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  • Writer's pictureJenn Donahue

Overcome Imposter Syndrome: 3 Ways to Remove the Clouds of Doubt

Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome?

I know that I have… several times.

As you rise in leadership, challenges arise too. One of the common challenges that comes with being a leader is what you call “imposter syndrome.”

Imposter syndrome is the fear that you’re not good enough, doing something wrong, or not meant for the role or task you were given. It’s the self-doubt that, if we let it get in the way of our job, can become paralyzing and lead us to inaction or even more self-loathing.

These “clouds of doubt” are the feelings you get when thoughts like, “I’m not good enough” and “I can’t do this” begin to take over and strip away your confidence.

Imposter syndrome affects almost everyone so you’re not alone.

From engineers to doctors to scuba instructors, everyone at one point or another feels like a fraud. It’s important to know that while many people experience these thoughts, you do not have to be one of the people that act on these thoughts.

When those clouds of doubt come in, the first step is to recognize that it is happening. Are the thoughts rational? Or are they irrational? Are they helping you or are they limiting what you can do?

To overcome imposter syndrome, you must remember what you bring to the fight and know who you are.

When you remember your successes and achievements and regain confidence in your abilities, you’ll let those clouds of doubt pass right on by.

In this blog, I’m going to talk about three “clouds of doubt” that creep in when we least expect it and what you can do to make sure it doesn’t negatively affect your decision-making or role as a leader.

Keep reading for three common self-doubting beliefs and how to overcome them.

Cloud of Doubt #1 - “I’m not a real expert!”

When I first started my career, I was placed in charge of eighteen individuals. I felt way out of my depth. Clouds of doubt continued to surface telling me I wasn’t capable enough to do what I was given to do.

Here’s the truth: if someone puts you in a position, it’s because you deserve to be there.

Often we let these clouds of doubt control our thoughts and sometimes, like in my case, our actions.

Because I didn’t think I deserved to lead that team, I tried to be like the leaders around me instead of embracing my true leadership style. The leaders around me were all men… and they were all “yellers.”

I felt so ashamed of myself for leading in that way, I quickly realized that I had to find my own leadership style… and it was not yelling.

I had to get real with myself. I had to understand how to lead in a way that felt good to me.

When this cloud of doubt comes in, you can send it away by writing down all of your accomplishments and achievements.

You can even write down “I won the 6th-grade science fair,” it all counts and it all matters. You can include things like, “I graduated college, I killed it on the presentation last week, or I picked up my kids on time.” This list will help you understand who you are and build your confidence back to its rightful place.

You’ll start to realize that you do have what it takes and find ways to start to embrace the strengths you already have.

You can even do what a friend of mine does and track your successes. You can keep your achievements in a book and reference when you’re having this particular cloud of doubt.

Cloud of Doubt #2 - “I don’t know anything!”

Are you one of those people that is so afraid of not knowing something? Are you constantly thinking, “What if someone asks me a question and I don’t know the answer?”

If you are, this is part of imposter syndrome… and it’s not real.

The reality is, no one knows everything. And even if you are the lead engineer on a project, a CEO, or a manager, you’re not expected to know everything.

So rest assured that it’s okay to not know and recognize when this is true and when it is self-doubt. Sometimes we doubt ourselves even when we do know the answer.

When you start to feel nervous about not knowing, I suggest making a list of everything you do know.

Write out all your skills, talents, and strengths. Can you run an epic probabilistic hazard analysis report? Are you great at organizing your kitchen? Write it down.

You can even call a friend and ask them some things they think you’re great at, too.

This will remind yourself of the positives and stop you from focusing on the negatives in your mind. Once you have a list, it’s important to then honor your strengths. The list you create is what makes you who you are. Embrace it!

Cloud of Doubt #3 - “Do I belong here?”

A lot of times when we don’t feel confident in ourselves, we camouflage ourselves so we don’t stand out. We don’t want to be excluded for who we are so we blend in because we don’t feel comfortable.

Trust me, I get it. I’m one of the few female engineers in just about every position I’ve had and I’ve been the only woman in the room more often than not.

Back when I was on a board for Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering, I worked with all men who were much older than me. They were all very knowledgeable and very smart. And I was… “the little blonde girl” at the end of the table.

Even though they called me this, they did trust me with the analytics and analysis they were doing. However, instead of believing in myself, I let the clouds of doubt enter. I started asking myself, “How did I get here? Am I really the right person for this? They think I’m not as smart because I’m blonde.”

I let these clouds of doubt lead me to doing something drastic. I dyed my hair brown.

Yep, I felt so uncomfortable that I changed how I looked so I could blend in and look smarter.

I tell you these stories so you can learn from my mistakes.

The key to not letting this self-doubt take over is knowing who you are and remembering what you bring to the fight.

Now, I feel confident in who I am and what I bring to the fight. I know I belong.

It’s important to know your worth and know that you can do what you’ve been chosen to do. Don’t be limited by other people’s opinions. You have to know yourself, know your worth, understand your strengths and weaknesses and know who you are.

If you really need help in learning who you are, work with a mentor. It’s one of the best ways I’ve found to discover your authentic leadership style and grow your strengths.

Don’t drown in the doubt

It’s okay to have imposter syndrome. The question is, what do you do about it?

You can overcome imposter syndrome by first recognizing it, then building confidence around your strengths.

Imposter syndrome doesn’t feel great. It can feel like shame, embarrassment, unworthiness, or frustration. If you can recognize the clouds of doubt, evaluate the real truths of the matter, and then act from a place of confidence, you’ll overcome imposter syndrome and continue growing as a leader.

It’s important to also stop comparing yourself to others. Other peoples’ positive strengths are not your weaknesses. Look at others as inspiration for what you can become.

So, are you limiting yourself with your self-doubting thoughts? Do you believe your clouds of doubt or do you see them and let them pass? It’s up to you if you want to have a nice sunny day or not.

If you’d like me to speak to you and your team about overcoming imposter syndrome and leading from a place of confidence, reach out and let’s talk.


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