Imposter syndrome is a common issue that mentees deal with, and, for many, the reason why they seek the help of a mentor in the first place. But as a mentor, how can you actually get to the root of the problem and truly help them?
We asked Šimon Steffal, Founder and Chief Vision Officer of Mindset Mentors, for some tips on how you can help your mentee turn things around.
The swamp of despair
“As mentors, we often get to experience the joy of seeing our mentees flourish and grow. It is always an invigorating, exhilarating feeling, and I would not change it for anything in the world,” he begins. However, he is quick to point out that there’s a common issue amongst mentees that he sees time and time again. “Unfortunately, not every day is a walk in the park, and not every meeting is about rainbows and unicorns. Before we get to the good bits, we have to cross the swamp of despair and the valley of tears. And nothing defines the swamp of despair better than a mentee with imposter syndrome, a mentee full of self-doubt fed by continually resurfacing insecurities and, in some cases, leading to the development of anxiety.”
Before we get to the good bits, we have to cross the swamp of despair and the valley of tears. And nothing defines the swamp of despair better than a mentee with imposter syndrome.
Šimon makes a point reminding mentors that it’s not enough just to simply encourage your mentee without looking at the root of the problem itself. “Mentoring such a person may seem easy. We just tell them they are doing great and to pay no attention to these self-debilitating thoughts of unworthiness, right? Problem solved. In reality, it is a lot more complicated than that, for your encouragement does not fit their self-perception and will not make much sense to them. It will feel completely alien.”
So what is the best that a mentor can do to help a mentee with imposter syndrome?
Step one: Show them they’re not alone
As Šimon Steffal explains, “The first step to truly help a mentee showing signs of suffering from imposter syndrome is to start noticing and reframing what they say (namely the negative, unkind self-talk) by showing that many others deal with similar issues. Simply put, what they experience is quite common. Even really accomplished people have such problems! It is ok not to know everything and make mistakes - mistakes are our learning opportunities.”
Even really accomplished people have such problems! It is ok not to know everything and make mistakes - mistakes are our learning opportunities.
Step two: Dig deeper
The second step according to Šimon is to make your mentee delve deeper into their thoughts. “Challenge mentees’ negative self-talk with constructive, open questions, motivating them to go deeper and provide details. By doing so, they will realize that not “everything was terrible,” and they are not “completely stupid.” This will allow you to slowly guide your mentees to reframe each situation and focus on results, i.e. things that worked or went well.”
“This naturally generates affirmations - both coming from you, the mentor, emphasizing your appreciation of them as fellow humans and accepting them with all their imperfections as well as self-affirmations stemming from mentees being able to look at their actions and achievements with a more constructive, fair, and ultimately kinder gauge,” he explains.
To summarize, Šimon highlights that a journey with an imposter syndrome mentee is not a simple one, but it is all the more rewarding. “It is a challenging journey. One that might not have a happy ending as some mentees need more than (just) mentoring and might benefit from seeking a therapist. But know one thing - if you do see it through, the reward of being there for someone who was riddled with self-doubt but now is strong and shines is impossible to indescribable.”
Did Šimon’s advice motivate you to pass on your knowledge and mentor someone yourself? Take our Mentor quiz to see if you would make a good mentor. Also, learn all about mentoring with Femme Palette and apply to join our growing mentor community!