Women Of The Channel: How To Beat The 'Imposter Syndrome' And Give Success Your Own Definition

The Imposter Trap

In an effort to break out of her comfort zone, Wendy Petty, executive director of global channel sales for Verizon Enterprise Solutions, hosted a keynote panel on how to avoid the trap of the dreaded "Imposter Syndrome" -- a feeling that causes accomplished, successful people to feel like they are frauds and are about to get "caught" not knowing what they are doing or how they even landed in the career position that they are in.

The panel included executives from a variety of industries, including fashion, toys and technology, and they all weighed in on their own "imposter" experiences and how they've managed the emotions by building up their own confidence and finding their value.

Here are tips and insight from the panel on how to avoid falling into the trap of feeling like you don't belong and go about claiming your value.

Acknowledging T he Problem

Karyn Schoenbart, CEO of The NPD Group, used to live in fear that everyone would find out she likes reading People Magazine, which would call into question whether she was really cut out for her job. That's until she learned that many others felt the exact same way -- the fear that their positions within their companies would be called into question, or that maybe on some level, they weren't quite good enough.

"It was liberating to learn that others felt this way," she said. "What I want to get to is how do we get over that, take the opportunities, and be more confident."

'Imposter Syndrome' Doesn't Only Plague Women

Ralph Schipani, CEO of Nine West Holdings, had never heard of the "Imposter Syndrome," but after learning what it meant realized he was afflicted too. Schipani has held a number of positions across several industries, including printing, chemicals and food. When he was asked to become the interim CEO of fashion company Nine West, Schipani said that he immediately felt like he didn't have the credibility, experience or wherewithal to pull it off.

"Even after acting as CEO of a $1.8 billion company for three years and proving to people I can do it, I'm still sitting here thinking, 'Are you sure?'" he told the audience. "It's important to identify the fact that men feel that way, too."

What has helped Schipani overcome the feeling of being thought of as an imposter is finding mentors along the way he can confide in about these feelings and who can reassure him that he is doing the things that he thinks he can't. "Those people are one of the main reasons I'm here today," he said.

Stretch Opportunities

Katy Giffault, vice president of global consumer insights for Hasbro, also has held a number of positions across diverse industries, but she's never experienced the "Imposter Syndrome." That's because she realized that her work experiences, which have varied greatly, would all be new to her in the beginning.

"I went from the wireless industry, to aerospace, to toys, so my experience has always been unique," she explained.

Giffault encouraged the audience to go after "stretch opportunities" in industries that may be foreign to them. Having a diversity mind-set is important in overcoming any imposter feelings, she said. At the same time, having a small group of trusted people that can help you rehearse for a new role or even run new ideas by is also critical.

"Ask for help, but then pay it forward and act as a mentor for someone else," she said.

The Definition O f Success Varies For A Reason

Feeling like a fraud, or questioning whether you're cut out for a certain job, can be remedied, according to Ivy Solowiejczyk, vice president, telecommunications, media and entertainment for IBM. First, from not trying to be someone you're not, and second, by giving success your own definition -- not someone else's definition.

One size does not fit all as it relates to success, she said. "The definition of success is different to everyone, and that's a good thing. We have to learn that’s OK and not try to follow in someone else's path of success."

Solowiejczyk has three children -- her other full-time job -- and throughout her career, success has meant different things, she shared. Because of her family, maintaining a work/life balance is part of her current definition. Being yourself and building your own brand, whether it’s a conscious effort or not, helps to distinguish and set you apart from the pack, she said.

Beating The 'Imposter Syndrome'

The NPD Group's Schoenbart closed the panel with tips on how to overcome -- or even avoid in the first place -- feeling like a fraud. First, work hard. She told attendees that focusing on the strengths that are authentic to you will help put you in a mind-set to find the job you love, which makes working hard easy.

Second, stop comparing yourself to others, Schoenbart added. "We are all unique, and that's what makes people want to have relationships with you."

Third, setting goals and keeping track of your accomplishments is critical. These steps will help you stay on track with where you want to be within your career, but keeping a list of things you've done well will also help in moments of doubt, she said.