I have a confession: For most of my (gulp) 28 years at IBM, I felt like an imposter. It started in college, where in CompSci classes with few female classmates and no female professors, I felt stupid. Even though I excelled at IBM as an information architect, I felt like the real me might get exposed at any moment.
This notion of “imposter syndrome” doesn’t affect just me. Check out #impostersyndrome on Twitter (the meercat picture is my favorite). Many other women in tech circles are also discussing that the lack of female role models contributes to their feeling like a fraud.
My new management role at IBM changed how I see myself at work (thanks to mentors who pushed me to step up my game – male mentors, btw). My biggest shift has been to become more authentic. For me, authenticity is the antidote to imposter syndrome.
So how do you make it real at work?
Get wildly creative
For most of my life, I identified myself primarily as a creative writer with my tech job being secondary, so I struggled to bring creativity to my tech work.
Bringing a sense of play and experimentation to my job has changed everything.
To get wildly creative, bring your whole self to work – don’t suppress any of your talents. Let go of the fear of being judged for your ideas – just experiment and see how folks react.
For example, my previous manager started each scrum by playing a song – a brilliant way to get the team talking about something other than work and set the mood for a call. Another manager turned an all-hands call into a Jeopardy game.
Stop comparing yourself to others
Honestly, it serves no purpose. I used to suffer from what I’ll call “geek envy,” where I compared myself to the tech rock stars around me who brought such energy to their technology leadership.
I’ve learned that I have different superpowers. My ability to communicate technical material, my analytical skills, and my ability to motivate people are just as essential for the success of IBM as any technical super star.
Plus, imposter syndrome doesn’t just affect women. In researching this topic I’ve learned that up to 70% of top performers suffer from imposter syndrome. It seems to go hand in hand with being talented in some ways. Chew on this for a moment:
“True imposters don’t suffer imposter syndrome.” (From Is imposter syndrome a sign of greatness?)
While the feeling may be common, it can be a problem if it affects your career goals. For example, do you feel a reluctance to put yourself up for a deserved promotion? Even my rock star coworkers might suffer from this at some point in their careers.
So don’t focus on others, focus on you. What’s your superpower?
Find your passion
To stop feeling like a fraud, connect with some sense of purpose in your work. That purpose could be advancing technology, creating apps that solve major issues like healthcare or green energy, or even something as simple as helping your coworkers. Some circles claim this sense of purpose is especially important for women, but I think both men and women need to connect their work to some greater purpose.
For many years, I had trouble with this one. I knew that the technology we produce at IBM was solving major world problems, but I was too disconnected from the end result. Two major things clicked for me a when I became a manager, which completely changed how I engage with my work:
- I love developing the talent on my team and seeing the world-class results.
- I care deeply about increasing opportunities for women in technology (I’ll explore why in a future post).
A sense of purpose decreases my overall frustration level; when I focus on what’s important, the everyday hurdles become background noise.
Making it real
Making it real at work involves some risk; authenticity can leave you feeling vulnerable, but that’s better than feeling a fraud. As women in tech, we can support each other by sharing our stories, gently pointing out any self-deprecating behavior, and applauding each other’s successes.
Ironically, my role as a manager has rejuvenated my interest in coding. My wild creativity gave me some ideas for apps that I want to code myself. Plus, I’m learning new languages to teach at local coding camps for girls.
While imposter syndrome may be common, I’ve found that overcoming it has been fundamental to my overall happiness and well-being. I hope it can do the same for you. I’d love to hear your stories of dealing with imposter syndrome – comments welcome below, or chat with me on twitter.
Learn more about overcoming imposter syndrome:
- Expert advice from Dr. Valerie Young
- Brené Brown: The courage to be vulnerable
- 21 proven ways to overcome imposter syndrome
- How to be confident at work and get over imposter syndrome in 6 steps
- Impostor syndrome – Geek Feminism Wiki – Wikia
- Not qualified for your job? Wait, you probably are
- Is imposter syndrome a sign of greatness?
- Score yourself with the Clance Imposter Phenomenon Scale
- Book: The Impostor Phenomenon: Overcoming the Fear That Haunts Your Success
Learn more about women at IBM, or even become one!
- Women at IBM
- International Women’s Day
- The IBM Working Women
- 26 Innovations by 26 Women
- Women in IBM’s Global Business Services