Beating imposter syndrome with Sahana Sekaran: Practice until you perfect it


Sahana Sekaran

November 16, 2021 | 4 min read

In my previous post, I spoke about the power of learning that you earned it to beat imposter syndrome. Today, I’ll be letting you in on my final secret: practice until you perfect it. 

Sometimes imposter syndrome is totally valid. Maybe you’re taking on a new role, or a project, or walking into a meeting that you might not have all the skills or answers for yet. That’s absolutely fine.  

The problem comes when these feelings stop you from saying yes to any of these new, scary things in the first place.

This is the big one​​—you start saying “no” to trying new things. You stop getting out of your comfort zone. You stop growing. You’re not going for that promotion, you’re not trying that new experience, you’re not going to learn and get better. That’s pretty huge.

So I have a few ideas to start saying “yes” more.

Advice: Practice, practice, practice

Whether that’s preparing for an interview, a presentation, or even a new role. 

This does not mean staring at your slides for two hours or reading a job description 100 times over. It means dragging someone into a room and presenting out loud to them, it means sitting with a job description and voice recording yourself hitting each bullet point (I’m a big believer in speaking out loud when preparing for anything where you’re actually going to be speaking out loud). It means asking your manager if you can have a go at a project or task that’s not part of your role yet.

If it’s a skills gap issue, then do something about it and reach out for help! Ping that person you’ve been stalking on Linkedin and ask for a coffee (who wouldn’t be flattered?!). Reach out to that person in your company who is already smashing it. We are so averse to reaching out for help because of how we think it looks when actually it’s quite the opposite. It’s growth, it’s a hunger to learn.


Exercise 1: The “just say yes” method

But how do you say “yes” and practice when that thing is a bit scary?

I used to really struggle with this. I was the Queen of saying “no”. 

“No, I’m too busy right now…”

“No, I actually think this person would be better…”

“No, but maybe next time…”

When actually my brain was saying “No, I can’t do this”.

Acknowledging that your brain does this is a good first step. But I’ve come up with a method to make it easier to say “yes” to scary things. Ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Am I doing this alone? It’s so rare to be in a situation where you have no one to go to for help or advice. Map out your safety net of helping hands and ears.
  2. What’s the worst that could happen? And I mean really what’s the worst that could happen. I can’t count the times I had to remind myself I’m not saving lives here…simply selling software.
  3. What’s the best that could happen? Write down what the best outcomes look like, then visualize them and see how good it makes you feel. This almost always outweighs number two. 

Advice for managers or for helping someone else

Managing is not like parenting. It’s so easy to slip into parent mode when you just want the best for your team. You don’t want them to fall over or get hurt, you think you know what’s best for them, and you want to tell them what the right decision is. 

But here’s the thing: Your team is allowed to make mistakes. They’re allowed to try what they think is best, to come up with their own ideas. This is the way that you practice. If you mollycoddle your team, they will not get to practice, and therefore gain the confidence to say yes. Because they won’t know how to on their own.

So here are a few thoughts:

  • Ask, don’t tell. The next time someone comes to you with a problem, ask for their opinion. Hold back your answer and thoughts, and try saying “why don’t you have a think, I’ll have a think, we’ll come back and compare notes”.
  • Have your team’s back when dealing with mistakes. Create a safe environment where it’s okay to make mistakes (as long as you’re learning). 
  • Cheerlead, cheerlead, cheerlead. Quite literally, most of my job is encouraging, motivating, and cheerleading the sh*t out of my team. Channel your inner sports-parent who is at every match, with a big banner, screaming your kid’s name louder than all the other parents. That should be you.

Exercise 2: Surprise skill sessions

This is something I love to do with my team. We book an hour slot where we set a task or topic that person would usually say “no” to. For example, it could be something that they might end up doing in a future role, or maybe trying public speaking for the first time, or a management problem they are having or trying to avoid.

The only rule is: “just have a go at something that’s scary, without any of the pressure”. So you can practice without any fear of getting it wrong or being exposed. Your role as a manager is to simply set the task, leave the room, and come back once they’ve had time to talk through the session and ask any questions they have.

So if you spot someone in your team who’s saying “no” to certain tasks or opportunities. Try this with them (with their permission, of course). It’s worked so well with my team who have been quick to say no, and it’s done wonders for their confidence!

Beating imposter syndrome with Sahana Sekaran: Practice until you perfect it