Nix Imposter Syndrome – develop Insider Syndrome instead

Note: This is part 2 of a series from my “What is Empowerment?” presentation at Google’s Women in Tech conference in March 2018.

So many people – 70% of people, actually! – have experienced Imposter Syndrome: the feeling that we don’t belong, we’re not good enough, everyone else knows more than we do, and that at any moment, the people around us are going to realize this and laugh us out of the room.

This feeling is not only really, really effective at undermining our confidence, it’s also extremely isolating. We don’t want anyone to notice that we’re imposters, so we don’t want anyone to know that we’re even entertaining the thought that we might be imposters – so we stay silent and miss out on the opportunity to check these feelings with trusted friends and colleagues.

It can feel like the pit of despair:

…and like the pit of despair, it doesn’t have to be as scary as it seems at first. Instead of wallowing in these feelings, I propose trying something else: the exact opposite of Imposter Syndrome, which I’ll call “Insider Syndrome.” With Insider Syndrome, you’re free to believe – or just pretend to believe! – all of the following:

  • I ABSOLUTELY belong
  • Everyone in the room is excited to hear what I have to say
  • Not only am I just as deserving of being here as anyone else, but in addition…
  • I have valuable things to contribute that no one else can provide.

Whether you’re fully bought into these ideas or not doesn’t really matter, as long as you can decide to commit to the role for a limited period of time and see where it gets you. It’s a “fake it ’til you make it” situation.

The first time I fully embraced this outlook was career-changing for me. I had an interview for a Project Manager position at small agency. I didn’t *really* want that job – I’d been working as a PM, but I wanted to get into analytics instead – so it was a low-pressure situation. I started wondering…what would happen if, instead of going into the interview with the attitude that I needed to prove I was good enough to get hired, I instead went in thinking of myself as the CEO of Angela Incorporated, who was trying to decide whether or not to enter my business into a partnership with my interviewers.

I met first with the hiring manager, and things went well. I stayed focused on bigger picture items like project goals and KPIs, and stayed away from budgeting and timelines. After another couple of interviews, the hiring manager came back. “I just talked with the CEO about you, and he really wants to meet you. Is there any way you could stay just a little longer to meet him?” he asked.

My immediate first response was to panic a little bit inside. I’d been able to convince the other PMs with my CEO act, but surely an *actual* CEO would see through it right away. But then I thought, what an awesome opportunity to see if I can hold my own in that conversation! I decided to double down, and said I’d love to meet him.

Again, I stayed focused on the bigger picture – I unabashedly gave my thoughts around positioning and messaging, and talked about the agency’s overall goals for this client relationship. Not only did he keep talking, but he offered me the job on the spot.


I decided to double down again. I said that I appreciated the offer, and I liked the people I’d met, but I didn’t think the job was the right fit for me. I really wanted to focus on analytics.

He said, no problem. We really need a PM for this specific project, but we could transition you into an analytics role within 3 months. What kind of a salary do you need?

Why not double down again?? I said a number that seemed exorbitant to me at the time.

He said, “We can do that.”

I told him I’d need to sleep on it and headed home, a little shellshocked. The next day, I decided it really wasn’t the right job for me. I declined.

They came back, later that day, with an offer 10% higher than what I’d asked for.

I slept on it again. And then I declined again.

They came back, again, with *another* offer, another 10% higher.

I’ll admit that the salary increase made me pause and rethink – who doesn’t like a higher salary? – but the compelling thought was this: what would it be like to work at a place that was *so excited* to work with Angela-the-CEO? What would happen if I did take the job? Where could that take me?

That idea made me say yes.

The following year was transformative. In many ways, it would have been easier to lean on the tactical skills I’d developed and refined at my previous job, but the company expected me to be the person I was in my interview. I did everything I could to live up to that – translating that CEO mindset into daily behaviors and cementing them with repetition. In the process, I learned:

  • The power of asking for what you really want
  • The importance of following that “I wonder what would happen if…” urge – aka curiosity
  • “Fake it ’til you make it” works – if you’re faking the right thing.

That last point is the most interesting, and here’s why: I DID fake something, but it wasn’t my skills. I faked confidence. The person who emerged, enabled by that (faked) confidence boost, was still me. I was more capable and badass than I thought I was; I just didn’t know it, so I hadn’t been acting that way. Faking the confidence was enough to reveal that I absolutely could be the CEO of Angela.

And by the way, the company kept the promise to transition me into analytics after a few months, which led me to beginning to teach and speak about analytics, which led to my next job, which led to my analytics consulting business. And here we are. 🙂

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