Why Foster the Imposter?
5 Pieces of Advice from an Unqualified Individual for Overcoming Feelings of Fraudulence
Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up this situation.
Truth is, I am too. Yet, here I am, fumbling my way through triumphs because I continue to distrust my accomplishments and abilities.
I typically chalk up my self-doubt to good old-fashioned insecurity and an extreme case of humility — after all, I am the humblest of all. However, imposter syndrome is a real thing and defined as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.” Sounds about right. Let me provide an example.
It was my first day at Microsoft and I was in a room with at least a hundred other new hires. Everyone had armfuls of swag, first day nerves, and a collective look of disappointment at the outcome of their ID badge photo (including yours truly). A portion of the Microsoft New Employee Orientation included lunch with my new manager. This was going to be the first time I saw her since my last interview (at least 60+ days). Hungry and anxious, I scoured the room looking for her. After a few glances and a nod of confirmation, we spotted each other. I walked over with trepidation, grossly aware of my existence. It felt like middle school all over again as I over-analyzed every infinitesimal movement I made.
“Hi! I didn’t recognize you,” she said as she smiled.
Immediately I thought, “Uh oh. She must not recognize me because she hired me by accident. I’m the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Let that sink in for a moment.
Never mind the fact that two months had passed since our last meeting, my hair was styled differently, and I was wearing a giant blue raincoat (the PNW is cold and wet, y’all). No, I immediately jumped to the conclusion that somehow, I happened upon this moment in time by complete chance. And now the cosmic punchline had been delivered — they finally knew what I knew — I didn’t earn this accomplishment, let alone deserve to be here.
To provide more context surrounding the absurdity of my thought process, here is what it took to arrive at that very moment:
· 30 applications submitted over a span of 6 months
· Multiple phone interviews with hiring managers and recruiters
· 3-day travel to and from Microsoft including planes, taxis, hotels
· A five-hour in-person interview with various team members
· A two-hour company dinner with the interview team
· Follow-up emails to multiple parties
· A subsequent offer letter/negotiation
· A series of background checks
· Coordination of a cross-country move with Microsoft for my family that included selling a home and securing temporary housing
· And, you know, the badge
Logically, it’s impossible for me to be hired accidentally by Microsoft.
Emotionally, it’s impossible for me to be hired by Microsoft.
Now that I’m eight weeks into my employment and I’m still here (shhhhhh, not too loud), I wish I could tell you my feelings of fraudulence stopped. However, in case you haven’t noticed or heard, Microsoft hires extremely smart people and I still don’t consider myself one of them. We’re talking engineers tackling complex solutions like quantum computing, content creators developing personalities for futuristic products, and designers building new experiences by mixing realities.
And then there’s me. A few weeks on the job and solving weighty issues such as: Why can’t I open this door? Is it because the Café is closed? Maybe my arms are weak? Is the door locked?
Apparently, I’m still learning how hinges work and attempted to open the door incorrectly…more than once.
So how do you stop feeling as though you are a fraud?
The more people I meet, the more stories I hear, and the more experiences I collect, this is your answer:
The incredibly smart experts mentioned above have the same thoughts we do. I know because they told me. Chyeah, weird, right?
Given that sobering reality, here are my suggestions:
1. Don’t Ignore the Data — Has anyone pulled you aside and questioned your knowledge, expertise, or very presence? Probably not (if they have, let’s come up with creative expletives and respond to them together). Do you possess, say, ten years of industry experience, an advanced degree, and a collection of personal and professional accomplishments that should trump any nagging feelings of self-doubt? The data points are there, don’t interpret the story differently by connecting non-existent dots. Occasionally, it’s ok to recognize that you are a BAMF .
2. Don’t Suppress Those Feelings — Perhaps they serve a larger purpose and force you to constantly stretch yourself to do something a little bigger, a little harder, a little better. Acknowledge they exist and accept them for what they are, but don’t let them define you or hold you back. You may be intimidated, but take the risk. Do the thing. Hell, do all the things. Life is short.
3. Nobody Has It All Figured Out — If they tell you otherwise, I’m confident they are actual frauds. Ironic, right? The most brilliant minds I’ve met know what they don’t know. Learning is hard work and a slow, unsettling, life-long pursuit. Give yourself time and space to adapt, grow, and thrive.
4. Own Your Value — Your worth, your very existence — they are not defined by nor should they ever be dependent upon validation from others. I cannot stress enough how liberating this is.
5. Shit Happens — Mistakes will be made. Epic failures will occur. Sometimes they will be completely beyond your control. These will contribute to your feelings of self-doubt. When that happens, refer to #3. Continue to grow and learn. Don’t let fear, rejection, or loss dampen your ambition or curtail your sense of curiosity and wonder.
So why foster the imposter?
Because you most likely will never overcome feelings of fraudulence. Instead of viewing imposter syndrome as a defining characteristic, embrace it for the transitory experience it is. One that forces you to evolve, try new things, and question your previously held philosophies.
If I could do my first day over again (because hindsight is 20/20) I would say, “Right now, I don’t recognize myself either, but I’m excited to get started. Where should we go for lunch?”
Also, I would have asked the process for updating my ID photo post-haste.
Thanks for reading! Claps, comments and questions welcome (but I won’t let them validate me ). Here are a few more tidbits:
“Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.” Excerpt from a brilliant commencement speech by David Foster Wallace (lol, foster).
Additional reading from more qualified sources: