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Mentors can offer real talk — and help you overcome imposter syndrome

And the benefit can go both ways, writes the founder of the Data Mentorship Program. Here's how.

Women in tech. (Photo by Christina Morillo, used via Pexels)
This is a guest post by Rajvi Mehta, the Philadelphia-based founder of the Data Mentorship Program. She is also an advanced data analyst for Vanguard and the regional lead for the Women in Data meetup.
Imagine this: You are the star performer in your team this quarter.

Your sales skyrocketed last month, the project that you worked hard for was well-received by the leadership team, your ideas were implemented by the business and used by all teams in the company, your team gave a remarkable reviews of your leadership style, and you are now asked to give a business update in front of the CEO of your organization tomorrow at 9 a.m. You are sitting in your office and making sure you have everything covered for the big presentation. Suddenly, a small yet powerful thought crosses your mind: What if they believe that all your achievements are just based on luck and that there is no concrete proof that your methods work?

Back in the real world, maybe a similar thought has crossed your mind that made you feel undeserving or unfulfilled at work. Maybe you experience this sort of anxiety every day, or maybe it has been 10 years since you felt like a fake at work. Imposter syndrome comes in all shapes and forms — and it lives in so many of our heads. So how can we overcome it?

“Imposter phenomenon” was first coined by psychologists in 1978. Most people experience it at some point, and women may be especially impacted.

Living with this feeling is never easy, especially if you are a highly actively contributor to your organization. Even though this feeling is personal, it has lasting effects on your team and your business. A typical imposter syndrome response can consist of two responses: procrastination and over-preparation.

It may prove negative to someone’s career because they may end up trying to over-produce to prove their capability, leading to burnout. Further, some people may even miss opportunities due to procrastination. It can also impacts your personal relationships if a partner might be trying to overwork and thus focusing less on family needs.

Some psychologists including the ones who coined the term believe that it should be called imposter experience since it is a temporary state of being, rather than a clinical illness. This is where professional coaching like having a mentor by your side can benefit you the most.

A mentor is someone who has walked the path, might have experienced similar situations as you, and gained enough wisdom and would be willing to share with you.

Initiatives like the Data Mentorship Program, a three-month program aimed to provide mentorship opportunities in the field of data, can give you the opportunity to create a deeper relationship with an experienced professional peer. This is important because you will soon realize that your mentor’s career trajectory might be very similar to yours. The tricky thing is that the imposter voice in your head tells you that you and your problems are unique — whereas the reality is something else.

Did you know? The term mentor comes from the epic poem “The Odyssey.” Mentor is one of Odysseus’ oldest and most loyal friends, entrusted with raising his son Telemachus while Odysseus makes his way home from Troy. At one point in the epic poem, the goddess Athena disguises herself as Mentor and encourages Telemachus to find his father and ward off his mother’s arrogant suitors. In other words, “mentorship” isn’t just about offering advice, it’s also about directing someone’s attention away from other, less trustworthy voices.

A mentor is your personal guide and advisor for your career. Usually a mentor is someone who has walked the path, might have experienced similar situations as you, and gained enough wisdom and would be willing to share with you. They will meet you where you are and walk the path with you.

We recommend working with a mentor to learn about different tools that can help you deal with this fear of failure. Mentorship does not work in place of therapy, but it provides the end user with the benefit of forging a relationship with someone who might have a better understanding of your professional strengths and weaknesses, your career goals and your professional ability.

A mentor can also provide tools to help you overcome negative self-talk. Sometimes through mentorship you might find that people that we see deserving and look up to also face similar challenges — which tells us that it is a completely normal feeling.

One of the most powerful tools to deal with imposter syndrome is to write down or talk with your mentor about your personal achievements, reflect on your journey, and accept the success that you have received to date. Hearing from a different person about why you deserve a seat at the table helps a lot to put things in perspective.

On the flip side, mentoring someone else might also help you to overcome your imposter syndrome. If you are an experienced professional with enough understanding of your industry, I highly recommend mentoring young upcoming talent in your community. There are aspiring individuals who might benefit from your story. Mentoring someone has equal, if not more benefits of fighting the imposter syndrome.

Know that you are never alone in your journey. Know that failure is a part of the process that everyone has to go through. Mentor others and talk about your own experience on a broader scale. The more you own your journey, the faster the little negative voice in your head passes away. And if you are an up-and-coming professional, find someone whose story inspires you and seek guidance from them. Your future is bright!


The Data Mentorship Program is currently looking for those who are interested in mentoring individuals who might have limited experience in the field of data. The next place-agnostic cohort will launch in August and individuals are expected to commit for three months. Apps are due by July 31.

Apply for the Data Mentorship Program

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