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Joan Kuhl: 4 foolproof ways to overcome imposter syndrome

Have you ever doubted your abilities or worthiness for an opportunity despite having a track record of results? Here’s how to nip those feelings in the bud, according to Kuhl, a gender strategist and author of “Dig Your Heels In.”
Joan Kuhl, gender strategist and author of "Dig Your Heels In."
Joan Kuhl, gender strategist and author of "Dig Your Heels In."Travis W Keyes Photography

Imposter syndrome is what we call the feeling of self-doubt that sneaks in and tells us we’re not good enough or we don’t belong. It overrides external proof of our competence and makes us second-guess our abilities, our decision-making and our worth. It’s a phenomenon that touches everyone, even high-achieving, highly successful people. And it can stand in the way of your career growth.

As author, Rachel Simmons explained in a blog post, “Imposter phenomenon tends to affect people who are breaking barriers – whether by taking a big risk or by being a minority in their field (which is why women, people of color and first generation college students can be especially vulnerable).”

So, how can we banish this imposter syndrome and empower more women to take risks and break barriers? Getting rid of the negative noise in our head can help motivate us. Often times, there are specific incidences in our past that revealed a weakness or something about ourselves that made us insecure. When a similar event, opportunity or challenge presents itself, we need to override this self-limiting mindset and practice strategies to avoid the imposter syndrome trap.

Here are four ways to redirect imposter syndrome:

1. Reframe the negative.

As soon as you feel imposter syndrome sneaking in, stop and write down the feelings that are holding you back. Then, beside it, record an accurate, realistic assessment of your performance to disempower the negative. The truth is that our reality may be skewed in moments of insecurity, and when you break it down on paper you can see that more clearly. Don’t let a mistake or challenge in the past to dictate your future. It takes mental deprogramming with active and intentional effort to acknowledge your strengths and reinforce your worth.

2. Own your success.

Document your accomplishments and review this list often to help you get clearer on your personal brand and the value you bring to your organization. Study your strengths and feel the love by modeling owning your accomplishments for girls and women in your life. Say “thank you” when you receive a compliment. Celebrate your wins out loud and with pride.

3. Listen harder.

In May, I had the opportunity to attend an event for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team at Twitter Headquarters before they headed to the World Cup in France (and ahem, won their fourth championship).

Goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris’s remarks about how she stays connected to people resonated strongly with me as I have seen her spend a lot of time listening graciously with fans of all ages. “I’m not trying to be someone I’m not. Life is about connection and making sure we are here to support each other because it is too difficult to take on alone. Honestly, I struggle too, and I have really hard days. Life isn’t this fairy tale that people see behind social media and the camera. Be real so that at the end of the day people can truly see you for you.”

The takeaway? Don’t fall for surface level impressions as you imagine how someone’s life is unfolding. Listen for their lessons and be conscious that each person overcomes challenges in their own journey. This realistic awareness helps us appreciate and build more meaningful connections to one another which strengthens our own optimism and confidence.

4. Rewrite the lyrics to build your greatest hits.

Everyone has moments of doubt and women are more prone to seek perfection and ruminate over mistakes. Give yourself a break and believe you truly deserve one. Similar to writing a mantra that you can repeat in times of challenge or moments when you need motivation, flip the script on the negative nags that come up. Write it out as a positive affirmation and repeat it out loud. Or find a great song with a strong message that is your go-to.

My 6-year-old daughter and I adapted the lyrics from the movie, “Leap”, which we sing together when we have tough moments.

Never let a dream go old, even when you’re losing hope

This is why we wrote this song.

It’s always about you. Always about you.

I know the feeling like you’ll never win.

Your heart's in the washer, your head's in the spin.

You try and you try, but you can't catch a break.

But sometimes believing is all that it takes

If you feel it in your heart, then sing it loud

(Oh oh oh oh, oh oh oh oh)

I know you know who you are, so sing it loud

It's all about you

Joan Kuhl is a champion for girls leadership and advancing women in the workforce. She is the author of Dig Your Heels In, Misunderstood Millennial Talent and has led global research on gender and generational dynamics in the workplace for corporations and business schools. Joan is a #SheBelieves Champion for the U.S. Soccer Organization developing a national leadership curriculum and currently serves on the board of Girls Inc of NYC.