How to Manage Impostor Syndrome as a Product Person.

“Oh my God! these people will soon realize I am a fraud.”

“These people could easily get a better Product person, why me?”

“Do I even really know how to do this Product thing?”

“Do my co-workers think I am dumb?”

“They will soon find out that I am really just winging it.”

“What does my supervisor/manager think about my work?”

“Am I going to get fired? HR has been giving me the look since we started this meeting.”

Do these thoughts and more run through your mind as a Product person every now and then? If so, then you’re in good company.

Impostor syndrome affects all kinds of people from all parts of life; women and men alike, from artisans to executives. Impostor syndrome is the idea that you’ve only succeeded because of mere luck or chance, and not necessarily because you are actually qualified. This syndrome applies to anyone “who isn’t able to internalize and own their successes”.

There’s a popular saying that goes “We all don’t know what we are doing”. Is this really true? And if Yes, to what degree is this true and does it affect certain people more than others?

Most times we suffer from Impostor syndrome because we set unrealistic high standards for ourselves or extremely strong notions of what competency means to us.

There are different sets of people who are mostly hit hard by this syndrome;

  • Superstars — This set of people feel the need to succeed in every aspect of life and always feel stressed and frustrated when they are not accomplishing something. They push themselves to work extremely harder than those around them to always prove that they’re not impostors.
  • “Independent-ists” — They feel they have to accomplish every task on their own, and if they ever need to ask for help, they think that means they are a failure or a fraud.
  • Purists/Perfectionists — If you are a perfectionist you’d find yourself setting extremely high expectations for yourself, and even if you meet a high percentage of those goals, you’re still going to feel like you failed. Any little mistake will make you question your own competence.
  • Pundits — If you are in this category you will always feel the need to know every piece of information before you start anything, a project, a meeting, a book, an article, anything! You are constantly looking for new certifications or training to improve your skills. This set of people won’t apply for a job or go for opportunities if they feel that they don’t meet all the criteria listed, and they may also be hesitant to ask a question or contribute in a meeting at work because they’re afraid of looking stupid and think that everyone expects them to already know the answer.

Simple Steps to Managing Impostor syndrome

Accept that it’s okay to feel like a fraud

Acknowledge these thoughts and talk about this with people you trust, or with people who may be going through the same, especially with people who may have more experience. It can be very relieving to know that other people have the same issues and you may feel better about your own situation.

There are times you really feel like a fraud, it happens to everyone. You have to realize that just because you may feel that way doesn’t mean that you are.

Respond to failure well

Don’t beat yourself up when you make mistakes, failing gives you the chance to redo an activity with even more insight. Take the lesson from your failure and move on, with the mindset of doing better next time.

Never harbor thoughts around being able to know all, you can and should be free to NOT know all, what matters is how you respond to these situations when they spring up. You should give yourself a break and ask for help if and when you need to. Always know that you have just as much right as the next person to be wrong, have an off-day, or ask for assistance.

When situations like this arise, you must continue to do excellent work, and intentionally forgive yourself when you make any mistakes.

Reframe your thoughts

Take note of the mind games and thoughts that run through your mind when you start to feel like a fraud, when you are in situations that trigger those thoughts you can always change the scenarios in your head. Example: In a room filled with other Product people/Stakeholders, instead of thinking “Well, I am not familiar with what Ms. A or Mr. B are saying about this process or tool”, you change that to “There’s so much more to learn, I may not know these things now but I’m smart enough to know them”, then go ahead and learn more.

Also, when you catch yourself thinking of how you will flop during stand-up meetings or a presentation or whatever, try and change the scenario in your mind to you doing an excellent job and everyone being impressed with your work.

Learn to value constructive criticism

You have to understand that no one is “attacking” you when they point out your flaws. Always know that the more you practice a skill, the better you will get at it, and soon you will be an expert.

Build confidence

Try to stop seeking validation from others, it starts from yourself, tell yourself you’re doing well. You can have talking sessions with yourself or write it in a journal if you must, but always tell yourself you are doing well.

If you catch yourself lacking in a specific skill, saying “Oh I’d just wing it when the time comes for me to do that” poses more harm than good, this only drives home your imaginary ineptness. So, instead, look at people who have succeeded in that skill and follow what they did to become that way.

In summary, one of the most effective ways to stop feeling like an impostor is to stop thinking like an impostor. Be optimistic, handle your failures better and build your confidence.



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