Impostor Syndrome

woman-and-maskIn 1996, I attended first-year orientation at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business (now referred to as Chicago Booth) with about 99 other incoming MBA students.  We all sat there, a little uncomfortably among strangers, in a large conference room filled with round cloth-covered tables set for a formal plated lunch.  A lot of it is a blur… what was served, what other activities the event included, whether there was a campus tour, etc.  And, though I don’t remember the speaker’s name, I remember precisely what she said:

I know, I know.  You’re looking around.  You know this is one of the best business schools in the country.  You’re sizing up the person sitting to your left and the person sitting to your right.  Each new person you meet is more amazing than the last.  You’re thinking to yourself, ‘Hmmm… seems I fooled ‘em again!  No clue how I was admitted to this school.  I hope nobody discovers my secret!  What’ll I do if I’m found out?’  Right?  Am I right? 

We all chuckled… some of us a little too loudly or tentatively.  Yep.  It was exactly what most of us were thinking.  We were all suffering from that mysterious disease, Impostor Syndrome.

What, you might be wondering, is Impostor Syndrome?  It’s feeling like a fraud or seeming, in one’s own mind, inadequate despite evidence to the contrary.  It is the self-doubt that creeps into our lizard brain when we sense that we simply don’t measure up vis-à-vis others around us.

The speaker that day in Hyde Park assured each of us that, indeed, we did belong.  That the admissions committee pored over each application very, very carefully and, in fact, we were each hand-picked to join the entering class.

Whether having to do with graduate school entry, or landing a new job, winning a client project or simply Connecting with others, assume this:  You do belong.  You do deserve a seat at the table.  You do deserve the opportunity to build lasting, meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships.  The question is, are you going to seize the opportunity?  Go on – make it your reality.

Keep these tips in mind:

  1. Show up.  Getting yourself to the table, scheduling the meeting, RSVP’ing to attend is half the battle.  Once you learn about an opportunity, and especially if you receive an invitation, choose to show up and be present.  Take advantage of the chance to be part of something great.
  2. Attitude.  Attitude.  Attitude.  They say in real estate and in retail, it’s location, location, location.  In relationship building (and all it encompasses), it’s all about state of mind.  You decide you are a great Networker.  You decide you have the chops to do the job.  You decide you belong, and, suddenly, you do.  Determine you have a right to be there.  You’ve earned it.  Own it.
  3. Fake it ‘til you make it.  Even if you feel uncertain or uncomfortable or unsure, put a big smile on your face, reach out to another person, ask a good open-ended question or two and gather every ounce of confidence around you.  Turn off the record in your mind telling you you’re an impostor.  You’re not.  Just like you, everyone has misgivings.  Your confidence will shine through and serve as a source of comfort to others.  You won’t be “faking it” for long.

As a friend of mine reminded me, typically those suffering from Impostor Syndrome are those who actually know more and have better credentials to have the seat at the table.  Their crisis of confidence comes from the fact that they know so much and know there is more to learn.  Know that you belong and seek to cure yourself of Impostor Syndrome!

10 thoughts to “Impostor Syndrome”

  1. Alana,

    Thank you for taking what you’ve learned over the years and sharing it with others. The advice provided in this article is really powerful – keep up the great work!

    Bryan

  2. Love step #1….Show Up. Everything starts with showing up.

    Excellent post. Enjoyed the new student story. We’ve all been there.

    Regards, Don

  3. It is articles like this that keep my spirit going. Experience, experience, experience. Ain’t nothing more valuable in this temporary stint. The three step reality is my new motto! Keep up the real work senorita!

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