Product Manager imposter syndrome and how to beat it

Just about every product manager and aspiring pm I know struggles with imposter syndrome periodically. Product managers are particularly susceptible to Imposter Syndrome. The combined personality traits of high achievement and perfectionism tend to make excellent product managers. But it’s these two things that, unfortunately, also lead to Imposter Syndrome.

The tricky paradox of Imposter Syndrome is this:

1. The very things that make you a good product manager are the same things that make you feel like you shouldn’t be a product manager.

And …

2. The more success you have as a product manager, the worse your Imposter Syndrome can get because you attribute your accomplishments to mere luck rather than coming from your hard work and expertise.

Does this sound like you?

🤔 I’m not technical enough.

🤔 I don’t deserve to be this senior.

🤔 I can’t ask for a raise because I’m not good enough.

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you probably struggle with Imposter Syndrome. 

What exactly is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome is a phenomenon where you have trouble internalizing and realizing your successes. Instead of seeing the “wins” as a product of your hard work and talent, you attribute them to an outside source, like getting lucky or being at the right place at the right time.

You may struggle with Imposter syndrome if you fear that it’s only a matter of time before you’re found out, and people will realize the truth behind your success. Your cover will be blown, and others will finally see you as you are: a fraud, a fake, an imposter. But it doesn’t have to be like this! Keep reading, and I’ll share a few tips that work. 

5 steps to overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Here are the 5 steps I recommend for overcoming that dreaded career stumbling block known as Imposter Syndrome.

  1. Name the voice inside of your head – The best way I’ve found to shift one’s mindset proactively is to treat that voice inside your head as though it was another person. And when it’s time to do something that might normally cause anxiety, such as getting a performance review, you can tell that Negative Nancy or Debbie Downer “You stay here while I crush this roadmap presentation!”

    Alternatively, you can come up with a positive alter-ego to pump yourself up when you need it. Want to channel your inner Beyonce? Create your own Sasha Fierce persona and use that to overcome those moments when you need a boost of confidence.
  2. Use data – If you’re a product manager, you’re already using data to make informed product decisions, right? Well, then, the next time you find yourself questioning if you’re good enough, if you’re capable, etc., look at the situation as though you were helping someone else. What evidence is there that shows you are capable? What evidence shows that you have successfully accomplished something? By focusing on data and your wins, you will develop your confidence. 
  3. Talk to your champions – Being vulnerable enough to share your inadequacy feelings is not something we’re all capable of. But if you have a mentor or someone who serves as your personal cheerleader, reach out to them and ask for help. If you’re considering asking for a new role but are afraid you’ll be rejected, ask your cheerleader friend, “Hey, I want to apply for a new role on another team, but I feel like I’m not qualified. Would you mind helping me evaluate if I’m a good fit? I think having an outside perspective would be helpful.” Need help finding a champion? Check out my article on how to connect with other product managers.
  4. Work with a coach – If you don’t have someone you can enlist to help you shift your mindset, consider hiring a coach. A career coach can help you break the pattern that leads to imposter syndrome. I offer coaching for product managers at all stages of their careers and you can learn more here.
  5. Create a ta-da list – Acknowledge your victories and success, both big and small. I’ll end on an easy-to-implement suggestion that we all can benefit from, whether you struggle with Imposter Syndrome or not. Product managers are often our worst critics. It’s not easy to think about all the great things that happen when we’re busy critiquing how to make our products better. Spend a few minutes every week reflecting on your successes and job them down. Not only is this a helpful tool when performance evaluations are due, but it’s also an excellent tool for helping to shift your mindset so that you can see how effective and capable you truly are.

In my 25 years of experience as a product management leader, I’ve noticed a pattern that people struggling with Imposter Syndrome tend to do so when they are at a point in their career when they are about to make a change. The more senior you become, the more that’s expected of you. And you may not necessarily feel that you are ready for the next stage of your career.

By following these steps, you should be able to push those feelings of inadequacy aside and become more comfortable with the great product manager you can become.

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