Undercutting “Imposter Syndrome”: Bragging Better

In the recent Harvard Business Review article “Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome“, authors Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey discuss how imposter syndrome is rooted in systemic racism, classism, xenophobia, and other biases. They encourage us to overcome it by creating an environment that fosters different leadership styles and views diversity of racial, ethnic, and gender identities as just as professional.

While we continue to work on changing our environments to dismantle barriers, Meredith Fineman discusses in the book Brag Better how to use bragging to overcome the feeling of being a fraud. Meredith Fineman writes that imposter syndrome is deeply tied to the fear of bragging. “It’s a cousin. They’re both about shaky self-worth, aversion to vulnerability, and a lack of confidence”. Meredith provides advice on “do’s” and “don’ts” when bragging about ourselves. For example, a list of phrases we should never use when bragging:

  • Self-promotion alert!
  • Shameless plug.
  • I hate to brag, but…
  • Shameless self-promotion.

Instead, Meredith recommends that we say something like “Check out this video from a panel I was on! I had a blast” or “I’d be so grateful if you watched my most recent TV segment”.

Meredith further recommends that we create a list of our accomplishments:

  • Think about five of your regular tasks that excite you. Get as specific as possible.
  • Ask your coworkers what they think your strongest attributes are at work.
  • Write down the work experience that you are most proud of? What makes you proud of it? Why are you proud of it? Why are you suited to do it?
  • What are you best at in your current position?
  • Compile self-stats e.g. how many people you manage, revenue you generate, etc.
  • Make a list of when to brag – make bragging a habit. 

While I enjoyed reading Brag Better, and think that we should all work on bragging better, I agree that changing our environment is the key to dismantling feelings of imposter syndrome. Tulshyan and Burey said it best: “Imposter syndrome puts the blame on individuals, without accounting for the historical and cultural contexts that are foundational to how it manifests in both women of color and white women. Imposter syndrome directs our view toward fixing women at work instead of fixing the places where women work”.

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