The title of the book that I co-authored with my partner, Dr. Richard Orbe-Austin is “Own Your Greatness: Overcome Impostor Syndrome, Beat Self-Doubt and Succeed in Life.” It was very important to us that the book has a name that captures what is possible when you tackle your Impostor Syndrome head-on.
Since the book was released at the end of April, we have been doing a lot of interviews, podcasts and Live Q&As, and one of the things that we have noticed is that when we ask people how they own their greatness, people with Impostor Syndrome often balk and fear that doing this could be the beginning of narcissism, and even in being asked to recount them, still downplay any accomplishments.
We often reassure people that narcissism as a pathological disorder isn’t developed from being proud of your accomplishments, feeling like you are great at certain things and talking about your successes with others.
It’s very important to us that people with Impostor Syndrome are really able to take ownership of their strengths and learn to live in and own their greatness, which is fundamental to overcoming it.
Here are some ways that you can engage in behaviors that support owning your greatness in positive and healthy ways.
#1 – Accept compliments without minimizing or dismissing them.
If you have Impostor Syndrome, it’s common to feel uncomfortable when you receive a compliment. What I often hear is that the compliment serves as a trigger and the focus then is shifted to the mistakes that were made about the object of the compliment. Or people with Impostor Syndrome also worry that they are being given credit for the entire project when there were other contributors. In addition, concerns are often also evoked about the compliment giver’s authenticity or what they may want from you in exchange.
When someone gives you a compliment, it is typically a relational engagement. It’s important to engage as such and not respond with our Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) – specifically here – mindreading, filtering, and all-or-nothing thinking. Make eye contact, be thankful and appreciative about the compliment without negating it, minimizing it, or distrusting the person.
Here’s an example:
Compliment – “Congratulations on your presentation! You were amazing! I really loved your deck. It was visually stunning and really communicated the data so well.”
Impostor Syndrome Response – “It wasn’t just me. There was a whole team involved. I also missed a few things that I wanted to say. It went ok.”
Non-Impostor Syndrome Response – “Thank you so much! I really appreciate you sharing that! The feedback is so helpful.”
What we often don’t realize is that we often couch the Impostor Syndrome response in being humble and sharing the praise, but it’s not like you can’t do that – just don’t lead with it. It can be very negating to someone else when they try to connect with you through a compliment and in trying to be humble, you really dismiss their attempt at connection and you miss you opportunity to accept and work on internalizing positive feedback.
#2 – Be proud of your accomplishments and don’t dismiss them to protect others.
With Impostor Syndrome, you can be very self-conscious about how your accomplishments make other people feel, often assuming that it makes them feel bad or less than. This particular interpretation is often a distortion. In healthy relationships, people can be proud and supportive of you even if they don’t have what you have AND if they are having issues with it, it is their responsibility and not yours to work through it and understand and manage their reaction.
Work on not protecting others from your successes.
#3 – Avoid bosses and work cultures that don’t allow you to hold on to your successes.
Receiving and learning from feedback is a central component of growing professionally so I am not talking about not getting constructive feedback. What I am talking about is environments that are toxic in the way that they never let you see, and don’t recognize, your strengths and wins. Places and people that are focused on keeping you insecure about your contributions or the security of your job may benefit from making you feel insecure especially when you have Impostor Syndrome, because you can get caught up in pleasing people and wanting to show them that you do belong and that you are valuable.
This can be a trap that never ends and just allows you to burn out in the process of proving yourself.
#4 – Dream Your Own Dreams
When you are driven by what others think of you and how they feel about your accomplishments, you don’t dream your own dreams. In order to own your greatness, you have to think about what you want for yourself and the plans that you have for your own professional journey. That may take a little disentangling, but it is worth taking some time to reflect on:
Is that what I want for myself? Or what others want for me?
Am I more concerned with what others will find valuable, impressive, or interesting, more than what I find to be fulfilling?
What are my dreams (even if I dare not share them with anyone else yet)?
#5 – Believe in Your Power to Make Your Own Dreams Come True
When we have Impostor Syndrome, we have worked hard to make others’ dreams come true and we are so good at reaching heights few would expect. However, when we think about making that happen for ourselves, we are often terrified. When I was at the peak of my Impostor Syndrome, my husband said something that I will never forget,
“When you work as hard for yourself as you do for others, you are going to be unstoppable.” -Dr. Richard Orbé-Austin
At the time, I could understand the concept, but emotionally it took me a while to really get it.
You are capable of working that hard for yourself, but it takes valuing yourself, your ideas and plans in the same way that you value someone else’s.
#6 – Talk to yourself in a positive way – You are listening!
When you have Impostor Syndrome, we often speak to ourselves in ways that we would never speak to strangers – let alone, the people that we love. It’s important to remember that you are listening and the words that you say to yourself are being believed by your mind. I love this quote and it’s a valuable mantra to hold dear if you are prone to saying negative things to yourself and you feel that it’s uncontrollable.
“You are not your thoughts. You are the observer of your thoughts.” -Amit Ray
It reminds you that you should take a step away from your thoughts and recognize that you can alter or edit the content of your thoughts and when your thoughts are brutalizing you then you should be doing this consistently.
#7 – Don’t go it alone – Build a Team and Community Around You
In the US, we hear a lot of stories of people who made it from nothing and pulled themselves up from their bootstraps. This narrative leads us to believe that we need to accomplish things on our own in the spirit of rugged individualism.
Let me tell you something – NO ONE EVER DOES IT ALONE!!!
Usually, there are parts of the true narrative that are hidden when told for public consumption. Almost always, these “self-made” people have received support in all types of forms including financial support, access to knowledge that is not readily available to everyone, access to people in influential places, and opportunities that are based on the relationships around them.
Building a strong and reliable community around you is part of owning your greatness because you realize it takes a community to do anything – whether it is raising a child, building a career or launching a business.
#8 – Truly Care for Yourself
We give a lot of lip service to self-care, but your self-care practices reflect very seriously on how much you value and prioritize yourself. Self-care practices are meant to be rejuvenating and replenishing and help to keep you buoyed and well. So, while a night of Netflix and chillin’ might feel good in the moment, if you don’t feel like there is more gas in the tank afterward, it might not be true self-care. It might just be a fun thing to do.
Pay attention to the kinds of behaviors and self-care that actually make you feel better, stronger, more present, and more capable, those are the types of activities that are really self-care.
#9 – Value Your Professional Self and Take Appropriate Next Steps Forward (Act and Live in Your Values)
It’s easy, when we’re feeling like our professional life is out of control, frustrating or not what we want it to be, to engage in devaluing our professional identity and feeling like we should just take whatever we get.
It’s important to know what you value in your life and in your career and find your agency to get it.
It might take longer than you had expected or you might go down a road you didn’t foresee, but it’s important to believe that you can affect your professional destiny with the choices that you make and the values that you believe in and hold true.
#10 – Teach the Next Generation How to Own Their Greatness
One of the most valuable ways you can contribute to the world and own your greatness is by mentoring and supporting the next generation. In doing so, whether it be through a formal leadership role or in an informal mentoring relationship, you can teach new professionals how to grow, build relationships, be proud of themselves, and value themselves. It’s important that you work to not resent their opportunities, their power, and their voice so that you don’t accidentally silence them. Learn to admire, support, validate and help the next generation reach its greatness – it creates a better world for all of us.
Don’t just support people who remind you of yourself — support people who are different, who haven’t had access and privilege for generations, who are the onlys in their cohorts, who are not the heirs apparent. It will help you to contribute to diversifying fields, companies, and universities and provide more equitable opportunities and will help you grow tremendously and stretch yourself.
Owning Your Greatness takes many forms. These are just a few, but are some of the most valuable that I have seen over the years that I have been in practice. I hope you take a moment to take inventory on the ways that you need to start incorporating practices into your everyday life that help you to own your greatness.
What are some of the best ways that you have seen to own your greatness?