Have you ever wondered about your professional life, “What if people find out I don’t have enough experience, am not that smart, don’t have enough talent…?”
If you have ever had these or similar thoughts, know you are not alone. I know because I hear sentiments like these all the time in my work.
For many reasons, some of which I’ll cover below, it seems common for ADHD Adults to wonder, “How did I get here and when will ‘they’ find out I really can’t do ‘it’?” This question often comes from feelings of not being enough — of feeling like an imposter.
We all feel like this at times. It becomes problematic, though, when these feelings lead you to act in a way that keeps you from achieving what you want.
But, when you are aware of these feelings and know how to address them, occasional thoughts like these don’t need to hold you back. So, let’s get on to seeing how you can manage your feeling of being an imposter when they arise.
How Your ADHD Can Contribute To Your Feelings of Being an Imposter
First, it is important to understand how your ADHD symptoms may magnify feeling like an imposter, as this understanding can be helpful in pointing you to the right solutions.
While Tania is fictional, to be sure, the snapshot below illustrates the common scenarios adults with ADHD can experience.
Tania, who is Director of Marketing, had the 1:00 pm Director’s meeting in her calendar, and she had reviewed her calendar that morning. But a ½ hour before the meeting she decided to start working on a report that was overdue, lost track of time and ended up being 15 minutes late to the meeting.
Then about 20 minutes after arriving she realized she had missed a large chunk of what they were saying because she was distracted thinking about the project she was working on. She managed to bring her attention back to the meeting…
But, when she needed to give her report, she had a difficult time processing and explaining one of the concepts on the fly because of her challenges with working memory. Looking out at the face of her colleagues all she could see were quizzical faces.
And all she could think was, “See, they are thinking I don’t know what I’m doing!”
I’m guessing you’ve had some of these experiences, too, right?
In fact, Tania was incredibly talented and knew the marketing content inside out, which is why she was hired to be Director of Marketing. But because she still felt like a fraud she was ready to give up — quit.
Until she decided to get help.
How “Acting As If” Can Help You Manage Your Feelings Of Being An Imposter
One antidote to feeling like an imposter is to “act as if.” When you do this you adopt the persona of the person you aspire to be even when you are not entirely convinced you can do this.
If it sounds hard to do, it is!
It will take an act of faith to adopt this perspective— state of mind — in spite of your doubts.
Let me illustrate by sharing how Tania was able to do this.
When Tania first started in her marketing career, she definitely felt like an imposter. And every mistake she made, which there were many, just reinforced she didn’t know what she was doing. So, of course, her confidence was wobbly at best.
She felt like she was just fooling her colleagues and boss. And, at times she was tempted to give up. At other times she thought she just had to work harder and longer hours — be a perfectionist. But she persisted, grew professionally and was eventually promoted to her current position as Director of Marketing.
Yet, as you saw above, she still felt like an impostor. Then she learned to “act as if.” In part she did this by reminding herself she had exceptional marketing skills and her challenges, some of which were related to her ADHD, did not diminish this expertise — strength.
She also learned how to work with her ADHD by building muscles in areas she wanted to improve. And, just as important, she became better at delegating and negotiating so she was not spending as much of her time doing tasks that were challenging for her.
And when she wanted to give up she remembered that it was temporary. While she still feels like an imposter at times, she can identify these feelings quickly and use strategies for managing them.
Below are some of the strategies you can use to help you “act as if.”
Focus on What You Can Offer, Rather Than Where You Fall Short
Like Tania, many adults with ADHD can feel like an imposter in part because of the ways they feel they fall short due to their ADHD symptoms.
One way to counter these feelings is to remember the strengths and gifts you bring to the table, and continue to strengthen these so they don’t atrophy because you are only focused on shoring up your weaknesses.
To focus on your strengths:
- Acknowledge and own them. Is your strength using a particular skill, thinking creatively – outside the box, being compassionate, being tenacious, operating well in a crisis, etc.?
- Whatever your strengths are, remember to use them in your various roles and activities, including your professional life.
- Continue to strengthen and cultivate them to help you reach your goals.
If your habit now is to focus on trying to fix your weaknesses, rather than leveraging your strengths, you might be contributing to your feeling of being an imposter.
It is not about being perfect, whatever that means to you. It is about doing the best with what you have.
Not sure what strengths you have? Check out these strategies you can use to identify your strengths in Want To Become The Best Version of Yourself, Too?
Stop Comparing Yourself To Others
Another way you may be contributing to your feelings of being an imposter is by comparing yourself to others, and as an adult with ADHD it is all too easy to fall into this trap. I know.
Have you ever uttered a variation of one of the phrases below?
- “But everyone else seems to be able to do it.”
- “Why is this so hard for me when it is so easy for everyone else?”
- “I wish I could do ____ like____.”
The danger in comparing yourself to others is that, over time, you may internalize these comparisons as rules you think you should follow. And, when you aren’t able to abide by these rules because it is just not the best way for you to operate, your feelings of being an imposter are magnified.
So, when you find yourself thinking you should be able to operate like someone else, pause for a moment and question your thinking, “Do I really know my assumptions about ‘them’ are true or is it possible I am jumping to conclusions?”
And remind yourself, “Everyone has their own struggles, challenges and insecurities, though I may not be able to see them. While my weakness may be their strength, my strength may be their weakness.”
Everyone else is not you, right? And comparing yourself to others can only feed your feelings of being an imposter. So, rather than looking to others, thinking you should be able to do what you imagine they can do, focus on leveraging your unique strengths.
Because when you get to this place you’ll be able to creatively engineer your life in a way that works for you, and demonstrates your innate talents and learned skills.
Acknowledge Your Efforts in Getting Where You Are
Another way you may be contributing to your feelings of being an imposter is by attributing your success to luck or outside help, rather than your own efforts. You do this when you filter out the positive information that more accurately reflects the totality of your experience.
Not only does this distorted thinking contribute to your feelings of being an imposter, but it also can hinder you from believing you have the capacity — agency — to be able to excel. Because when you don’t think your efforts will pay off, you may just stop trying.
I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it. ~ Thomas Jefferson
So, take a few moments to list the actions you have taken in the past year or so to get to where you are. I bet you’ll see that your efforts have helped you achieve what you have.
Daily Strategies to Remember to Remember
When you are in the moment and feeling like a fraud you may not remember all the above. After all remembering to remember is one of the challenges for adults with ADHD. Use one of the strategies below to remind yourself of what you know.
Make a vision board/collage filled with as many details as possible of who you are at your best when you operating from a place of your strengths. A visual like this can help remind you and guide you to “act as if.”
Create positive “I Am” statements to remind yourself of who you are and your role in creating what you want, such as “I am a successful ______,” “I am competent in ______,” “I am an effective _______.” Place where you will see them, like your bathroom mirror, computer screen, car dashboard.
Write in a journal each day describing how you used your strengths and how that helped you make a contribution in your workplace.
Rewrite your old tapes by creating and using positive self-talk.
Go ahead, choose one to try.
Questions For You
Feeling like an imposter is a pervasive problem. And while this feeling may sneak up on your occasionally, it does not have to hold you back.
When do you feel like an imposter? Which of the above strategies can you try today to manage this feeling?