The quest to overcome my impostor syndrome

  1. Being vulnerable publicly: admitting my vulnerabilities is something I didn’t dare do for a very very long time. I firmly believed that if people saw my vulnerabilities, they would see me as weak and this would negatively impact my career. When I decided a year ago to talk publicly about being an impostor, it was one of the hardest things I had ever done (beside coming out). I hesitated before posting my article and I remember closing my eyes as I forced myself to click on the publish button. I had no idea what to expect and feared I might have just made a fool of myself…To my great surprise, admitting my vulnerabilities was greeted with empathy, compassion and most importantly, a sea of private messages saying thank you for talking about this. Over the course of the last year, many people have reached out to talk to me about feeling like impostors. People I knew but also strangers who had stumbled upon my article and just wanted to echo how my writing had spoken to them. Some of these people I admired and I couldn’t believe that, like me, they felt like impostors. This made me realize that I was not the odd one out, but part of the norm. And this also made me realize that although all of us felt like impostors, none of us actually were. So my first advice is to speak up and don’t fear your vulnerabilities. Something magical happens when you speak up, people can relate to you and through that, they give you the support and confidence boost you need to realize that you might not be an impostor after all.
  2. I don’t know: for a long time, I felt like saying “I don’t know” would show people at work that I don’t have the experience, skills, knowledge or capabilities to do my job. I never dared saying “I don’t know” and even when I didn’t know, I tried my hardest to say something clever that would help me hide my ignorance. But then I met a colleague who often said “I don’t know what I don’t know” and I realized that every time those words were said, people took the time to explain and respected this colleague’s inability to answer at that very moment. Although very uncomfortable, I decided to experiment and I started to say “I don’t know” when I didn’t know and discovered that when said with confidence, most people appreciate the honesty of the answer and no negative judgment is followed. I strongly recommend saying “I don’t know” as although it’s not an obvious linear relationship, admitting one’s ignorance helps build self-confidence.
  3. Feedback: Over the last 14 months, I have asked for more feedback from friends, peers, managers and direct reports than I have ever asked for in my professional life. It’s not always easy to hear and process feedback, but the more feedback I have gotten, the more I have understood how I am being perceived. This has drastically helped me conquer my impostor syndrome as I have realized that I am often my biggest critic. This has also helped me realize that other people assess my competences in a different way than I do. I urge you (and everyone) to ask for feedback. Although it can be hard at times, receiving feedback is the only way we have to understand how we are being perceived. By knowing how others see us, we can finally see if we are impostors or not.
  4. Love and kindness: We don’t often talk about love and kindness in a professional setting and I think that is a shame. Why is it that we believe so strongly in love and kindness in our personal lives, but rarely refer to these in corporate settings? Over the last 14 months, my coach has reminded me multiple times to be kind to myself, advice I struggled to follow in my professional life. But persistence is key and over time, I have learned to be kind to myself at work and as I did, I became kinder to others too. Allowing myself to be kind to both myself and others really changed how I felt about being an impostor. It is extremely hard to feel like an impostor and to be kind to myself at the same time as the two contradict each other. Although feeling like an impostor doesn’t feel like harsh self-criticism, it is. As I have learned to be kind to myself, I have had to stop feeling like an impostor because I couldn’t do both at once. I still find myself in a multitude of situations where I feel incompetent or underqualified for the task at hand, but instead of letting the impostor creep in, I remember to be kind to myself and with that hint of love, I find the strength to do what I need to do knowing I will do my best.




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Laurence Paquette

Laurence Paquette

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