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Beating imposter syndrome with Sahana Sekaran: Learn that you earned it

Sahana Sekaran

November 9, 2021 | 3 min read

In my previous post, I spoke about the power of repeating your worth until you believe it to beat imposter syndrome. Today, I’ll be letting you in on my second confidence-boosting secret: learning that you earned it.

Often, we tend to have the opposite of rose-tinted glasses when we look at how we got to where we are now. We downplay our achievements and commonly put it down to luck or coincidence. We find it really hard to say “Actually, I’m pretty f*cking great”.

So my second tip is all about reminding yourself that you deserve to be where you are, that you earned your place.

How quick are we to note down mistakes, things we need to fix, and ruminate the shit out of tiny things? I’m the worst for that, cringing after a meeting for days after, and worse, moaning about it to other people.

But on the flip side, how often do you note down something positive? If you just had a meeting that you came out of feeling great? If someone gave you a bit of nice positive feedback?

Let’s change that.

Exercise 1: Add positivity to your day

  • Write down three things you are proud of / grateful for every night before bed. Writing is such a good tool for memory and reinforcement. Write as often as you can.
  • After a review or a great piece of feedback, take yourself out for a walk or fresh air and really take the time to let it sink in. Call a pal and share the news!
  • Spend five minutes at the end of each week with yourself or someone close to you to celebrate all the little wins of the week (glass of wine optional).

And now for those rose-tinted glasses. How often do we look at how we’ve got to where we are now and put it down to dumb luck? Knowing the right person? Chance? 

Nope. Hardly!

Think about the external factors that caused you to be where you are. Who decided you should lead this project? Who decided you should be hired over all those other candidates? What results have you achieved over the last year? You’ll be surprised at how many people and decisions were consciously made in your favor. That can’t always be dumb luck or coincidence. It’s probably because you earned it. And deserved it. 

Exercise 2: Appreciate the external factors

  • Make a hype folder. Fill it with all the amazing projects, achievements, and feedback you’ve received from others. Regularly refer back to this folder of ego-boosting gold.
  • Make a timeline of your achievements to date and note the external factors that came into play. Lay it out (and I’ll say it again, write that sh*t down).

Everyone wildly underestimates how much they know and how good they are at what they do. There’s a really easy way to myth bust that underestimation, and it’s sharing it with people. Becoming a manager, mentoring, presenting have all been massive confidence boosters for me and great at reminding me of just how much I actually know.

And always look for opportunities to share your knowledge—it’s a great positive reinforcer of how much you know and once again, how f*cking great you are.

Advice for managers or for helping someone else

Nail your feedback. In the same way that we need to get better at striking the balance of positive and negative thoughts and notes we make, managers have a massive responsibility to make sure feedback is also striking that balance.

  1. Ask if it’s the right time, or make sure that person is ready and prepared to receive the feedback. There’s nothing worse than unsolicited feedback and catching someone off-guard.
  2. The exception to rule one is when it’s positive feedback—be bloody lovely and spontaneous all you want. It’s such a mood and confidence booster.
  3. Try to avoid purely example-based feedback, such as “That call with our client was great”. Try out the three-step feedback method instead: What’s their value, what’s the example, how does it make you feel? “You are such an engaging person to speak with. That call with our client was great. I feel like our clients are in such good hands with you and clearly enjoy working with you.” Now how lovely does that sound?

Be your team’s personal PR machine. Reputation is the new confidence and we can be massive drivers of building that rep. Those who have feelings of imposter syndrome find it hard to accept how great they are, let alone shout about it.

  1. Do it yourself. Find opportunities to shout about your team on email, Slack channels, or Linkedin—or all three!
  2. Encourage your team to do it themselves. Encourage them to also start doing the above and sharing their successes. Help them find what to shout about.

The next article in my imposter syndrome series will focus on my third and final tip for beating imposter syndrome: practicing until you perfect it. We’ll be posting next week so keep a lookout.