Have you ever thought that all your accomplishments and successes are the result of unforeseen luck? Are you ever plagued by feelings of being an imposter in the job you’re doing?
Do you ever question or accuse yourself of ‘not being cut out’ for your job and wonder when you will get a tap on the shoulder from your manager saying ‘this isn’t for you’?
For particular individuals, these feelings of self-questioning are transitory, however for others these signs are indicative of a common psychological phenomenon known as ‘imposter syndrome’. According to the International Journal of Behavioural Science, 70% of people will experience at least one episode of imposter syndrome at some point in their lives, however there is still no definitive reason as to why. Throughout this article we will further define this phenomenon and delve into steps you can take to move past this fearful experience.
Defining Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome, also commonly referred to as impostorism, refers to the psychological experience where an individual doubts their success and incorrectly attributes their achievements to luck. In simpler terms, it is a person’s experience of self-perceived intellectual phoniness, which discourages them to celebrate their accomplishments despite evidence indicating skill and competence.
Impostorism was first documented in 1978 by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Clance as they theorised that only high-achieving women were affected by the phenomenon. However since then, recent research has indicated that both men and women are equally affected.
Influenced by gender, family dynamics and culture, there are common signs that indicate whether or not you may be experiencing imposter syndrome. Do any of the following traits apply to you? If so, don’t worry, there are measures you can take to combat it.
Trait 1: You tend to overwork on individual projects
Both a self-perceived and observed pattern, overworking is a common indication. This involves a person’s tendency to consistently invest energy into a project that has moved well past the point of completion. Linked to perfectionism, it is a way to avoid a project being judged.
Trait 2: You are a perfectionist
Along with the desire to be the very best, perfectionists tend to hold themselves to unrealistic benchmarks and set out to accomplish work faultlessly. Even if they aim to achieve 99% of their goals, any minor mistakes will make them question their worth.
Trait 3: You tend to discount your own success
Having trouble celebrating their success, another common trait of imposter syndrome is the struggle to accept praise and instead relate triumph to external factors.
Trait 4: You experience fear of failure
‘Imposters’ tend to experience elevated levels of worry when presented with an achievement-related task as they fear inevitable disappointment from their managers. For people who struggle to perform their best, this can quickly bring upon feelings of embarrassment and unfortunately, prolong a toxic cycle of doubt and anxiety.
How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome
Do any of these traits sound familiar? To allow yourself to move past these feelings, it’s important to become comfortable confronting these ingrained thoughts you hold about yourself. This can be challenging but below we have listed four key ways to cope with imposter syndrome.
One: Accept and understand you’re not alone
The first thing is to understand that you are not alone and it is completely normal to feel this way. It is important to recognise that everyone, in some form, is experiencing similar emotions and worried about how they are perceived. Try and refrain from these thoughts and embrace self-belief that you are capable of achieving your goals.
Two: Remember past success
The second thing to remember when coping with imposter syndrome is to reflect on your past success and acknowledge the skills you embody that have contributed to positive outcomes. Try reciting this to yourself: ‘the reason that I was successful enough to get my job was because of the success that I’ve had in the past’. If you think about it, we’ve all had success that have helped us grow and push through previous comfort zones in the past and you know you can do it again.
Three: Get out of your head
The third one is to get out of your head and connect with your heart and really connect with why you’re actually doing what you’re doing. Ask yourself: ‘why is it that you’re pursuing this new task?’ and think about the people that you’re benefiting. Think about who you’re serving, who you’re helping, who you’re inspiring, and be grateful for being given that moment to help these other people.
Four: Be vulnerable and ask for help
The fourth and final point to consider is that it’s okay to feel vulnerable and ask others for help. By keeping your thoughts to yourself, these irrational emotions can tend to fester, and it can be helpful to share what you’re feeling with trusted family or friends. Find sources of encouragement around you; it may even be worth speaking to a counsellor or psychologist that can allow you to realise that the feelings you are experiencing are more common than you think.
In our video below, Culture and Leadership Partner Dan Czura discusses steps you can take to overcome imposter syndrome. Take three minutes to watch and feel free to share this with colleagues or anyone you know who might get value from this.