Valerie Young, World-Leading Expert on The Imposter Syndrome, Founder of impostersyndrome.com: “3 Ways to Deal with Imposter Syndrome”
Valerie Young is an internationally-known expert and TedX speaker on impostor syndrome, the founder of impostorsyndrome.com. She’s also the author of award-winning book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It (Crown Business/Random House), available in five languages. As the former manager of strategic marketing at a Fortune 200 company, Valerie now speaks and shares her world-leading advice on how to handle imposter syndrome to tens of thousands of executives, managers, and professionals major corporations in the United States, Canada, and Europe.
We connected with Valerie for Skip the Degree over this incredibly important topic that nearly every self-started creator has asked themselves at some point — “Am I really worthy of this?”
Valerie’s thoughts are shared with our readers in Chapter 3.4, Level Up, but we thought what she shared with us was so important that we wanted to give Valerie her own place in our featured experts.
Here’s what Valerie shared with us. Be prepared to soak in some real wisdom.
The 5 Competence Types — Understanding What it Means to Be Competent
According to Valerie, what people who feel like impostors share is an inaccurate understanding of what it takes to be competent or qualified—or both. While they all hold themselves to impossibly high standards, she found there to be five Competence Types, or ways they measure what it means to be competent.
- The Perfectionist – You take pride in producing work that’s 100 percent. You may have a hard time delegating because you’re always thinking you could do it better yourself. Even small mistakes make you doubt your competence.
- The Expert – You judge yourself based on how much you know. Because you second-guess whether you know “enough,” you may hesitate to raise your hand in a meeting, launch your business, or pursue a promotion or opportunity unless you can tick off all the boxes and meet every single, tiny criterion.
- The Natural Genius – You think “true competence” should be innate and effortless. You judge yourself based on how quickly and easily you pick up a new skill. You expect the first time you do something to be outstanding. If you struggle to master something or it takes longer than you expect to get the hang of it, you feel like a failure.
- The Soloist – You believe you should be able to figure everything out on your own. You think if you ask for assistance, advice, or mentoring, it proves you’re incompetent.
- The Superman or Superwoman – You judge your competence based on your ability to excel in many roles at the same time. You think you should be able to rock your career while simultaneously being an outstanding parent, partner, and family member—and somehow still find time to keep a perfect home, exercise, and volunteer in your community.
Do any of these sound like you?
3 Ways to Deal with Imposter Syndrome
If you are dealing with imposter syndrome, it’s time to fight back. Here are three tools you can put to immediate use, according to Young.
- Normalize impostor syndrome. It’s estimated that 70 percent (or more) of achievers have experienced impostor feelings at one time or another. In fact, you’re likely to experience impostor syndrome if any of the following defines you: If you’re self-employed, are the first generation in your family to go to college, or become a white-collar success. If you belong to a group where you’re more apt to be underestimated due to social stereotypes about competence. Or if you’re in a position of having to represent your entire gender or race, or if you work in a field known to have higher levels of impostor syndrome, like technology, medicine, art, writing, or acting. When you understand the situational, social, and organizational reasons for impostor syndrome, you’re able to make it less about you and more about a normal response to your situation.
- Talk about your impostor feelings. Don’t ignore your imposter feelings. Note when they happen and if they’re tied to any specific experiences, like receiving constructive criticism or starting something new. Then talk to someone you trust, like a friend or mentor. It’s helpful to get these worries out in the open and discover that these feelings are totally normal! Talking is a great first step, but Young says, don’t get stuck endlessly talking about your feelings and never taking steps to change them.
- Reframe your thoughts. Despite what you may think, people who don’t feel like impostors aren’t necessarily more capable or talented than you. They just have a more realistic definition of competence and a healthier response to setbacks and constructive criticism. That’s why Young says, “What you want is to stop feeling like an impostor. But that’s not how it works. The only way to stop feeling like an impostor is to stop thinking like an impostor.” How? By becoming aware of when you’re having an “imposter” thought and pausing to reframe it in more realistic terms. For example, instead of thinking, “I have no idea how to handle this new project,” think, “I have never done this before, but I can figure it out.” Or, “I don’t know how to do xyz, but Mary does, so I’ll ask her.” Rather than think, “I have been in this job for a week, so I should feel a lot more confident than I do,” try thinking, “There’s always a learning curve in the beginning, and the more I do it, the better I’ll get.” Finally, remember we all feel stupid from time to time. And there’s a world of difference between beating yourself up after a meeting by telling yourself, “I’m so stupid” and thinking, “Boy, did I feel stupid.” In other words, join the club.
Find more from Valerie Young at impostersyndrome.com.