in context. You won’t feel the need to compulsively reject praise and internalize criticism (or for that matter, compulsively internalize praise and reject criticism!)
Set aside everything and just be present
Every day, see if you can find some time to log out of everything. Meditation is a great practice for this. There are plenty of other practices that can facilitate this as well. During that time, just be present with whatever you have chosen as your practice. When thoughts arise, give yourself the permission not to engage with them. Let them be or go, and gently return your attention to your practice. See how this starts to positively influence the quality of your sleep, as well as the quality of your thinking.
Meditation expands the mental space that is consistently available to you. Things aren’t as cramped. You feel less rushed, with less of a need to force things. You can let the game come to you. And you don’t lose the ability to act quickly or decisively—you just make better decisions because you have a clearer mind.
Over time, mindfulness enables you to pick up on ways in which you may have been sealing your own fate. Like when someone emails you a question and you don’t know the answer, but you spend a day researching the topic and reply in a tone that allows them to infer that you knew the answer all along. Now, there are times when you want to do this. But it’s the times that you don’t that set you on the path to impostor syndrome—like when you become known as the go-to person in an area that you don’t really want to deal with. All you wanted was to demonstrate your skill at problem-solving. Or maybe you wanted to be perceived as an expert at something that others were not. Or maybe you wanted more visibility. Whatever your motivations, they become more transparent with mindfulness, and you’re able to consider them more consciously before you respond to requests.
As a result, you become more honest with yourself, and that honesty ends up being reflected in your actions. You don’t chase after assignments that you don’t really want, and can focus on those that provide valuable growth. You become less self-conscious about sharing your strengths and less bothered by disclosing your limits. You can lead better by example and inspire those around you to do the same.
Of course, impostor syndrome is just one of many ills that can be cured with self-awareness. If you’d like to read more about self-awareness in the context of technical leadership, check out my book, Enlightening Technical Leadership. The eBook is free to download.