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Do you have Imposter Syndrome?

Ever feel that you are not deserving of the success that you have and that you could be found out at any moment? You’re not alone. The phenomenon that has come to be known as ‘impostor syndrome’ is the belief that you aren’t really as talented, clever and brilliant as you appear to others, and that one day your mask will slip, and you will be revealed as a fraud.

This self-doubt is common, despite their accomplishments, around 25 to 30 percent of high achievers suffer from it. Even Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has struggled with imposter syndrome, writing ‘Every time I was called on in class, I was sure that I was about to embarrass myself. Every time I took a test, I was sure that it had gone badly. And every time I didn’t embarrass myself—or even excelled—I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up.’ And according to research around 70 percent of adults experience Imposter syndrome at least once in their lifetime   

Common Signs of Imposter syndrome:

Feeling that you got lucky.
People with Imposter syndrome often believe their success is due to luck and not their talent and qualifications They may think ‘That was a fluke.’ or ‘I was in the right place at the right time.’

Do you credit everyone else but yourself?
They can think ‘I had a lot of help’, ‘This was really a team project. It wasn't all me’ or ‘Since I didn't do this completely by myself, it doesn't really count as a success.’ They hold on to any evidence that will confirm their unworthiness. 

Are you uncomfortable with praise?
People with Imposter syndrome find it difficult to accept positive feedback and praise from others. They assume that the person giving them good feedback is just being nice. They might believe, 'They have to say that. It would be rude not to' or 'The only reason he's congratulating me is because he's a nice guy – it’s not because I actually deserve it.'

Imposter syndrome can also feel like a sudden loss of confidence, and creates massive stress, anxiety, confusion, isolation and overwhelm. It also leads to exhaustion and burnout and can be highly damaging to people's careers.

Why do people experience impostor syndrome?

There are many reasons. Some experts believe it has to do with personality traits - like perfectionism and anxiety, while others focus on family or behavioural causes. Competitive environments can also lay the groundwork. For example, many people who go on to develop feelings of impostor syndrome faced intense pressure about academic achievement from their parents in childhood. These childhood memories, such as feeling that your marks were never good enough or that your siblings outshone you in some areas, can leave a lasting impact. People can take on board the idea that in order to be loved or be lovable, they need to be achievers. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.

Life transitions such as a change in jobs and promotion also trigger imposter syndrome. Transitions, even for those who are advancing in their career, can naturally trigger self-doubts that hinder their belief in themselves and their abilities in this new role.

Factors outside of a person too, such as their environment or institutionalized discrimination, can also play a major role in spurring impostor feelings. A sense of belonging fosters confidence. The more people who look or sound like you, the more confident you feel. And conversely, the fewer people who look or sound like you, it can and does for many people impact their confidence.

Bullying can give rise to imposter syndrome too. This is not surprising, as a trigger for imposter syndrome is high challenge plus low support. And the toxic work environment of bullying certainly counts as that.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

One of the first steps to overcoming impostor feelings is to acknowledge the thoughts and put them in perspective. Simply observing that thought as opposed to engaging with it can be helpful, also asking the question ‘Does that thought help or hinder me?

Another way of overcoming impostor feelings is to reframe your thoughts. Remember that the only difference between someone who experiences impostor syndrome and someone who does not is how they respond to challenges. People who don’t feel like impostors are no more intelligent, competent or capable than the rest of us. It’s excellent news, because it means we just have to learn to think like non-impostors. Learning to value constructive criticism, understanding that you’re actually slowing your team down when you don’t ask for help, or remembering that the more you practice a skill, the better you will get at it can all help. It can also be helpful to share what you’re feeling with trusted mentors or coaches.

Imposter syndrome can stifle the potential for growth and meaning, by preventing you from pursuing new opportunities for growth at work. Confronting Imposter syndrome can help you continue to grow and thrive.


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