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6 Ways To Beat Imposter Syndrome

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overcome imposter syndrome

Do you see yourself as a successful person? While the meaning of success varies among people and cultures, there’s a growing concern of self-doubt in the office. According to Workiva, a workplace survey that covered over 1000 respondents showed that 43% felt the effects of imposter syndrome. This mindset is dangerous, as it constantly builds self-doubt and anxiety. If left unchecked, you risk killing your own momentum and confidence as you try to overcompensate. To overcome imposter syndrome, you need to know what it is and how you can fight back!

What is imposter syndrome?

Originally identified by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, imposter syndrome is a mindset where a person doesn’t feel successful regardless of their achievements. While it was first defined as a condition among women, studies have shown that imposter syndrome affects men as well.

What makes imposter syndrome so dangerous is that it makes a person doubt their value and skills. Even if that person was a pioneer or a world-renowned athlete, their confidence is constantly attacked by feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy. Simply put, they keep questioning their own competency. The worst part is that they might not even pay attention to the facts, whether it’s scores or quality of work. For those suffering from imposter syndrome, nothing they do seems to be noteworthy.

How does imposter syndrome affect me?

Imposter syndrome can do a lot of damage to your self-esteem and productivity. If you keep questioning your own value, you end up sabotaging your success. Let’s illustrate this by examining four different ways that imposter syndrome can harm you.

You constantly doubt your own abilities.

World-famous author Neil Gaiman famously posted on his Tumblr about a time when he went to a convention. There, he met several scientists, writers, scholars, and professionals. He even met Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon. While there, both Neils mentioned that they felt out of place and underqualified, despite their various lifelong accomplishments.

The sad thing is that imposter syndrome does the same thing to you. Experts on imposter syndrome often see it occurring with high achievers. Even though these people excel at what they do, they constantly doubt their own skills. No matter how good things are, they never seem to believe it is worthwhile. Some even become afraid that they’ll be seen as frauds. If you keep questioning your own worth, you too might be a victim of imposter syndrome.

You become hypersensitive to all feedback.

Because imposter syndrome makes you doubt all your value and potential, it can make you hypersensitive to any and all feedback. Even constructive criticism, which is meant to help you learn and improve, feels like a personal attack. This stems from that crippling self-doubt mentioned earlier. Any comments about your performance might inadvertently reinforce that same feeling of inferiority.

You keep setting unrealistic expectations.

If imposter syndrome is found in high achievers, what does that lead to? For many of these hardworking individuals, it creates unrealistic expectations. They don’t want only a passable or decent job. What they want is absolute perfection. Of course, that kind of standard is both impossible and impractical. Still, those with imposter syndrome will continually try to reach for these successes, as they feel it’s the only way to validate themselves.

You slowly burn out, physically and emotionally.

Over time, self-doubt and crippling fear will eat away at your energy. No matter how hard you work, imposter syndrome will have you try to overcompensate. Soon, you tire yourself out physically and emotionally. You might become depressed; you may feel hopeless; you might not even enjoy your work anymore. The more you let your imposter syndrome win, the more you break down over time.

How can I beat imposter syndrome?

Now that you see how dangerous imposter syndrome is, it’s time to fight back. Yes, you can overcome this anxiety and be as successful as you want to be. To do that, however, you’ll need to follow these crucial steps to regain control over your mindset. Here are six bonafide steps you can take to overcome imposter syndrome.

1. Observe your thoughts before you react.

The first thing to do is to observe your thoughts. Those concerns of self-worth and adequacy might be a lot to handle. However, don’t let your emotions run wild or believe what you think. Take a step back and see what you are thinking first. By looking at it objectively, you can find a common theme in your fears and worries. Plus, it gives you time to understand why you are so afraid.

For example, career individuals might spend all their time at work to earn a decent living. In their minds, they need to build funds and stabilize their finances before they can chase their dreams. While this is admirable, it’s important that they also know how far they are going. Doing well at work shouldn’t be motivated by the fear of failure or of getting fired. Otherwise, imposter syndrome will make them paranoid about their place at work.

2. Rephrase your own concerns.

Once you identify your thoughts and where they come from, it’s time to change the story. Imposter syndrome constantly feeds you the idea that you aren’t good enough. Fight back by looking at things in a different light. For example, instead of saying “I always fail”, rephrase this to “I’m learning and improving”. By doing this, you let your mind realize that mistakes are normal. More importantly, you stop believing the lie about your value. Even if your skill level isn’t where you want it to be, there’s no reason to freak out. What’s important is that you choose to stand tall and move forward, not run around in circles.

3. Accept imperfection.

Speaking of mistakes, it’s important to internalize the idea of imperfection. Remember, no one gets 100% in everything. Life isn’t like a math quiz; you can’t always find the right answer, especially if it’s the first time you’ve faced it. If you want to be successful, remember that failure is part of the learning process. Even the richest and most powerful people in history have made mistakes on their climb to the top. Remember that imposter syndrome only makes you fear failure, while true success and passion lets you embrace it.

4. Track your performance objectively.

The power of imposter syndrome is so strong that it can make you question the reality of things. What others see as a good job or outstanding work, you might be fooled into thinking it’s subpar. Instead of listening to those doubtful voices, look for ways to objectively track your performance. For example, you can jot down a checklist of all requirements for your next assignment. That way, you can objectively see if you have fulfilled everything needed. It’s better to know what you’re doing than to assume you’re not doing enough.

5. Focus on yourself instead of others.

Imposter syndrome can stem from constantly comparing yourself to others. In the age of social media, it’s easy to get caught up in the lifestyles and luxuries of your favorite celebrities. If you see someone with a beautiful house or an outstanding bank account, you might feel inferior.

However, remember that life isn’t a race. We are all on this journey together and we take our own paths. Your goals are never going to be exactly the same as those of your idols, your neighbors, or even your family members. To shut out imposter syndrome, keep focusing on yourself and your development. Sooner or later, you’ll know exactly where you are and see how much progress you’ve made to get there.

6. Share your feelings with those you trust.

Lastly, imposter syndrome is a serious mental issue. If left unchecked, it can be destructive to your lifestyle and your psyche. Whenever it feels like too much, don’t be afraid to share your feelings. You’d be surprised how many people share the same fears or concerns. Plus, you can feel a lot better when you put yourself out there. Start by sharing these concerns with friends or family. If you think you need more help, don’t be afraid to ask a professional.

Takeaways:

  • Imposter syndrome, first identified by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, is a psychological pattern where individuals doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud." It affects both men and women.
  • The main risks associated with imposter syndrome include:
    • Constantly doubting your abilities, even if you are a high achiever.
    • Becoming overly sensitive to feedback, seeing it as a personal attack rather than constructive criticism.
    • Setting unrealistic expectations, always aiming for perfection that's practically unachievable.
    • Gradual burnout due to constant self-doubt and overcompensation, leading to physical and emotional exhaustion.
  • Here are six steps to combat imposter syndrome:
    • Observe your thoughts: Instead of reacting immediately to self-doubts, observe and understand your thoughts objectively.
    • Rephrase your concerns: Change your self-narrative from a negative one to a more positive one. Instead of saying "I always fail," say, "I'm learning and improving."
    • Accept imperfection: Understand that everyone makes mistakes, and failure is part of the learning process.
    • Track your performance objectively: Instead of questioning your worth, use objective measures to track your performance. Focus on yourself instead of others: Imposter syndrome often stems from comparison. Stop comparing yourself to others and focus on your own progress.
    • Share your feelings: Imposter syndrome can be overwhelming, so it's important to share your feelings with trusted individuals or seek professional help if needed.

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Article Sources
  1. Abrams, A. (2018, June 20). Yes, Impostor Syndrome Is Real. Here’s How to Deal With It. Time.
  2. Cleveland Clinic. (2022, April 4). Impostor Syndrome: What It Is and How To Overcome It.
  3. Cox, L. K. (2023, March 28). Imposter Syndrome: 8 Ways to Deal With It Before It Hinders Your Success. HubSpot.
  4. Cuncic, A. (2023, May 22). Imposter Syndrome: Why You May Feel Like a Fraud. Verywell Mind.  
  5. Saymeh, A. (2023, February 22). What Is Imposter Syndrome? Learn What it is and 10 Ways to Cope. BetterUp.
  6. Stuart, M., & McConnell, K. C. (2019, November 9). 16 Stirring Neil Gaiman Quotes About Life, Death, and Creativity. The Portalist. 
  7. Workiva. (2023, May 2). 2023 Workplace Trends: What Employees Are Saying About Automation, Impostor Syndrome, and More. 

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