How Do You Overcome Imposter Syndrome as a Millennial Developing in Your Own Career?
By Dan Baum
Today, I'm a paid media specialist at IMPACT. But when I started working at the company, I was a 22-year-old who was fresh out of college.
As a recent grad, I wasn’t only the youngest member of my team, but also the youngest employee at IMPACT.
So, initially, my mentality was:
"What am I doing? I'm just a kid. I just graduated college. I'm entering a field I know very little about. And I'm surrounded by some of the smartest marketing professionals I've ever met. No way I belong here."
To be clear, I'm not sharing this to throw my own pity party.
To this day, I absolutely love that I get to work with people who come from such a diverse range of backgrounds and different experiences.
With that said, however, there are definitely still days where I feel like an imposter, or that I don’t really “belong.”
It’s not that I don’t consider myself a key part of the team or that the value I bring to the company isn’t enough. But when you’re surrounded by people who seem to be much further ahead, it can definitely feel like you can’t keep up. Or that you can sometimes go overlooked by others you don’t work with on a daily basis.
Millennials: stereotypes vs. reality
Unfortunately, this feeling can be perpetuated by negative coverage of the millennial generation — those born between (depending on who you ask) 1981 and 1996:
I don’t know about everyone else but, even though not every publication is jumping on the "Millennials are ruining everything!" bandwagon, hearing things like that gets me heated. We get grouped together into this homogenous collective that has the power to all of a sudden “destroy” something? It seems a little far-fetched.
Unfortunately, some have carried over this narrative into the workplace.
Depending on who you talk to, there are people out there who believe that being young at work in 2019 is not necessarily a positive. Some say we want a pat on the back every time we do something right, or that we’re digital addicts, or we lack the work ethic of our predecessors.
The reality, however, is that our generation is dealing with a unique set of challenges.
We want to save to buy a home in a market that is becoming increasingly more difficult for first-time homebuyers to navigate. We want to get a job, so that we can start paying off tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. We want to have our own families, but we worry we won't ever be able to afford to. And, looking down the road, we want to be able to retire at some day — but will we be able to?
Between the stereotypes of Millennials and the actual stresses we face, workplace confidence can sometimes be in short supply.
This confidence deficit is impacting an entire generation of employees
When I was researching this topic, I came across an interesting statistic:
More than 70% of millennials have what is called “imposter syndrome.”
This psychological phenomenon was first discovered in the 1970s. At a high level, people who have impostor syndrome “experience intense feelings that their achievements are undeserved and that they’re likely to be exposed as a fraud,” according to a report in the International Journal of Behavioral Science.
According to the same report, “anyone can view themselves as an impostor if they fail to internalize their success.”
Ironically enough, the people who feel this way are almost always able to meet the requirements of their job, so their fears of inadequacy are literally just that... fears.
I suffered deeply from imposter syndrome when I started at IMPACT. I would listen in on meetings and calls with clients and hear some of the amazing ideas the people around me had. Like next-level stuff.
My reaction? I never wanted to participate. I was afraid my ideas or suggestions would “expose” to everyone else that I really didn’t belong in my position.
I felt like I had to hide my knowledge (or lack thereof) if I wanted to stay at the company. At least until a point where I could catch up to the brilliant colleagues I was working with. I was so hung up on not wanting to look like a total beginner that it actually hampered my ability to grow.
It was an irrational fear. No one expected me to be at the same place as everyone else, because I couldn’t possibly be. And there was nothing wrong with that!
For a long time, I struggled to get over the lack of confidence I had at the beginning of my time here at IMPACT, and to realize that it’s OK to not know everything when you are first starting out.
In those times, it can be easy to sit and wait for some external force to come in and take your hand to help you through it — whether it is a coworker or some magic book with all the answers.
But when you fail to internalize your success, you are usually internalizing your shortcomings. As in, no one else knows those crazy thoughts you’re having, and no one else can help you through it but yourself.
As clichéd as it may sound, you’re in control of your own destiny.
You own your path. You have to work through those kinds of insecurities on your own.
How to help yourself overcome imposter syndrome
Easier said than done though, am I right?
Everyone has their own method of working through feeling like an imposter, but here’s what I did to get me out of my shell:
1. Get out of the office with your coworkers
There’s nothing worse than feeling like no one knows the value you bring that, apart from your regular day-to-day team, the rest of the company doesn’t know your strengths. It can be hard to raise your hand and say, "Hey! Look at me — I’m good at what I do."
That’s why it’s essential to get to know the rest of your team outside of the office. Having conversations with people you don’t talk to every day can really open their eyes as to what a smart cookie you actually are.
For me, the biggest relief from the “imposter” feeling was a conversation I had with IMPACT COO Chris Duprey. We were out with a few other coworkers and we started chatting. After some time, I finally mentioned that I can be hesitant to participate or make my voice heard because I felt that my age had an effect on it.
His response was great: “Get that sh*t out of your head right now. You are a member of the team just like anyone else is, and your opinions matter just as much as mine do.”
That simple conversation was enough to flip my whole perspective of my situation around.
2. Own something valuable
This helped me more so when it came to my team — the paid media team here at IMPACT. We were talking about how we were having trouble visualizing what our clients were paying vs how much work we were doing.
Just by putting in an extra two hours one Tuesday night, I was able to get everything into one document that helped us all out. It sounds silly, but that small bit of extra work made everyone’s week a tad easier. And that felt really good.
Even if it’s a small roadblock that won't take a ton of work to overcome, if your team is struggling with something, they will be more than appreciative of you being someone who helped solve a problem. No one needs to know it only took you a couple hours to solve.
3. Write something compelling and useful
The logic behind this one is beautiful.
What do you do every day? You are getting paid to do that thing, right? Would someone else, whether it’s a member of your team or someone else out there on the internet, also want to know how to do that thing?
If so, then write it down.
As a Google Ads specialist, my teammate Jason Linde and I were seeing the same problems over and over again with the accounts we were managing. So, much to Jason’s dismay, I volunteered us to write a pillar page on Google Ads.
It took us close to a month of collaborating and writing and editing — on top of our already very heavy workloads — to finish it. But, once it went live, people were impressed. Coworkers. Company leaders. Clients. Prospects.
The added respect for writing something for the good of the company and solving a lot of peoples' issues with Google Ads made the return of a couple hours per week worth of writing totally worth it a hundred times over, based on how it made me feel outside of work.
There was a clear shift in how I perceived myself, and that confidence boost really helped overcome that “imposter” feeling.
You will find your own path
Again, these things worked wonders for my self-esteem and attitude towards my job, and I highly recommend you try them – but what gets you out of your own head and viewing yourself as a valued member of the team might be different.
All in all, yes. You are young. You might not have much experience to bring to the table. But you still have plenty of value to offer. Because, more than anything, you just want to learn everything you possibly can.
Being young and less experienced than those around you doesn't have to be a disadvantage, and you have the opportunity of absorbing years worth of experience. You’re in the middle of a crash course on life — so get your pen out and take some notes.
Wondering where to begin?