nicole bensen

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

The subject line: “Congratulations! The SVBJ wants to name you a Woman of Influence this year.” 

My first thought: “This must be a mistake. The Silicon Valley Business Journal has no idea who I am.”

Then: “This is probably one of those clickbait subject lines where they’re just inviting me to APPLY to be considered.”

Then: “It’s probably spam.”

So naturally, I ignored the email. 

Then I got a text from the person who had nominated me, and she was sending a note of congratulations. My thought then, “Oh no, she must have lied about me on the nomination form. This is going to be so embarrassing when they have to rescind the award.” 

So…I didn’t tell anyone about the award for a while because I thought it was an error, and the organizers would soon figure out I hadn’t actually done anything worthy of recognition. 

Fast-forward a month—my sister bought an entire table for the awards dinner. I now had (got!) to invite people to join me at this event…people who know me and know I’m not a “Woman of Influence.”

UGH. This was supposed to be a moment where I felt grateful and proud, but I didn’t feel worthy.

The Tentacles and Tea table at The Silicon Valley Business Journal awards dinner.
The Tentacles and Tea table

Have you ever felt like this? 

Yeah…that’s called Imposter Syndrome — feeling like you’re not as smart as the people around you, or that you somehow got lucky and didn’t earn your seat at the table. 

Did I happen to mention that I teach people how to overcome Imposter Syndrome, and here I was sitting smack dab in the middle of an Imposter Syndrome mud puddle myself? #oof  

But the thing is, it can happen over and over, and each time you’re not a majority of a group, or you’re breaking a glass ceiling, or you’re doing something you’ve never done before (new job, new role), it can strike. 


So, how do you overcome Imposter Syndrome?  

  1. First, talk about it! The more we normalize it, the less scary it becomes.
  2. Remember, you’re not alone. People from Maya Angelou to Tom Hanks have publicly talked about having moments of feeling like a fraud.
  3. Challenge those inner thoughts telling you you don’t belong. Grab my STAR sheet if you want to get really analytical with one thought. You can go through the 4-page sheet alone or ask a friend to coach you through the questions. (No sign-up needed, just download it and go!)
  4. Keep a running list of your accomplishments to remind yourself of what you’ve overcome and/or done.
  5. Pause to acknowledge each win when it happens. Say it out loud. Feel it in your body. Try not to just rush to the next thing on your to-do list because letting that accomplishment sink in will help build confidence and overcome future Imposter Syndrome moments.
Photo at Women of Influence 2022
Nicole Bensen: Silicon Valley Business Journal Woman of Influence

And (points to #2 again), remember, you’re not alone.


P.S. In case you missed it, the 6-word memoir I shared on stage was, “Emulating an octopus. Ask me why.” Here’s the 2.5-minute answer.

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