Feel like a fraud at work? Dealing with imposter syndrome

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Do you have a nagging worry that you don’t deserve the job you’re in and any day now you’re going to be outed as a fraud in your workplace? You’re not alone. Read our tips on spotting the signs of imposter syndrome and how to deal with it…

What is imposter syndrome? 

From sports stars to CEOs, imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that many of us will face in our careers. Defined by The California Institute of Technology Counselling Centre as ‘a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in the face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.’

As complex as this may sound, imposter syndrome is actually a very common and completely normal phenomenon – over 70% of people will experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives, and while the cause of this crippling self-doubt is unclear, you can keep these feelings in check. The trick is to recognise the unhelpful thoughts and signs, question their validity, and gradually rein them in.

Sign: Difficulty accepting praise

Even the highest achievers may have to deal with significant negative internal monologue. Despite multiple awards, accolades and achievements, rather than congratulate themselves they put their success down to luck, timing or even an error in judgement from their employer. They can struggle to believe that they deserve their success.

This failure to internalise accomplishments can prove problematic, especially if you’re wanting to make major career strides. If you’re continually fearful you don’t measure up, you’ll find it difficult to make the most of your potential, or you may hesitate to put yourself forward for the next career step your experience and ability really deserve.

Solution: Recognise and celebrate your success

Remember, you haven’t come this far because you’ve winged it – you’ve earned it, and it’s healthy to remind yourself of this from time to time. Make a point of thinking about how far you’ve already come, and your achievements – think back to awards, successful projects and positive feedback from people you respect. None of this came your way by accident.

Sign: You try to be a workplace super hero

Another tell-tale sign of an ‘imposter’ is an inherent need to be the very best. If you can’t meet your impossibly high standards without help, you perceive it to be a failure – which of course only perpetuates the toxic cycle of self-sabotaging perfectionism. From sports stars to CEOs, imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that many of us will face in our careers.   

Solution: Lean on others

There’s no shame in asking for help or admitting you don’t have the answer to something. Reach out for support from a mentor or trusted co-worker to get the job done. Feeling less stressed about the task at hand will increase your confidence about what you’re trying to do.

If you don’t have a support network in place at work, this might be the time to ask for one or seek a workplace that does. It’s good to ask yourself whether your negative thinking has created your workplace environment or the other way around.

Sign: You constantly compare yourself to others

Everyone compares themselves to others, but in excess it can be an unhealthy habit as it can breed feelings of envy, low self-confidence and even depression. Using someone else as a benchmark for your own worth can lead you to believe there is something inherently wrong with you and that you’re the problem.

Solution: Redirect your energy and attention to your own goals and what is required to achieve them. Recognise when you’re making these unhealthy (and unjust) comparisons, and distract yourself from such unhelpful thoughts.

Cultivate a relationship with your manager where it’s ok to talk openly about your ambitions and where you want to go in the company. If you’re applying for a new role and you’re not feeling confident, ask a select few friends or a co-worker you trust to write down five things they find great about you – this can work wonders as a little boost and as a reminder to focus your attention on yourself.

What's next for ‘imposters’?

Overcoming imposter syndrome requires self-acceptance: you don’t have to attain perfection or mastery to be worthy of the success you've achieved and any accolades you earn along the way. It’s not about lowering the bar, it’s about resetting it to a realistic level that doesn’t leave you forever over-reaching and feeling inadequate.

If, however, you feel like you’ve worked through all of the above and things still aren’t changing, then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your current role and culture. A more supportive and understanding work environment can work wonders for your self-esteem and have a big impact on your career development.

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