By Lori Pugh
I’ve spent most of my professional career in the high-tech field, surrounded by predominantly male leadership. While I will always be appreciative of the mentorship and guidance I have received over the years, I’ve often found self-comparison leading the way for me.
In the STEAM fields, you’re expected to be very innovative and forward-looking. While those around me exuded confidence and self-assurance, I have often felt like I was faking it. For the longest time, I became risk-averse for fear of looking stupid. As I climbed the corporate ladder, I was sure these feelings would leave me and was disappointed to find that they would intensify.
Then, one day, many years ago, an employee reached out to me asking for advice about overcoming “imposter syndrome.” Never having heard of this affliction, my interest was piqued. After reading more about it, I realized this term describes me. Discovering that others felt these feelings flooded me with relief. In my research, I found that this “syndrome” was felt mainly by women and people of color.
Instead of being stressed, I felt challenged to learn how to conquer it. I sought coaching to help me do so, which inspired me to help others with my newfound knowledge. It has been a monumental privilege to help others learn to conquer this debilitating condition. If you can relate to these feelings, then I know you can conquer them, too. Here are three ways to do so.
1. Build self-confidence. Nobody is born with confidence. That means it can be built! Self-confidence is an emotion guided by our thoughts. If we become aware of our thoughts and identify the driving factor of negative emotions, then we have the power to target and change them. We can alter beliefs about ourselves, our career, our relationships, our lives. It’s natural for fear to crop up. That’s just the primitive part of our brains trying to protect us. With practice, all of us can rise above those natural, fear-driven thoughts and create self-confidence in every area of our lives.
2. Recognize that failing is a crucial part of success. We’ve all been taught in some way that failure must be avoided. However, when I was surrounded by software engineers, I learned that we all need to fail to improve. They call it “failing fast.” When developing software, failures or “bugs” are a normal and natural part of the testing process. It helps developers improve what isn’t working in the coding. Rather than fearing failure, look at it as a sign that you’re learning and moving forward.
3. Stop agonizing over what others may think. It’s natural for us to ponder what others think about us, but it’s the worrying that paralyzes us because there’s nothing we can do about it. Worried thoughts, however, are notoriously inaccurate. In the end, you cannot control others’ thoughts, feelings or expectations. While you may still face times of worry, you also face a choice in those moments to have courage and move forward despite any discomfort. And in doing so, you will continue to build confidence in yourself.
The journey of creating self-confidence and conquering imposter syndrome can be a long and challenging process. But if you choose to be your authentic self and have confidence in your abilities, you’ve taken the first important step.
Lori Pugh is the Chief People Officer for the nonprofit, Waterford.org. She is also a certified life coach specializing in helping women build their self-confidence and recognize their inherent brilliance. You can find more information on her website, loripugh.com, or by joining her Facebook group, “Women Walking Tall.”