How to Combat Impostor Syndrome (Plus Why Women Can Suffer From It More Than Men)
The first time Michelle Poler, keynote speaker and fear facer, remembers feeling impostor syndrome sneaking up on her was when she was asked to speak at Facebook headquarters. “I was excited and nervous,” she says. Michelle had spoken at corporations before, in front of large groups at places like ESPN, so she knew what she was capable of. “But,” she says, “the speaker right before me took all my confidence away. I started comparing myself to her—I wasn’t as funny or eloquent or experienced as her. English isn’t even my first language!”
But, she had to give her speech anyway, so she took the stage and presented her material, despite feeling inadequate in the moment. Then, at a post-event happy hour, Michelle says, “so many people approached me to say what I good job I did, how approachable and authentic I was. They thought of me as a real person, and identified with that.”
The lesson? “I need to own what makes me different,” says Michelle. “I never again doubted who I am. There’s space for everyone.”
Why Women Struggle With Impostor Syndrome
Michelle’s experience isn’t isolated: Feeling like a fraud in your workplace or home life is common, especially for women. While both men and women report suffering from impostor syndrome (some surveys reveal that an estimated 70 percent of people have experienced feelings of inadequacy), it’s become a hot topic of discussion in female circles.
“I think women struggle with impostor syndrome because we’re not always as confident as men,” says Michelle. “We can be such perfectionists—when we don’t think what we did or said was absolutely perfect, then we think it’s not good at all.”
Men, she continues, often think whatever they do is great, even if it’s not half as good as something a coworker produces (though Michelle does say that not all men and women are the same, and impostor syndrome strikes across genders). Women put a lot of pressure on themselves to be experts, and to know it all, Michelle says. And that mindset doesn’t allow for us to excel.
We also can’t excel if we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others. “Because we have this fear of being discovered as not good enough, we put ourselves down by the minute,” Michelle says. “We measure ourselves against others’ strengths—they’re funnier, they have better skills than me.”
Not only is that a recipe for failure, but it also doesn’t make room for different skill sets. “Instead of comparing,” says Michelle, “I encourage people to start contrasting. When we contrast [our skills with others’] instead of compare, we get to stand out and own who we already are.” And that, she continues, helps us not be cookie cutter, and to develop the values and voice that’s truest to us.
How to Combat Imposter Syndrome
“I do this exercise with many of the groups I speak to,” Michelle says, “and people cry!” Here’s how to do it at home, in just two easy steps.
1. Finish this thought: “I’m remarkable because…”
Says Michelle, “Write a list down. Write down everything you can think of. And these are meant to be the everyday things you do, the things you’re proud of, like being a good daughter, cooking a healthy meal for your family. I want you to acknowledge your strengths. We don’t take enough time to realize all the things we do well on a regular basis.”
2. Share your list with a friend.
“It can be awkward to just write this down,” says Michelle, “so I always encourage you to share with a friend. It’s easier to share once you’ve written it down, and it feels good! Owning those little things is not bragging. And the more you believe those things [about yourself], others will too.”
“All of this,” says Michelle, “helps teach us to like ourselves and our brand. We don’t have to be the same as everyone else—we can, and want to, be different.”
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