Written By Kelley Holland
You landed that job. You got that promotion. You were accepted into that super-competitive college. Good for you! But how do you tell your friend or partner about it? Perhaps you’re flat-out proud – but there is a good chance you’ll say, “they must have been in a good mood,” or “it was my lucky day.”
An awful lot of people choose Plan B in that situation. So many, in fact, that it has a name: imposter syndrome, or imposter phenomenon. It comes on when we succeed at something and then don’t “own” that victory: we attribute it to luck or random chance – and worse, we worry that down the road, everyone will realize we really don’t have the goods.
Opinions differ on whether women are more likely to experience the imposter phenomenon. I’m not prepared to settle that debate, but I do know women face other confidence challenges that can exacerbate imposter-like feelings.
For one thing, there is the matter of stereotypes. When we are trying to do something that’s not “typical” for women, like ask for a raise, our confidence is likely to be shakier. There is also research to show that women feel less confident than men when they are competing against others.
What Can Women Do to Take Ownership of Their Success?
The key is to turn your focus inward.
- Listen to yourself. Try to notice what you tell yourself when you achieve something. If you are starting to think “wait what if I can’t?” about that new job, try to think instead about what your new manager said she or he liked about you. Remind yourself: you made that happen.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. The researchers who found that women are less inclined to compete against others found no gender difference when people were asked to compete against themselves. So if you are nervous about, say, being in a horserace for a promotion, try to ignore everyone else in the running and focus on what you can do to build the skills you know the job needs.
- Do your best to tune out the tropes. This is challenging, I know. If you’ve always been told you are bad with money, it’s easy to believe you negotiated a good deal on a car because the dealer thought you were funny. If you don’t see others who look like you at your professional level, it can be easy to think that your hiring or promotion was a fluke. But remember: car dealers know informed customers when they see them. And the people who gave you the job saw the same landscape you do – and still thought you belonged.
Owning success comes more easily to some women than others. But if you can do it once, it should be easier each time those doubts start to creep in. And believe me, you’ll find it an awful lot more pleasant to believe in your own strength.