It was Marilyn Pratt’s first class as a programming instructor, and she was erasing the black board. She was the instructor, she had arrived, and the fact that her student had assumed otherwise confirmed her fear: she was an impostor. She wasn’t qualified to teach, and her students knew it.
Impostor syndrome is defined by Harvard Business Review as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.” Like Marilyn, those with impostor syndrome often face self-doubt and feel unqualified to do what they are, in fact, very well qualified to do.
Last month Marilyn spoke to a group of women in the New York City chapter of the SAP Business Women’s Network about her battle with Impostor Syndrome. Marilyn is the recently retired Director of Community Advocacy of the SAP Community Network. A long-time SAP Mentor and employee, she is qualified, highly-respected, and successful. But she hasn’t always felt that way throughout her career.
Impostor syndrome affects a wide range of people to varying degrees, and women are particularly susceptible. Those that suffer from it tend to avoid applying for new jobs or promotions, aren’t comfortable submitting papers for publication or accepting speaking engagements, and worry about their lack of qualifications.
But there are ways to combat impostor syndrome. Here are four tips from Marilyn and others that might help the next time you feel undeserving of praise.
1. Speak positively
Watch the language you use with others, and yourself. Say “and’ instead of “but,” and “I know” instead of “I think.” And avoid saying that you are “just” or “only” something, or “not a real…” (engineer, writer, marketer, etc.) You have your job for a reason – own it!
2. Power pose
Amy Cuddy’s famous TED talk explains this perfectly. If you’re feeling inadequate, try standing in a powerful position. Our body language shapes how we see ourselves.
3. Embrace your introversion
Although not all those with impostor syndrome are introverts, many are. Luckily, introversion is all the rage right now. “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking” is a 2012 bestseller by Susan Cain that challenges how society views introverts. Just because you’re quiet doesn’t mean that your work and opinions aren’t valuable.
4. Seek mentors and advocate for others
Talk to your colleagues, mentors, and mentees to better understand how you are perceived and learn about your strengths. Women are especially good at advocating for others – Marilyn even made a career of advocating for different voices on the SAP Community Network. If you notice a colleague might have impostor syndrome, help boost him or her up!