[CAREER NEWS] Imposter syndrome: stop putting yourself down

Have you ever been promoted at work and felt like you weren't properly qualified for it or that you got the job by sheer luck? Have you ever doubted the sincerity of compliments and thought you didn’t deserve them? What lies behind this way of thinking is a syndrome, and it’s one of the biggest obstacles to getting out of your comfort zone: imposter syndrome.

If you already identify with this feeling of being an imposter, the aim of this newsletter is to help you understand what triggers imposter syndrome, identify why it can be an obstacle to your career and give you some tips to help manage its effects.

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a concept that emerged in 1978. A study by the Dominican University of California showed that 70% of professionals have experienced it at some point in their lives.

Imposter syndrome is the chronic feeling that you are secretly not good enough, a fear of being blamed for your own perceived, often imagined, inadequacy. This feeling of inadequacy persists despite external and tangible evidence of success. It is rarely rooted in real performance issues and usually bears no relation to any significant problems with confidence.

More often than not, someone suffering from this syndrome goes as far as to question their intelligence, doubt their abilities and is plagued by anxiety. This constant feeling that all their accomplishments are down to chance and that at some point someone will find out that they are an impostor and will “unmask" them can be a source of serious difficulties in their professional life.

For the record, most studies conducted by psychologists indicate that women are more affected by this syndrome than men.

Here are a few examples of sentences that can show a person is suffering from impostor syndrome:

“I must not fail”

The underlying pressure of this belief comes from the fear of being "exposed" and is very difficult to deal with.

“I am not the genuine article”

The person fears they are an impostor and not deserving of the success, compliments or rewards they have received. They believe those who think otherwise are wrong, as if they are coming across as being more competent than they actually are.

“I’ve been lucky”

The person attributes their success to luck or other external factors rather than their own abilities or aptitudes.

When speaking about their success they say: “Oh… it’s nothing…”

The person plays down their success or even ignores it. They may also attribute it to someone else entirely or relate it to the ease of the task at hand. They might also make the point that it was a matter of good timing which was nothing to do with them, masterfully downplaying their own contribution to their success.

How can imposter syndrome affect your career?

Imposter syndrome can be a major obstacle to progress at work. Here are some examples:

  • Not seizing opportunities for professional development

If you believe that opportunities to get on within a company are down to luck and that you don’t have the necessary skills, you could be missing out on real possibilities for career development. The fear of being unmasked can lead you to freeze when faced with challenges that would be well within your capabilities.

  • Not knowing how to say no

This fear of being unmasked means you don’t know how to say no. Instead of managing your time and prioritizing requests, you make yourself available to do whatever anyone asks, even if you don't have enough time and there are other more urgent matters that require your attention

  • Missing deadlines by being too much of a perfectionist

In your eagerness to meet the needs of others, you “over-perform" to impose your own high standards on ordinary tasks so that no one will realize you are an imposter ... By doing so, you run the risk of missing deadlines by pushing your perfectionism to the limit, to the detriment of your own well-being…

  • Changing your productivity

Being productive is about being able to do more things in less time. In contrast, impostor syndrome leads you to confuse the idea of productivity with the idea of always delivering more, creating a snowball effect of accumulating negative results over time.

  • Rarely being satisfied with the results you achieve

If you suffer from imposter syndrome you will rarely be happy, or even satisfied, with the results you get. In general, you will be very critical and hard on yourself and you will find it extremely difficult to forgive yourself for your own mistakes.
To be brutally frank and without wishing to pass judgment it might be said you are doing a good job of self-sabotaging! Unfortunately, all of these demands, pressures and stresses can cause another type of syndrome - burnout syndrome: a specific type of burnout that happens after a long period of stress and anxiety ...

What should you do when faced with imposter syndrome?

  • Recognize the syndrome

Being aware of the syndrome and accepting you have it is the first step towards curing it. The second step is to share your experiences and/or your anxieties with those around you rather than keeping your negative thoughts to yourself. You will find that you are not alone and having someone to listen to you will be a relief!

  • Evaluate your achievements

Carry out a systematic evaluation of your successes at work and how you achieved them! Take note of the fact that they have all been brilliantly orchestrated by you - yes really!

  • Celebrate your victories

Celebrating your accomplishments, no matter how small, helps build your confidence and helps anchor everything you accomplish in yourself.

  • Re-program your brain

Instead of dwelling on the fear of being unmasked or believing you don’t deserve praise, face up to the fact that no one is perfect, recognize that it’s fine not to know everything and be in control of everything. Don’t even doubt it for a moment!

  • Dial down your perfectionism 

Rather than completely abandoning it which may prove impossible, dial down your perfectionism by choosing your battles ... Not everything deserves the same level of investment ...

  • Stop comparing yourself to others

All it will do is increase your level of frustration.

  • Concentrate on learning

By focusing on your performance, you may be tempted to view any mistakes or feelings of inadequacy as evidence of your own limitations. By focusing on the learning process rather than performance, mistakes are inherent to the process, and therefore more easily tolerated and digested.

  • Welcome failure

If you get positive feedback on a piece of work, celebrate your success. If you get criticism, qualify it:  it’s not failure, it’s feedback that you can see as an opportunity to re-adjust and improve!

  • Be kind to yourself

It all boils down to cutting yourself a bit of slack, so why not start right now?
If you follow all these tips correctly, impostor syndrome can become a source of motivation to spur you into action!

Elizabeth TOUCAS – Executive Strengths Coach & Career Manager – IÉSEG Network
Imposter Syndrome is a topic dealt with during Coaching. For coaching/personalized support or for any request for information on the careers service, please contact me.

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