What is Imposter Syndrome?

Do you feel like you landed your promotion at work due to luck rather than skill?  Or that at any moment your boss is going to discover that you’re a fraud?  If so, then you’re not alone. This common experience, first brought to light in 1978, is called Imposter Syndrome and it’s especially prevalent in the workplace.  In fact, imposter syndrome is so common that it’s estimated that over two thirds of adults have experienced imposter syndrome at work.

What Does Imposter Syndrome Feel Like?

Imposter syndrome can feel very real but it’s far from being a realistic appraisal of our abilities.  Rather, it’s characterised by a chronic self doubt and a pervasive belief that our achievements are based on chance as opposed to well-earned knowledge. It’s persistent and ongoing and so is different from momentary uncertainty that we all experience in some situations (think of a first date or in a new role at work). Instead, imposter syndrome makes it continually difficult for us to internalise success and believe that we’re capable.

Who Experiences Imposter Syndrome?

The issue of imposter syndrome can affect anyone at any stage in their career and even high flyers can succumb to this way of thinking. We can be equally likely to experience imposter syndrome in our first job as we are when we’re an accomplished professional or CEO. For instance, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, tennis star Serena Williams, actor Tom Hanks and Nobel Laureate Maya Angelou have all confessed to feeling this way at times.

Where does Imposter Syndrome Come From?

In terms of its origins, people with imposter syndrome often, although by no means always, grew up in families that placed a strong emphasis on success and perfectionism. Having parents who were critical as a means to encourage accomplishment can be another risk factor. The emphasis that society places on achievement also contributes to the pervasiveness of imposter syndrome as it makes it easy to feel that self worth is linked to attainment.

What are the Effects of Imposter Syndrome at Work?

If left unchallenged, imposter syndrome can have serious consequences for our careers.  Imposter syndrome can reduce our well-being and motivation at work in numerous ways.  For instance, it can impact upon our relationships with colleagues by encouraging us to see the workplace as more competitive. Imposter syndrome may lead to procrastination as we feel that whatever we produce won’t be good enough anyway.  It can also lead us to feeling ashamed and stop us reaching out for support, making us feel isolated.  Due to a fear of failure, imposter syndrome may also reduce our ability to innovate in the workplace.

How Can I Overcome Imposter Syndrome?

The good news is that there are techniques we can use to overcome imposter syndrome. Here are ten top tips to set you on the path to healthy self belief:

1. Focus on the facts

Your feelings of being an imposter are unlikely to reflect reality so it’s important to separate your feelings from the facts. It’s completely normal to have a range of feelings about ourselves, but they’re not always based on evidence. Review your work for confirmation of what you’ve done well.

2. Share your feelings

People experiencing imposter syndrome often feel isolated and try to hide how they’re feeling but it’s actually a very common issue. When we confide in others this stops us internalising our feelings and the person we share with may open up about having had a similar experience, which may help us put our problems into perspective.

3. Change your mindset

The way we think shapes our reality. Monitor your negative thoughts and try to reframe them. For example ‘I’m a failure’ could become ‘I’m learning so much’ or ‘I’m a fraud’ could become ‘I’m having an imposter syndrome moment but the facts tell me I’m skilled’. Challenge yourself to be as supportive and kind to yourself as you would be to a friend.

4. Stop comparing yourself

Focus on what you can learn from your colleagues rather than on comparing yourself to them. We all have different skills and it helps to adopt a skill sharing rather than competitive outlook at work. Someone may be good at one thing but you may be able to help them with mastering something else.

5. Celebrate your successes

We’re often taught to downplay our achievements and celebrate those of others but there’s nothing wrong with admitting you’ve done something well. Watch out for times you’ve succeeded or overcome a challenge and congratulate yourself for your hard work and persistence. We’re usually doing better than we let ourselves believe.

6. Forget about perfection

It’s not possible to be perfect, to always get things right or to know how to do everything. Accepting that no one is perfect can help you to stop setting unachievable goals for yourself. Instead focus on working to the best of your abilities and understand that this will lead to good results, even if they’re not perfect.

7. Recognize the syndrome

It’s important to remember that people who are really acting fraudulently know that they are being fraudulent and so don’t have imposter syndrome. Feeling that you have imposter syndrome shows that you’re not an actual fraud and means that the way you’re feeling isn’t a fact.

8. Seek a Mentor

Find a mentor at work, such as a senior leader or someone you look up to.  Your mentor can help you to notice what you’re doing well.  A mentor can also support you to improve any skills you feel are lacking.  Each time you notice that imposter syndrome voice you can remind yourself that not only are you already doing well, but that you’re also working to get better too.

9. Set realistic goals

People with imposter syndrome are often high achievers who aim to be perfect, which is unattainable.  By setting realistic goals you’ll be more likely to achieve them and feel successful.  Watch out for times you might be trying to be perfect and see if you can reframe the goal to something more helpful.  For example ‘I must get 100% in my end of year review’ could become ‘I’ve worked hard and hope to do well’.

10. Build confidence holistically

Feeling confident at work isn’t all about what you do at work.  Getting involved in activities outside of the workplace can boost your confidence at work too.  Leading a sports group outside of work or volunteering at a children’s group will grow your confidence.  What you learn through these activities will then translate back to the workplace.

How Can Online-Therapy Help?

If you’ve tried these ideas and you’re still experiencing the symptoms of imposter syndrome you might also consider reaching out to a skilled therapist.  A therapist will work with you to explore your feelings in more depth and find solutions.  At Online-Therapy.com we offer an integrated and holistic package to support your wellbeing.

Our approach includes regular sessions with your chosen therapist, unlimited messaging and worksheet support, journaling and yoga. Rather than only receiving help in your therapy session, working this way means that you have the daily guidance you need to make progress.  This ongoing support ensures you will identify changes you can make and successfully build new practices into your daily life.