3 Tips for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome As Your Career Advances

Q&A with Sharon Winterton, VP Customer Success, Catalina

Like many women, along my professional journey I identified the VP title as my “dream role.” I knew that a VP role would be harder to attain because there are fewer of them within a company structure. Recognizing my journey could be a long one, I remained focused and ambitious.

At the end of 2020, I learned that Catalina was establishing a Customer Success discipline within our Commercial organization, and the first step would be internally filling a VP position to establish and lead this new function. Essentially, the opportunity I was working so hard to capture suddenly was right in front of me.

Not long after, I was offered the position, securing a role I had aspired to and worked toward for years.

When the company email went out announcing my promotion, after 19 years at Catalina, I was overwhelmed and humbled at the reaction from coworkers. The messages that caught me off-guard were from fellow women “lifers” who said they were proud of me. I realized that working my way up from an individual contributor in 2001 to a VP in 2020 was not only a success for me but encouraging for others as well.

My success was an affirmation that “lifers” could experience growth, recognition, and professional excellence without moving from company to company. I share all of this, not to say how wonderful and deserving I am of this new role, but to give context for what happened next.

I freaked out.

Before I went to bed the day I was promoted, little doubts started creeping in.

  • You’ve never done Customer Success before. How do you plan to lead through this change?

  • There’s so much to do. Where are you going to start?

  • Wait…what??? You don’t even know where to start?

  • What about those people who said they were proud of you? What are they going to think when you fail? You’re going to make it harder for others to get promoted from within.

By the end of the first week, I was exhausted from the effort of trying to appear confident and competent through various meetings and conversations about my new role. I was so buried in self-doubt that I had no creative energy left to build anything. Which, of course, only escalated the voices in my head telling me I was going to fail and let all these people down.

Over the weekend, I was asking myself, “What is wrong with you? Why are you doing this to yourself?” So, like I do for every self-diagnosis, I Googled. After hitting search on “feeling not good enough at work,” the first article I saw mentioned a phenomenon called “Imposter Syndrome.” It struck a chord, so I kept reading.

After 30 minutes of scrolling through articles and LinkedIn posts about Imposter Syndrome, I was incredibly relieved. I wasn’t crazy! This happens to other people too! So, why was this the first time I heard about it?

Probably because part of the lie of Imposter Syndrome is that you can’t admit to it, because what if that negative voice is right?

Overall, just realizing that I wasn’t alone made me feel so much better. However, this isn’t a “diagnose and fix” kind of thing. I’ve struggled with this for years, and I will continue to, even now that I’ve achieved my “dream level” professionally. However, I did learn some strategies that I apply when the doubts and insecurities sneak in.

1. Name it.

Recognizing negative thoughts for what they are and interrupting myself can keep that anxiety from building. One LinkedIn interview went so far as to name the nag inside her head, making it easier to talk back. I decided to name my nag Angie. “Wow. You didn’t think of that yet? Why don’t you have a plan for this? You have so many blind spots. WAIT. Stop it, Angie.”

2. Reframe it.

Because “Angie” can make a pretty compelling case, it’s important to build a counterargument. “Right. I didn’t have a plan for this, and I do have blind spots. That’s why I’m building this new function out in the open, bringing in people who are closest to the work to help. I’ve led major changes to improve things for our customers before, and I will work to earn the trust of this team.”

3. Own it.

I’ve started to discuss these feelings with my inner circle. I’ve often found that just airing these sentiments helps me be more self-aware. When I encounter feelings of self-doubt, I remind myself of why I was chosen for this role. Maybe I wasn’t chosen for my Customer Success credentials (I’m building them as I go), but I have a proven track record of leading change with my company. I have also been a passionate culture carrier with various teams, and those capabilities will be critical to our success with this transformation.
In the words of Judy Blume, “Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.”

Originally published in Women of Martech’s “In Her Shoes” Blog