The Lessons of Impostor Syndrome and Self-Doubt
Updated: Nov 27, 2021
The blog is dedicated to recent college graduates and aspiring product managers, engineers, designers, and content designers who have reached out to me. So bravely, they have shared their fears of not belonging or insecurities about not being smart enough to make it in product management.
I want you all to know that you are not alone. I, too, have suffered from the same self-doubts, constant questioning, and anxiety. I want you to know that this is an ailment that many women I know have, irrespective of their industry or role.
However, I have great news for you: these feelings of self-doubt and insecurity can be traversed into success.
What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome can be characterized as a compilation of emotions of ineptitude, even remaining regardless of a person’s real and tangible accomplishments. Women who think they are fraudulent have chronic uncertainty and a sense of erudite deceitfulness that replaces any thoughts of achievements or visible validation of their proficiency.
In my many years of experience in product management, regardless of the leadership roles that I have held, no matter what accolades I have garnered - feelings of being an imposter, excessive questioning, and insecurities sometimes interrupt my thoughts.
My experience with impostor syndrome and self-doubt
Even as I started gaining traction as a successful Product Manager, I also had my insecurities and experiences with imposter syndrome. Below are some of the thoughts of inadequacy I’ve had.
Before presenting to my colleagues and/or leadership, I thought: I cannot do this. I'm a fraud, and everyone is going to find out. Why would they ever take me seriously? I’m a fake.
In conference rooms or a group meeting with other PMs, I always had an irrational feeling that someone would come in and tap me on the shoulder and tell me I wasn’t meant to be there. That the people at the table were more intelligent than me, and I was the odd one out.
Once, I let the imposter syndrome nerves get the best of me and did a series of really bad product management interviews. I had many thoughts ranging from “there are many better candidates than I,” “what am I doing with my life?”, “they are going to fire me,” “I have no idea what I’m doing here,” and even “everybody is going to find out that I’m not smart enough.
Managing my impostor syndrome and self-doubt
Through time and experience, I have learned to deal with stress in moments of severe self-doubting. The ability to manage them has enabled me to pursue my aspirations, even to do things such as writing this blog.
Whenever these thoughts creep into my mind (and they still do - particularly when I am about to do a presentation for my leadership, have a skip level meeting or being interviewed) - the following have helped me be pertinacious:
Acknowledgement of past trailblazers
Recognition of achievements
Embracing shortcomings and turn fears into excitement
Cease engaging in upward comparison
Let’s get into details of how I apply them when I face extreme stress and anxiety.
1. Acknowledgement of past trailblazers
Whenever the nerves are present, I think of the activity in which I am about to participate. What centers me is the reminder that there are generations of women who have felt (and still feel) the lack of self-confidence I am feeling at that moment.
Nevertheless, they’ve pressed forward, and sometimes, instead of waiting for people to create opportunities for them, they make their division in life. These courageous women thereby created a statement that we can all charter our course.
When I apply these thoughts, I am filled with gratitude for these women who have persevered and paved the way for me to be where I am today.
2. Recognition of achievements
When nervousness and anxieties are at the extreme for me, and I feel like walking away or giving up, I take a step back from the situation and find my journal.
First, I bring to mind that If I were not a highly competent product leader, my employer would have let me go a long time ago, and I would not have gotten as far as I have in my career.
Second, I evoke memories of customer problems I have been able to help solve and the resulting customer value, developing and cultivating customer relationships.
Third, I hark back to my accomplishments, awards, and recognitions.
Fourth, I demonstrate gratitude that I have had the privilege to encounter the remarkable opportunities and extraordinary experiences that have come my way.
And fifth, I become awakened by memories of why I wanted to be a product manager, my PM superpower, and the differences I can make in the product management space.
3. Embracing shortcomings and turn fears into excitement
Stress is most often entrenched in fearfulness.
Mistakes are unavoidable, and I believe my flaws have made me more astute. Acknowledging and owning my failings have made me a better person and a great product leader who builds people and products.
Because I accept failure as part of my journey toward being an exceptional product leader, I can turn my anxiety into excitement. I can frame a presentation, a skip level meeting or an interview as an opportunity to showcase what I have learned from my failings. Thus, the chance to demonstrate the talent and assets I can bring to solve any problem. Then, looking forward, I can see how the situation can help alter me for the better.
4. Cease engaging in upward comparison
The enticement to compare myself to my female colleagues, who I perceive to be better than me is hard to disregard. However, I have learned not to make impractical and unreasonable assessments because these actions reinforce my insecurities.
Furthermore, when I get to know the female teammates (who, in my mind, are more intelligent than me), what I have learned is that they, too, have imposter syndrome. They share the same insecurities and apprehensions that I have.
Instead of feeling inferior to them, I partner with them to understand how they manage their anxieties and stress. I then incorporate their techniques into my approach.
I have learned to trust my instincts and recognize my value as a leader, colleague, mentor, and team player. Most of all, I understand the importance of stepping into my purpose, as there are generations of women who have laid the foundations for me.
As I stand on their shoulders, it becomes imperative that I clear the way and make someone else’s path more manageable. I can do so by pressing forward through impostor syndrome and self-doubt. The result is the woman writing this blog because she is finally comfortable in her own skin.