I Have No Idea What I’m Doing: Imposter Syndrome at Work

When you think “I’m so in over my head,” or “I can’t do what they think I can do, and they’re going to be disappointed in me.” I know the feeling all too well. It’s called Imposter Syndrome.

Starting a New Job

When I began my career out of college, I was a baby in an office of competent adults who had, in my mind, no reason to listen to me or have any respect for what I said. I was learning SEO along with my supervisor, and we were creating the SEO team—best practices, guidelines, etc.—for the whole company.

I deferred. I forwarded messages. I did everything I could to not have to be the one with the answer because I felt like I had no answers, and even if I did, someone else had a better answer. At conferences, I kept my head down and took notes quietly, hoping no one would ask me anything. Especially those first few years, I was one of just a few women in a sea full of men. I’m not complaining about being one of a few, but it did make me feel even more intimidated.

Thank God for my boss. He was a great mentor and constantly pushed me to learn more and be more confident. He put me in charge of content meetings and website analytics. Then, he put me in charge of reporting. Those were the most uncomfortable growing pains, and I remember many times where I’d leave at the end of a meeting and search out a quiet place to just breathe and calm my anxiety.

My boss at the time, and also my subsequent boss, asked me to include “leadership and authority” on my goals for several years in a row. They wanted me to grow and learn and, above all, be more confident. They encouraged me to realize I had good answers, based in data and science, and I could make executive decisions without their input. They said I shouldn’t “sell myself short.” The first time I was told to just make an executive decision, I remember thinking “Oh no… now they’re all going to know I’m a failure.”

Imposter Syndrome Isn’t Uncommon

Both women and men face Imposter Syndrome, the belief that you don’t know what you’re talking about after all. That negativity and insecurity that you’re not as cut out for this as others think you are. As an SEO specialist, I see a lot of fellow females in STEM industries facing this, but of course it’s prevalent in other industries too.

What are the effects? Not being confident enough to make decisions, negotiate salary or even ask questions. Working late hours and overtaxing yourself physically and emotionally just to prove something. And while sometimes it may be true that someone doesn’t give you enough credit, I believe we often do this to ourselves because we’re constantly comparing ourselves. And we’re in good company. Others who have felt the same way include actor Tina Fey, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Coldplay band member Chris Martin, and actor Don Cheadle. We all have felt like frauds, pretending to have answers and faking our confidence.

For those facing Imposter Syndrome, here are my tips:

  1. Keep learning, trying and testing. Nothing inspires confidence like learning new things. You’ll fail sometimes, but you’ll learn from it.
  2. Find a mentor/be a mentor. Like my former supervisors, encourage those who work for or with you to make decisions and stand by them.
  3. Stop saying “maybe” or “I think.” It’s a habit I’m still trying to break. Be confident in what you say! You know what you’re talking about. That’s why you have the job you have.
  4. Push yourself outside your comfort zone. It doesn’t feel good, but leading meetings, training someone in something you know and seeing the results of your decisions are all very motivating.

Have you dealt with Imposter Syndrome? Do you have any tips for dealing with it? Let us know in the comments!

Laura Lee – Account Manager, SEO Specialist

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