I’ve been trying to convince myself to ask for a raise for about a year now. I know I deserve it, but, wait…do I really?
There is always that creeping feeling of insecurity. I am a confident, competent, talented woman who is also a failure and a fraud. I find myself giving advice to other people that I rarely listen to myself. “Work hard! Ask for what you deserve! Demand respect!” I say to friends and peers. But me? “Oh, it’s not the right time, I just messed up a huge project and now my boss is going to fire me.” I demand perfection from myself and everything I do, and when I don’t achieve that (which, newsflash, literally no one can), I expect the hammer to come down. I’ll finally be exposed! When I do succeed, however, I am constantly downplaying it. “Right place right time!” I tell people, reducing all my hard work and perseverance to happenstance.
I know I’m not alone. Why do we do this to ourselves? Impostor syndrome haunts us: in school, in the workplace, in our side hustles, in our relationships. Why don’t we accept the things we deserve, and how do we fix that? Is there something we can do for ourselves to remedy this?
1. Advocate for other women
It’s a lot easier to ask for what you deserve when you feel like someone has your back. I work in a very male-dominated industry, and it can be easy to let myself fade into the background. At work, I know the other woman on my team has my back. She has been there longer than me, she knows my struggles, and she knows the pitfalls of being a lone woman in a sea of men. Many of my bigger projects have come from her speaking up and saying, “Hey, why doesn’t Cherith work on that?” When I feel the imposter syndrome creeping up, I know I can go to her for a pep talk. Sometimes just hearing “You’re great! It’s these other men that need to get their shit together!” can pull you out of a funk.
I always try to return the favor as well. When you’re in a meeting and a coworker brings up an idea, a simple “I think Karen makes a good point!” can be a subtle influence to your boss that Karen does make a great point — in fact, Karen always is making great points. Build up the women in your workplace. Having more women means more voices, which means we have more seats at the table.
2. Have a “brag” folder
Chances are, you do great work. People might not notice it all the time, but when they do, hold onto that spark of hope for dear life. When your boss responds to your project with a “Great job!” save that email! When the CMO stops you to tell you he loved your presentation, get him to put it in writing and have it notarized (kidding, but maybe write it down and keep it somewhere you will see it!). We always remember critiques when they are painful, and we are evolutionarily designed to remember and avoid pain to not die. However, if the only thing you remember is the one time you were late to a meeting, it becomes much easier to feel incompetent. Have something you can turn to in order to metaphorically snap out of it.
3. Pursue things that you are good at or make you happy
Obviously, you should always be challenging yourself. But if you are only making room for things that are challenging, when you drop the ball, the failure can feel two-fold. Make room in your life for things that you are good at, whether that is your actual job, your side hustle, or simply a hobby. If you can feel productive and competent in your life in one area, then it can slowly bleed over into other areas. When I am struggling at work, I will throw myself more into my podcast or try to write more. Don’t wallow. Keep swimming — even if it’s in a different direction for a bit.
4. Make gratitude lists, or have a mantra
This one always seems like some hippie bullshit, but it helps. Chances are, you’re doing a good job — hell, you’re doing a great job. When you start to spiral, have an escape plan. Take ten minutes and force yourself to write down everything that is going well for yourself, everything you are grateful for, everything that you’re proud of. Write for the full ten minutes. Once you start, you’ll be surprised how many things in your life are going well. The negative thoughts tend to repeat themselves over and over accelerate the longer they sit. Have something simple you can repeat to ward off the bad thoughts. “I work hard and am valuable to this company.” “I am successful, and I am important.” “I deserve everything I have.” Even if it sounds dumb at first, the more that you say it, the more you will believe it. If you can be brainwashed into believing that you’re a fraud, you can be de-programmed as well.
A friend of mine eventually convinced me to finally ask for a raise. That day, I was struggling with a project, and I was slowly starting to back away from my proposal. She wouldn’t let me, though. You need to ask for what you deserve. When you start to back away, have a support system, have a mantra, have a procedure in place to make sure you keep your seat at the table. It’s not always easy, but it’s important. Advocate for yourself. Believe in yourself. You got this!
Cherith Fuller is a writer and comedian living in Atlanta, GA.
Image via Unsplash