At some point in your career, you’ve probably felt like you didn’t belong. Like you had ‘swindled’ your employer into believing you were an expert and were likely to be escorted off the premises at any moment. Or maybe you felt like sheer luck had carried you through life and now Lady Luck was going to start looking the other way. It is estimated that up to 70% of the population will experience imposter syndrome, ‘a belief that you’re an inadequate and incompetent failure, despite evidence that indicates you’re skilled and quite successful’, at some point. Recent research indicates these feelings are particularly prevalent amongst millennials. Frequently connected with anxiety, low confidence levels, unhealthy perfectionism, and risk averse behaviour, imposter syndrome has significant consequences for personal well-being and long-term career development.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
First identified in the 1970s by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, imposter syndrome is associated with high achievers who are unable to internalize their success, which they attribute to luck. Such individuals think they are not as talented or competent as others believe, and worry their lack of ability will be exposed at any time.
Combatting the Imposter Syndrome
The Imposter Cycle
The cycle begins when an achievement-related task is assigned to an individual who has a tendency towards imposter syndrome and thus becomes anxious about the task. The individual will react by either over-preparing or procrastinating until the last possible moment. This is also known as defensive pessimism (working hard to avoid failure), and self-handicapping (reducing the chance of success through procrastination).
Any positive feelings upon the completion of the task are quickly replaced by self-doubt, for example, a feeling that hard work does not equate to true ability or that luck played a significant role.
The first step in dealing with imposter syndrome is to acknowledge its presence and impact. Next, adopt counter measures to deal with these thoughts and their limitations. The below ideas will help you get started.
- Record Your Success: Imposters often attribute their success to external factors such as luck or easy tasks, ignoring what they have achieved. Start a daily journal to note any success along with how your skills and expertise contributed to the outcomes. Record your strengths and legitimate areas for improvement.
- Build Your Network: Get to know your work colleagues and build some high-quality relationships. This helps to reduce the sense of isolation often linked to imposter syndrome.
- Focus on Learning Instead of Performance: Cultivate a learning mindset and view each mistake as an opportunity for growth, not proof of your incompetence. Fail upwards; reflect on what worked and what needs some attention.
- Invest in Your Physical and Emotional Health: Imposter syndrome takes a toll on physical and emotional health, including your energy levels, the ability to deal with negative experiences, and personal relationships. Try our physical and emotional energy audits to identify areas you need to work.
- Stop Comparisons: Comparisons are subjective and unhelpful; everyone has experienced unique struggles and challenges unknown to those around them. Pay attention to your own strengths and accomplishments, and if needed, reduce your time on social media sites.
- Forget Perfectionism: Renewed psychologist, Harriet Braiker wrote, ‘Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing’. Instead of wasting time on elusive perfection, do the task to best of your ability for yourself and celebrate your successes.
- Take Action: Continue taking action even when you feel doubtful and pursue your ambitions. You may not achieve all your goals, but you will accomplish more than the imposter believes.
This article by Grace Windsor was originally published on the Brightwork blog.