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You Belong At the Table: 5 Tips To Help You Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Small dog wearing a superhero mask standing on a skateboard

For years we've heard Donor Relations professionals talk about having a seat at the table. Being a part of the decision-making process helps you ensure your donor experience is the top priority and expectations are feasible—and in some cases, legal.

Once you've repeatedly asked, made the case, and maybe even begged to be at the table — and you're finally seated — more work and responsibility will come your way. This elevated workload can often lead to thoughts of, "What gives me the right to be here?", "I don't belong here," or "I don't deserve this." Does this sound familiar? If yes, you — like millions of other people — are experiencing Imposter Syndrome.

As a Black, Gay, First Generation College Graduate building a career in Higher Education —a space not originally open to people that hold my identities — I've experienced Imposter Syndrome a number of times.

In 1978, Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes first published their research findings on the Impostor Phenomenon. Today, more than 40 years later, research shows that an estimated 70% of people will experience this at least once in their lifetime. The estimates are much higher for individuals who are different from their peers in any way — whether that be race, gender, sexual orientation, or some other characteristic.

Here are a few ways that Imposter Syndrome can manifest in our professional lives:

  1. Pressure to Achieve Placing unnecessary pressure on ourselves to be "perfect", as well as external pressure received from colleagues or leadership to take on additional tasks and responsibilities

  2. Persistent Self-doubt Undermining our own competencies or skills, being overly critical of performance, or feelings of being a fraud

  3. Discounting Success When success is achieved, attributing it to luck or a circumstance of the right place at the right time

  4. Seeking Validation Needing validation from a boss or leadership to give value to your success

If you have experienced or felt any of the above, know that you are not alone and there are several things you can do to help yourself move past these feelings of inadequacy.

Some tips to help you overcome your Imposter Syndrome include:

  1. Accepting What You Do Well Take time to make a realistic assessment of your abilities. We are all human, and all have strengths and opportunities for growth. When opportunities for growth are identified, focus on improving in that area. If you aren't sure what your strengths are, try going to StrengthFinders and take the assessment. This will allow you to plug into your natural gifts.

  2. Recognizing Your Expertise Your education and all of your experiences have prepared you for where you are professionally. You've worked hard to be here — own it!

  3. Switching Your Thinking Reframe the way you think about your achievements. Put your thoughts into perspective and make incremental changes in how you view yourself.

  4. Talking to a Mentor As we mentioned above, 70% of people will experience imposter syndrome during their career. It is very likely a colleague or mentor has had similar feelings. Taking time to open up and share can help you recognize that your feelings are normal and unfounded.

  5. Understanding No One is Perfect Make a conscious effort to stop focusing on perfection. We can only do our best — and that's enough. Don't forget to take time to celebrate each job well done!

As I continue to walk into new spaces and opportunities, I know I will still have feelings of Imposter Syndrome at some level. I continue to remind myself that I belong at the table and speak up to provide my thoughts and perspectives to move organizations forward. If you also deal with bouts of Imposter Syndrome, I hope you will work to overcome these feelings and be a positive contributor to your organization.

Have you dealt with Imposter Syndrome in your career? How have you worked to overcome these feelings? We'd love to hear your story in the comments!


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