Your Imposter Syndrome Might Be Trying to Tell You Something

You can confront your inner critic and learn from it.

Ashley Batz Photography

Back on Equal Pay Day, Lindsay Jean Thomson from Women Catalysts hosted 50 women for a workshop at The Assembly on Imposter Syndrome. Lindsay’s goal? To help us make friends with our inner critics and stop feeling “fraudy as f*ck” — as one attendee put it.

Imposter Syndrome happens when we can’t take credit for our accomplishments. We devalue the things we are good at because they come naturally to us, Lindsay explained. We feel like frauds, despite evidence of high achievement. And often, it’s moments of high achievement that trigger these feelings and bring out our inner critic. With the right tools, however, we can confront this critic and even learn from it.

If we reflect on what our Imposter Syndrome tells us, we might find new ways to grow.

During the workshop, Lindsay helped us each identify the sources of our Imposter Syndrome. We made lists of the things our Imposter Syndrome tells us, and then tried to find meaningful information hidden inside these harsh criticisms. The point: if we reflect on what our Imposter Syndrome tells us, we might find new ways to grow. For example, if your voice tells you “everyone else understands something I don’t,” maybe the meaningful information is that you should take a class to beef up your skills. If you’re feeling self-conscious about how you’re perceived at work, maybe recognition is an unmet need you should address with your manager. Listening to our inner critic can be useful, and a more productive relationship with it could soften its harsh tone.

The Upper Limit Problem

Lindsay also explained the “Upper Limit Problem” — a close cousin to Imposter Syndrome. Dr. Gay Hendricks identified the Upper Limit Problem in his book The Big Leap. It’s the idea that we each have our own internal barometer for how good we can have it. When we exceed that limit, we undermine our own success, perhaps subconsciously, in order to come back into that comfort zone. While Imposter Syndrome is characterized by negative self talk, the Upper Limit Problem will cause self-defeating action or inaction. Inaction might mean not applying for a more prestigious job. While action would be bombing an important meeting. We feel danger when we exceed our self-imposed upper limit.

To take on the Upper Limit Problem, Lindsay had us answer the question: what do you really want? In your careers, finances, home, relationships, etc. Then, for each of the things, she asked us: what do you believe is possible? And how might your Imposter Syndrome show up there? For example, if you really want to work remote for six months in a new city, have you asked your manager? Or, did you impose an upper limit on yourself and just assume that she would say no. If you don’t ask, you will never get it and are essentially negotiating against yourself. After reviewing our lists, we noted the next steps toward making these wants reality.

In honor of Equal Pay Day, we ended the event with a Q&A with Kathlyn Hart, a professional coach who just launched Be Brave, Get Paid, an online bootcamp for salary negotiation. Imposter Syndrome and the Upper Limit Problem can hold us back from getting the money we deserve for our work. Here are some highlights from the Q&A that should help next time you negotiate.

Tips for Negotiating Your Salary:

  • Should you name a number first or let them? It depends on the situation. Since women tend to use a lowball “anchor,” Kathlyn says it might be wise to let the employer start.
  • Either way, you should always come to a negotiation with a number that you’ve come to via online research and talking to peers or mentors.
  • When it comes time to share your number, start with your wish number not your want number. That means the highest amount you can reasonably ask for based on your research, not the minimum you would be happy with. If you don’t think you’re worth it, why will they?
  • “Shut up” after you give your number. The pause works in your favor. And don’t add a question mark. “I would be happy with $50,000,” sounds more powerful than “I would be happy with $50,000?”
  • Don’t forget that when negotiating a salary for a new job the company wants you. Remembering will help build your confidence.
  • If you think it’s not worth the hassle of asking for a raise, ask yourself: would you be resentful if you found out a coworker made $10,000 more than you because they had a five minute conversation? If so, have that conversation.
  • Consider how your relationship with money might be holding you back. For example, if you think of money as something superficial, try changing your attitude to see it as a tool to help you achieve goals like travel or enjoying time with friends.

After the workshop, Lindsay sent us home with an assignment. She asked us to end each day by writing down something you’re proud of. For me, that was easy: I was proud that I attended the workshop and found new tools for living with my inner critic.


Women Catalysts

Be Brave, Get Paid

The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level by Gay Henrick

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