If you've ever been in a room of smart, talented, and successful people, and thought, "I don't belong here," you've experienced the crippling grip of impostor syndrome. Or, if you've walked into your presentation, looked at your audience, and thought, "I'm a fraud," you've had impostor syndrome. It's normal. We all feel unworthy at one time or another in our lives.
Even the super successful are not immune to impostor syndrome. You'd think a Shark Tank guest judge would be pretty confident in their expert knowledge--but you would be wrong.
In his 2019 commencement address at Queens College, guest Shark Tank judge Matt Higgins revealed he was hit with the feeling of doubt during his first Shark Tank appearance. He saw Mark Cuban, Kevin O'Leary, and Daymond John and thought, "I don't belong here."
Though impostor syndrome can happen to anyone, typically it happens to five types of people: perfectionists, experts, natural geniuses, soloists, and superheroes. Basically, people who have high expectations of themselves. You know, entrepreneurs, leaders, and C-suite executives like yourself.
I had a chance to spend some time with Higgins on the set at Shark Tank this summer and ask him more about his experiences. So, how did he get over the feeling of being an impostor? Higgins said he used self-talk, quoting Eminem in "8 Mile"--one of my favorite songs too.
The song includes the lyrics: "Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted, in one moment, would you capture it, or just let it slip?"
While Eminem pep talks work for Higgins and me, here are five other things you can do if you start to feel like a fraud.
1. Talk about it with a mentor or friend
Keeping the feeling to yourself will only make it worse, so you need to tell someone else. Yes, revealing self-doubt can make you feel incredibly vulnerable. However, the vulnerability will almost always lead to a realization of your own capabilities.
Don't tell just anyone. Seek out a friend or a mentor--someone who understands you. Often, you will find they have experienced something similar and know you well enough to remind you of your strengths.
2. Use self-talk to change the script in your head
Higgins essentially gave himself a pep talk on the set of Shark Tank that enabled him to overcome his thoughts of being an impostor. When you find yourself going down the same negative-thought spiral of "I don't deserve this. People will find me out," change the script in your head. Instead of focusing on all the reasons you don't belong, start focusing on all the reasons you do.
3. Make a list of your accomplishments
On a similar note, make a list of your strengths. Ask for feedback from your friends and mentors to understand why you are qualified for the job, promotion, or assignment. People who feel impostor syndrome tend to underestimate their abilities. To turn this feeling upside down, focus on your strengths to get some clarity and perspective. You will find plenty of good reasons to justify your worthiness.
4. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
The feeling of being an impostor often comes because we are in a new situation outside of our comfort zone. When you start a new position or take on a new responsibility, it's natural to feel like you aren't an expert at what you're doing.
Essentially, you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Every time you do something new, remind yourself you are a beginner again. Accept that new beginnings will have awkwardness and ask for help if you need it.
5. Fake it until you make it
I remember inviting my stepdad to present at one of the business classes I was teaching. He's a serial entrepreneur with a lot of learning and success in his career. He's probably got the most integrity of someone I've ever known, and he told my class, "You know, sometimes you just gotta fake it till you make it."
I was stunned. The class loved it, laughed, and wrote it down, and for the rest of the term, it was our most used slogan and callback. He didn't mean "Lie, cheat, and steal." It was more of a direction to have confidence--visualize you had made it, you were doing it already, and step into it.
Remember, we all feel like impostors at times, even if we're managers of a team, heads of a multimillion-dollar company, or Shark Tank judges. The next time you are overwhelmed with doubt, don't isolate yourself. Instead, talk about it with others, change the script, make a list of your accomplishments, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and when all else fails, fake it till you make it.