Imposter Syndrome: Get Over It


Many Millennials, including myself, struggle with imposter syndrome and feelings of inadequacy. As we enter or approach our 30’s, we may still feel like we don’t have the experience or knowledge required to meaningfully contribute, especially if we’ve always been the youngest person in the room. I started my career at SAGE in the lowest entry-level position. Over the past five years, I’ve worked my way up to a supervisory role and established great relationships by focusing on a few simple strategies.

Pick a Niche
My father always told me, “The best way to keep a job is to make yourself indispensable.” One of the ways I’ve done that is by picking a subject in which no one, or only a few others, was knowledgeable and becoming the expert. In your office, is there a topic everyone is aware of, but no one has yet become the expert?

Once you identify that topic or area, engage your manager for his or her support in learning something new, and then take ownership. Learn everything you possibly can about it and become the subject matter expert (SME). Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone or beyond the scope of your current role. Your niche can be anything from being the best at digitizing a logo, to knowing everything about a specific decoration or shipping method to studying a legal matter that affects your company.

Be confident in the knowledge that you’ve gained and, most importantly, share it with others in a respectful way. Ask your manager to help spread the word that the topic is your specialty or put together a training presentation for the rest of the team. Anytime you’re asked for assistance on that topic, thank them for coming to you and freely share your knowledge. Each time you’re helpful, word will spread and soon you’ll become the point person on that subject in the office.

Build Integrity
Integrity is defined as the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. In an office setting, integrity is one of the most influential tools at your disposal. Integrity isn’t something that you’re born with, and it isn’t something you can be immediately known for once you step into a new role. It’s something you must build and maintain over time, and your value as an employee will grow with it.

Most importantly, always be honest and transparent. This can be difficult for people-pleasing Millennials, but it is vital. You must be up-front about what you can and cannot do, especially on things like meeting deadlines. Don’t be afraid to pass on additional projects or duties if you already feel like you have too much on your plate. Integrity is also strengthened when you don’t participate in office gossip, avoid staying out late when you have to work in the morning and decline a toxic coworker’s invitation to lunch. Know and embrace your limits, and push them only when you have the room to grow and time to focus on the challenge.

Lastly, take accountability and ownership of your mistakes. Admit when you’re wrong, apologize sincerely and fix the issue as best you can. Don’t dwell on the error or beat yourself up but learn from the situation and focus on doing better at the next opportunity.

Maintain Your Composure
Professionals act as they must, not as they feel. Millennials have a strong focus on emotional intelligence and mental health, which puts us at an advantage when it comes to being in touch with our feelings. However, when the pressure is on at the office, it can be difficult to know if we are presenting ourselves at our best.

First and foremost, don’t take things personally. It can be tempting to be emotionally invested in an experience, but when things go wrong and someone is upset with you, don’t forget to remind yourself that you’ve done your best. Take your time in reacting. Instead of assuming the worst, ask questions. Get the full picture before you react to something negative to avoid saying something you may regret later. When you do respond, choose your words carefully and keep it short and sweet.

If you do find yourself getting emotional at work, excuse yourself as quickly as possible. Take a walk if you can, even if it’s just to the restroom or break room for a moment to compose yourself. Take deep breaths—in through your nose and out through your mouth—and focus on letting go of the strongest part of your emotion. Think of someone you look up to and try to imagine how that person would respond to the situation that you’re in or imagine how you’ll view this incident in the future. This is a great way to remind yourself to behave in a way that will make you look back with pride instead of regret.

Share Your Ideas
It’s daunting to make a suggestion at work, especially if you’re not yet sure about how management reacts to new ideas. To make sure that my ideas are taken seriously, I take steps to ensure that the idea I have is unique, high-quality and relates to something that truly needs improvement.

Focus a critical eye on the processes you’ve been taught or observed in your position and locate the pain points. Is there a process that could be simplified? Is there someone who has too much on their plate? Is there an issue that’s being ignored? Is there a task that everyone avoids doing because it’s time-consuming or difficult?

If you identify anything that can be improved, come up with a few strategies and present them to your manager. Be respectful of your manager’s time and concisely communicate your ideas in terms of cost and hours needed to carry out your plan, versus profit gained and time saved. Ideally, management will adopt your idea, and you’ll have a feather in your cap for your review at the end of the year. Worst case scenario, you showed an interest in making things better and your ideas and opinions may be sought out next time. The answer is always “no” unless you ask.

Be Your Best Self
I take a hard look at myself at least once a year to ensure that I’m doing my best. I ask myself: do I have a positive attitude? Am I consistent? What have I accomplished this year? What could I have done better? I establish and write down achievable goals, share them with friends and family, and hold myself accountable to them. By making a conscious effort to improve yourself year over year, you’ll ensure that you’re the best you can be, both professionally and personally. By focusing on your progress, you’ll be able to remind yourself of your accomplishments, feel like a valued part of your team and fight off that imposter syndrome. 

Listen In
For more on making your presence known in the office, check out the SPARK 2017 session “Making Your Mark” with Mary Ellen Harden, president of Wall Street Greetings. This 60-minute session is available via archived recording 24/7 on PPAI’s Online Education portal: https://onlineeducation. ppai.org/products/spark- 2017-making-your-mark

Join Us In San Antonio
If you’re a young professional in the promotional industry, we’d love to see you at SPARK Conference 2020 in San Antonio, Texas, July 15-17. This event will help you learn and connect with topics specific to the beginning stages of a career—and expand your network of colleagues who can help you. Seats are still available at press time. Register today at www.ppai.org/events/spark.

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Kacie Brinner is the information services project supervisor and Prop 65 SME at industry business services provider SAGE and a volunteer leader with SPARK, the industry network for young professionals.

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