In a recent meeting, a colleague mentioned feeling like an imposter. This leader, whom I respect, think is incredibly experienced, qualified, and competent and always gives an air of confidence. Hearing them admit to this feeling loosened my already loose tongue, and I professionally announced,
“Wow, me too!”
The third person in the meeting nodded and said they also felt like a fraud most of the time.
Summing it up, I said, “So it seems like we all have imposter syndrome.”
Imposter syndrome is the feeling that any success you have is merely luck, or you’ve somehow tricked those around you to think you are better than you are and that at some point, you’ll be revealed to be a fraud.
According to the Harvard Business Review: “Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. They seem unable to internalize their accomplishments, however successful they are in their field.”
An estimated 70% report feeling imposter syndrome, according to a recent Forbes article.
These are are few common beliefs those with imposter syndrome feel:
- I cannot fail; otherwise, everyone will know that I’m a fraud.
- My success is no big deal.
- I’ve deceived others into believing that I am successful.
- My success is simply good luck.
Many people experience symptoms for a limited time, such as in the first few weeks of a new job. For others, the experience can be lifelong.
Research shows that imposter syndrome is pervasive among women, minorities, and others underrepresented in their organization.
What’s the Harm?
Beyond dealing with the anxiety and stress that feeling incompetent and like a fraud can bring, imposter syndrome can negatively impact your career.
The fear and self-doubt cause many who experience imposter syndrome to turn down extra responsibilities and promotions that lead to greater professional success. It can turn into a negative spiral where you feel bad, so you perform less, leading to less responsibility, leading to feelings of failure, performing less, etc.
This type of stress can lead to feeling dissatisfied at work and potentially burning out and leaving the company, or staying in a role that is ‘safe’ for fear of failing if you stretch.
Overcoming these feelings of failure is essential for professional success and personal happiness.
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome:
Embrace your Perspective
Recognize the benefits of being a novice or a different voice in your area. You might not realize it, but there are significant benefits to having a different perspective. When I started my MBA, I thought I would be at a considerable disadvantage because I didn’t come from business, tech, or finance. And in a way, I was right. However, more prominent advantages were bestowed upon me by being scrappy, creative, and the ability to write a coherent sentence. Yes, my inability to remember the difference between a debit and credit still haunts me — but being a unique voice was an immense value add.
Focus more on what you’re learning than on how you’re performing.
One issue with imposter syndrome is that it can make us behave as if we have a fixed mindset. According to Carol Dweck, someone has a fixed mindset when they believe their necessary abilities, intelligence, and talents are fixed traits. However, when people change their mindset from fixed to growth, they are far more able to move past imposter syndrome.
Talk about it
“No matter what we’ve done, there comes the point where you think, ‘How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?’” Hanks said on the podcast Fresh Air in 2016.
As I mentioned at the start, I was prompted to share my fears when another was vulnerable enough to express theirs. Just seeing the number of successful and profitable people who have these feelings helps you to put your self-doubt into perspective.
Challenge negative thoughts
Ask your inner critic for evidence or proof of their allegations. What is more likely, that you have successfully pulled the wool over every person who has known you or that your inner voice is a dick?
Which side has more evidence?
And if you need more evidence, ask others for feedback. I have a laundry list of flaws, but every time I ask for feedback, it’s overwhelmingly positive. And the few areas suggested for growth are areas I’m currently working on.
So take that imposter syndrome!
Quick Tips You Can Use Now:
- Name your negative voice. By recognizing that these feelings of self-doubt aren’t necessarily true helps to disassociate healthily. I have named my inner critic “Miranda” after Meryl Streep’s amazingly played ice-queen, Miranda Priestly.
- When your negative voice claims you can’t do something, simply add the word “yet” to the end. This is an easy way to jump-start the growth mindset.
- Keep a “Win” list; every time you do something successful (no matter how small), write it down on your phone or in a document. This will help you to provide your inner critic some evidence to combat their whining.
At the end of the day, you are not alone with these fears and self-doubts. But getting over them to focus on being a badass is an essential step to creating positive change in the world.
So if you’re feeling like an impostor, chances are that others in your situation feel the exact same way. Or, as Tina Fey said
“I’ve realized that almost everyone is a fraud, so I try not to feel too bad about it.”
So tell your inner Miranda to stuff it and get on with your kick-assery.