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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome Requires Self-Acceptance

Dave Gerry, Chief Revenue Officer & Head of Global Operations, NTT | Application Security.

As a C-suite executive in my 30s, I have worked hard to earn each accomplishment under my belt. And like all other professionals, I started somewhere. Through pure determination and the help and support of my family, I earned my MBA and began my climb from manager, to director, to VP, to chief. So, why do I often feel so undeserving?

Throughout my professional career, I experienced the phenomenon of imposter syndrome due to a perceived lack of experience and my age. Imposter syndrome, defined as perceived fraudulence, involves feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence that persist despite your education, experience and accomplishments. Through my years in the corporate world, I witnessed high achievers and hard workers, like myself, who attribute external efforts for their success, rather than their talent. This leads to questions about the integrity of our work, productivity and ability.

To overcome the challenges I faced with imposter syndrome, I methodically constructed the following tips.

Tip One: Be Vulnerable And Authentic

Often, we don’t want to appear vulnerable to avoid looking weak inside and outside the office. However, authentic leadership is demonstrated through the humanity shown in our vulnerability. As a leader, if you never allow others to see your vulnerability, how can you expect your team(s) to demonstrate authenticity to their employees, customers and, most importantly, themselves? Vulnerability and authenticity in the workplace will allow those around you to feel more comfortable and more willing to contribute their ideas, time and hard work for the common goal of the business.

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Tip Two: Do Not Pretend To Be Someone You’re Not

One sign of imposter syndrome is fear of being “found out” or exposed as a “fraud.” Feeling as if you are not living up to current expectations or capable of filling the role you are in can cause individuals to believe they need to act or think or look like someone they are not.

While these feelings of insecurity may be viewed negatively, they can also be used as an incentive and a competitive advantage as it forces one to work above and beyond to challenge oneself to do their best. While I have often felt I was misleading or not good enough, I have learned that being uncomfortable and surrounded by individuals who force me to do and be better has led to new opportunities and, ultimately, allowed me to grow as a professional.

Tip Three: Leverage Mentors To Learn And Grow

Over the years, and through mentoring and experience, I learned to embrace feelings of self-doubt and unworthiness to use them to my advantage. As I’ve discussed this more with colleagues, mentors and friends, it’s become evident that many professionals experience this, yet we continue to feel guilt, undeserving and unqualified.

It is in everyone’s interest to embrace the diversity of thoughts and experiences shared by the colleagues and mentors around you. One of the ways I have overcome challenges in my various roles has been through my openness to learn from others, regardless of seniority or titles. Throughout my professional career, I realized that many of my peers have been through similar periods of insecurity. Normalizing, acknowledging and leaning on others about these feelings is an important step to overcoming the syndrome.

Tip Four: Lean Into Your Strengths And Hire for Your Weaknesses

For those experiencing imposter syndrome, I can confidently say that you are most likely a high achiever. It has taken me time to know the difference between knowing a little about a lot and being an expert on a key set of tasks. Through conquering imposter syndrome, I have realized that I have strengths and weaknesses, and I must embrace the talents and skills that I have to serve my teams better. Accepting and embracing your and others’ competencies and deficiencies will lend toward hiring based on personal strengths and ultimately lead to a more successful and well-rounded team.

Tip Five: Be Open To Acceptance And Success

Self-acceptance is required to overcome imposter syndrome. Perfection is not needed to be worthy of your own success and accolades. My advice to others is to be self-aware of the skills you can share with others to launch yourself forward in your career and accept your inherent worth. The most important lesson I have learned as a C-level executive is that you are your own worst enemy and biggest critic. Moving forward with humble confidence and a positive attitude will get you to where you are meant to be.

Operating in today’s competitive and crowded job market makes it easy to doubt your ability and taint your confidence, but through healthy conversations and challenges, C-level executives can reinvent themselves to become better leaders, mentors, thinkers, innovators and co-workers. By forcing yourself to take a fresh perspective on what it means to be successful and capitalize on your differences, executives can defeat imposter syndrome and get back to making an impact in their businesses.


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