March 27, 2019

Move the Dial Stories: How to overcome imposter syndrome

Influential female tech leaders shared their experiences with self-doubt at the recent #movethedial Toronto Stories event. Here are the top pieces of advice we heard on how to believe in your abilities and your right to do what you do.

What is imposter syndrome? According to Psychology Today, it’s a psychological term referring to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. Often manifesting in women, imposter syndrome hinders a person’s ability to acknowledge their successes and achievements.

At the Ceridian-sponsored #movethedial Stories event last week, tech leaders shared their experiences in overcoming that doubtful voice and inner fear. From their stories, we drew the top six pieces of advice on how to overcome imposter syndrome.

Practice affirmations and self-love

The program opened with Ceridian’s own Sarah Terrelonge, VP of Corporate Marketing, asking the audience not if they have felt imposter syndrome, but instead, “Who knows they’ve got something to offer? Who is quieting that inner voice?”

With hands popping up across the room, and participants admitting they know they have something to offer, this set the stage for the event’s tone: practice self-affirmations and self-love, and lift each other up.

The evening’s MC, Chioma Ifeanyi-Okoro, Growth Consultant and Founder of digital media platform My African Corner, had the audience practicing group affirmations:

“I’m amazing. I’m a boss.”

“I do really incredibly work.”

 “I will send that same elevator back down so other women can do the same.”

Hearing an entire audience saying these words in unison furthered the intention of the exercise – affirming yourself and each other is the first step in overcoming imposter syndrome.

Related: Move the Dial: How to hire more women in tech

Ignore what people think, and never give up

It is the constant fear of what other people think that fosters our greatest self-doubt. Raquel Urtasun, Head of Uber Advanced Technology Group, said she feels imposter syndrome every day. She encouraged the audience to quiet the fear of those external voices.

“‘When are they going to discover that I’m not good enough?’ What has helped me deal with this is that I try to ignore what people think. I focus on what I’ve done, and how I can become better – forget about the past and try to move forward,” she said, adding that even when you do have those doubts, feel the fear and do it anyway.

She summed it up by reinforcing the need to lift other women up alongside ourselves. “Always ask: ‘How can we help more women to not give up?’”

Related: Best practices for gender equality and #BalanceForBetter in the workplace

Compete with yourself, and embrace your talents

Wealthsimple’s CFO Leen Li shared that she has overcome a number of doubts in her personal and professional lives. As a child, Li’s mother taught her two invaluable lessons: accept the things you cannot change, and don’t compete with others, compete with yourself.

Li admitted that the doubts you have in your capabilities will only continue to grow, but you can overcome this by embracing your differences. “The people you work with will be smarter and more accomplished,” she said, “but being different makes us produce the best business results.”

As an example, she referenced her working relationship with Jodi Kovitz, Founder and CEO of #movethedial: “Jodi is amazing at telling stories – but horrible at math. I’m really good at math.”

She drove her lessons home by reinforcing the age-old adage: be yourself. “We’re all born to be unique, be imperfect, and therefore be our authentic selves. Be yourself. Don’t ever doubt yourself.”

Related: New Ideas for Sponsoring Women at Work

Don’t indulge in the negative voices

Kirstine Stewart, Head of Shaping the Future of Media, Entertainment and Information and Member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum, explained how a little self-doubt can quickly go from humbling, to debilitating: “It’s natural and humbling that everyone goes through [moments of self-doubt]. But when does humbling become debilitating? That’s when self-doubt turns into true imposter syndrome.”

Stewart added that “learning to get over it is a skill [I’ve had] to learn over, over, and over again.” To manage her imposter syndrome, she recognizes the space self-doubt takes up in her mind, and makes an active decision to keep moving forward – acknowledging that “maybe self-doubt is a moment of selfishness, and there’s no time for it.” 

Stewart pointed out that indulging in external negativity will only compound your internal self-doubt – and to overcome this, “we need to recognize those positive voices that tell you that you’re good. Ultimately, you’re the one who has to believe in you.”

Watch Kirstine Stewart’s TEDx Talk on Imposter Syndrome

Treat confidence like a muscle, and know your strengths

Ceridian’s SVP Strategic Initiatives, Justine Janssen, reflected on how imposter syndrome looks different for everyone, and impacts people at different points in their career. Janssen shared how you can always work on building confidence by treating it like a muscle: “A lot of what builds confidence is the muscle of doing things over and over again.”

She explained how she set out a simple exercise for herself – to ask a Tim Hortons worker to fill up her water bottle, which terrified her, as she didn’t want to inconvenience them.  Each day she’d show up with the will to ask, and on the third day, she asked, and she received. “Practice – like anything, building confidence is muscle. The more you try things and have success, the more you feel comfortable doing that.”

Janssen said that by knowing yourself and knowing how to talk about what you’re good at, you’ll be confident in all that you do: “Get to know yourself – getting the language around what I was good at, and realizing that not everyone was good at the same thing I was, gave me a lot of confidence in putting my hand up for things and moving forward.”

You can do it your way

The last speaker of the evening, Alwar Pillai, CEO of Fable Tech Labs, shared how her imposter syndrome manifests: “Am I capable of being a CEO? Am I capable of being a leader? Do other people see it, and do I see it, myself?”

As a new CEO, Alwar has learned to answer these internal questions by reinforcing that she can and will do this – and she will do it her way: “In overcoming adversity, personal and professional, the biggest learning is that I’m learning to do this my way – there are certain expectations of CEOs. My biggest learning is that I am a leader, a CEO, a partner, a daughter. I get to do this all my way – and it works.”

Thank you!

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