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Conquer Impostor Syndrome with 7 Tips from Successful Women

February 04, 2016

We know you’re brilliant, but let us guess: Sometimes you’re not so sure? Even the most competent, high-achieving women have moments of feeling incapable or way out of their comfort zones at work. It’s a phenomenon known as Impostor Syndrome, and it’s been written about extensively by women like Ann Friedman (who just happens to be one of our Ampersand Women).

When you find yourself questioning your value and ability, take heart: “Researchers find that impostorism is most often found among extremely talented and capable individuals, not people who are true impostors,” says sociologist Jessica Collett in Friedman’s article on the topic.

See? Feeling like a fraud might mean you’re more competent than you think. Keep yourself in check by consulting these seven speeches by successful women.

1. Fake it ’til you make it.

Amy Cuddy (social psychologist), TEDTalk:

“At the end of my first year at Harvard, a student who had not talked in class the entire semester, who I had said, ‘Look, you’ve gotta participate or else you’re going to fail,’ came into my office. I really didn’t know her at all. She came in totally defeated, and she said, ‘I’m not supposed to be here.’ And that was the moment for me. Because two things happened. One was that I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t feel like that anymore. But she does, and I get that feeling.’ And the second was: She is supposed to be here! Like, if she can fake it, she can become it. So I was like, ‘Yes, you are! You are supposed to be here! And tomorrow you’re going to fake it. You’re going to make yourself powerful. You’re going to go into the classroom, and you are going to give the best comment ever.’ You know? And she gave the best comment ever, and people turned around and were like, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t even notice her sitting there.’ She comes back to me months later, and I realized that she had not just faked it ’til she made it, she had actually faked it ’til she became it. She had changed. So I want to say to you: Don’t fake it ’til you make it. Fake it ’til you become it.”

2. Push through the uneasiness.

Marissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo), Illinois Institute of Technology commencement speech:

“Doing something you aren’t ready to isn’t comfortable. For me, and I assume for many of you, it gives you that uneasy, upset feeling in your stomach. That sense that, this time, you may have gotten too close to the edge. But in pushing through that discomfort, you’ll learn a lot more about yourself. You’ll learn to do something you didn’t think you could do, or you’ll learn where your limits are. Either is valuable. It’s important to push through that uneasiness though, because in that moment of finding your courage, you really grow and you really reach. I’ll say it again, do something you’re not ready to do.”

3. Sit at the table.

Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook and author), TEDTalk:

“We have to tell our daughters, our colleagues, and ourselves to believe we got the A, to reach for the promotion, to sit at the table. And we have to do it in a world where, for them, there are sacrifices they will make for that (even though for their brothers, there are not). It’s really hard to remember this… [but] we’ve got to get women to sit at the table.”

impostor syndrome

You look like you know what you’re talking about. Especially in a draped top and machine-washable work skirt. 

4. Stop apologizing.

Lisa Kudrow (actress), Vassar commencement speech:

“You can’t pursue something and be committed to it if you’re apologizing for it at every party. Which I did for a while. I learned you have to surrender to the fact that you are one of too many in a highly competitive field where it is difficult to stand out… for now. Over time, through your work, you will demonstrate who you are and what you bring to the field. Just stay with it and keep working.”

5. Speak. Keep speaking.

Naomi Wolf (author, journalist, political advisor), Scripps commencement speech:

“Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down, and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end. And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you… And at last, you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth—and that is not speaking.”

6. Treat failure as a lesson.

Oprah Winfrey (TV personality & CEO), Harvard commencement speech:

“Nobody’s journey is seamless or smooth. We all stumble. We all have setbacks. If things go wrong, it’s just life’s way of saying, ‘Time to change course.’ So, ask every failure—this is what I do with every failure, every crisis, every difficult time—I say, “What is this here to teach me?” And as soon as you get the lesson, you get to move on. If you really get the lesson, you pass and you don’t have to repeat the class. If you don’t get the lesson, it shows up wearing another pair of pants—or skirt—to give you some remedial work… Difficulties come when you don’t pay attention to life’s whisper. Because life always whispers to you first, and if you ignore the whisper, sooner or later you’ll get a scream. Whatever you resist persists.”

7. Keep showing up.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author, TEDTalk:

“What I have to keep telling myself when I get really psyched out is: Don’t be afraid. Don’t be daunted. Just do your job. Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be. If your job is to dance, do your dance. If the divine, cockeyed genius assigned to your case decides to let some sort of wonderment be glimpsed, for just one moment through your efforts, then ‘Olé!’ And if not, do your dance anyhow. And ‘Olé!’ to you, nonetheless. I believe this, and I feel that we must teach it. ‘Olé!’ to you, nonetheless, just for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up.”

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Sarah duRivage-Jacobs is an actor / writer / improviser who lives between New York and L.A. with her cat, Jasper. She enjoys time travel, BBC television, and receiving mugs as gifts. Read more of Sarah's posts.

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