Credit: The Design Team
Depending on who you ask, Imposter Syndrome can have several meanings.
Maria Klawe, the President of Harvey Mudd College defined it as,
The frequent feeling of not deserving one’s success and of being a failure despite a sustained record of achievements.
Indeed, no matter your knowledge or expertise, Imposter Syndrome can still make you feel like a complete failure.
At its roots, are several factors such as previous failures, inherited fears, social biases, culture, education, and more. Being a minority in one’s domain, or working in an active field of research such as Artificial Intelligence, can also trigger and worsen Imposter Syndrome.
Overcoming it is essential to thriving in your workspace or learning environment. Here are 8 tips to help you beat it.
Next time you are in a situation where you feel like a fraud, set out to prove to yourself that you indeed are. Talk, even internal, is cheap! If you really believe that you are an imposter, challenge yourself to prove it.
After all, what have you got to lose? The worst thing that can happen is you finding out that you are right and you already believed that. However, we bet that once you accept the challenge, you will strive to succeed. Ultimately, this will reveal the areas where you indeed need to improve and make you more confident about the areas you excel in.
Address your skill gap. Make a list of the skills you fill you lack or need to improve on. Then, find resources to learn them. Make a plan and follow it. In any case, you are never done learning, especially in fields like Artificial Intelligence or Data Science. Therefore, endeavor to steadily expand your skillset.
Always remember this, however. The fact that you have more to learn does not mean that you are currently useless. And do not underestimate how much you can learn by doing. So, do not dismiss learning on the job instead of shying away.
Working with a team is a great way to learn, even more so when you doubt your ability to complete a particular project alone. A team can offer a safe space to explore the full range of your skills while learning from others and minimizing your responsibility in the outcome.
To make the best of teamwork, identify an area you feel confident about and offer your expertise in this area to your team. This will allow you to work only on problems you know you can solve while learning from your teammates how to solve the others. Besides, in a team, you can safely explore your weakest skills because your work will be reviewed by your colleagues.
The voice in your head can get very loud about how big a fraud you are and how little you know. Furthermore, it tends to only focus on your shortcomings while ignoring your successes. Start shifting this by getting louder about your achievements!
For every new skill, you gain, celebrate, and do so in grand. Throw yourself flowers. Put yourself on a pedestal. Shout it from the rooftops. Tell everyone about it even if they don’t understand a word you say. Gift yourself something nice. Celebrate, then, go back to learning some more. And repeat.
Kulsoom, my co-author, recalls from graduate school and industry: “My Imposter Syndrome was triggered and worsened by arrogant people. If they perceived you as lacking some knowledge, their reaction towards you was either mocking, aggressive, or belittling. When one already feels vulnerable and not confident, this can make it worse.”
Toxic environments can have devastating effects. If your work environment is unhealthy, change it. Otherwise, change your attitude about it, but don’t remain passive. Then, consider joining an environment that is conducive to growth.
It’s much easier to experience Imposter Syndrome when there are very few people like you in your workplace or learning environment. Reduce this feeling by becoming an active member of a minority organization. There is a wide variety of them; you will surely find one that fits your needs.
Spending time with people facing challenges similar to your own will empower you. You will discover that you are not alone. You will learn from them techniques that will help you overcome your fears and sense of inadequacy. Ultimately, feeling more confident about your position in your workplace will reduce your chances of feeling like an imposter.
Being unable to keep up with the latest research in Artificial Intelligence is one of the most common reasons AI practitioners often experience Imposter Syndrome. The field moves too fast. Too many papers are published daily and frankly, there aren’t enough hours in a day to read them all.
Follow AI personalities on social media to keep up without driving yourself crazy. AI personalities often discuss on social media, especially Twitter, the latest research and trends. Zoom in on the most important AI news by reading their posts, updates, and comments. It is the easiest and most effective way to stay informed about AI research.
Your internal dialog is the root of your Imposter Syndrome. Fed off by years of self-criticism, social biases, and previous failures, it has grown into your most severe critic. It even pretends to know you very well and thus be reliable. It can, however, not be very credible if it disregards your successes.
Uncontrolled, it can do you a lot of harm. You need to tame it. Start by being kind to yourself. Forgive yourself. Give yourself a break and give yourself a chance. Be at peace with being imperfect; you are a work in progress. Talk to yourself the way you would to someone else having a hard time. Treat yourself with compassion and kindness. Make your internal voice an ally for a life free of Imposter Syndrome.
On your journey to overcoming Imposter Syndrome, always remember this quote by Albert Einstein:
“The moment you stop learning, you start dying.”
Feel blessed then, that there is more for you to learn. And the next time your internal voice rebukes you for not knowing something, rejoice instead for it means you are still alive.