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how to recognise and overcome imposter syndrome

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

Ever felt like you don’t deserve the title or the position you’re in? Like your achievements are the results of luck or favourable circumstances rather than your own hard work? Is the fear of your colleagues or friends discovering you’re faking your skills or expertise familiar to you? Do you ever think you don’t actually deserve your job and accomplishments?

You’re not alone. All of these feelings are known collectively as imposter syndrome. Many successful women experience feelings of self-doubt and believe they have not earned their success, despite evidence to the contrary. Research shows that 70% of people experience it at some point of their lives in personal and professional fields. No matter the position, age or family status, imposter syndrome can happen to anyone.

what is it exactly?

Imposter syndrome is best described as the thought that you are only successful due to luck and not because of your own effort or knowledge, or being unable to own your accomplishments. Statistics also show that women are disproportionately affected by imposter syndrome, and overall feel underqualified and unconfident, even when they are in positions of leadership.

signs you might be struggling with imposter syndrome

You’re a workaholic - your constant inner critic keeps fueling your motivation to keep going past your limits, yet leaves you with an intrinsic feeling of dissatisfaction.

You’re a perfectionist - you have high standards for yourself and may set unrealistic goals or expect perfection in everything you do.

You discount your achievements - you have trouble accepting compliments or acknowledging your accomplishments, and often attribute your success to external factors like luck or help from others.

You feel terrified of failure - you are often afraid of making mistakes or failing, and may procrastinate or avoid taking on new challenges for fear of being exposed as a fraud.

You doubt yourself constantly - you constantly question your abilities and whether you are qualified for your job or role, and may feel like you are "winging it" or "faking it."

You always try to be the expert - you tend to overcompensate for feelings of inadequacy with excessive displays of expertise and don't want to admit it when you don't have the answer.

You can't help but compare yourself to others - you compare yourself to others and feel like you don't measure up, even if you are objectively successful. You may feel like everyone else is more competent or deserving of success than you are.

overcoming imposter syndrome

Once you recognise that you're experiencing imposter syndrome, there are several ways to become aware of it and calm your inner critic down.

#1 share your secret.

It’s proven that the first step to overcoming imposter syndrome is admitting that you are experiencing it. Telling others about what you are experiencing might feel like revealing a secret, but what comes next is worth the trouble: relief. You will no longer feel the guilt of hiding something. Not only will honesty about your feelings allow you to start addressing them, but you might also find that the people around you feel the same about themselves.

#2 write a letter to your impostor syndrome.

Write a letter to the negative voice in your head that tells you that you are not good enough. Write about your accomplishments, your strengths, and how you have worked hard to get where you are

#3 give your imposter syndrome a name.

Naming your impostor syndrome can help you recognize when it's trying to take over your thoughts. Giving it a silly name, like "Mr. Doubtful" or "Ms. Negative", can make it easier to distance yourself from those negative thoughts and even make it fun.

#4 celebrate your failures.

Instead of beating yourself up for mistakes, celebrate them as opportunities for growth and learning. Embrace failure as a necessary part of the learning process and use it to build resilience. You can even go so far as to host a little party when you fail or get rejected to celebrate how it'll take you forward.

#5 use humour as a healthy coping mechanism.

Make fun of your impostor syndrome by finding or creating memes or humorous illustrations. Share them with friends or post them on social media to lighten the mood and connect with others who may be struggling with similar feelings.

#6 keep a (virtual) jar full of compliments.

Every time someone compliments you on your work or you achieve a goal you're proud of, write it down on a piece of paper or in a notes app. Over time, you will have a collection of powerful reminders of your strengths and accomplishments to refer to when you're feeling down and recognize the value that you bring to the world.

#7 talk to yourself like you would to a friend.

Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would give to a friend who's telling you about their struggles. Just pretend you're talking to a friend when you're trying to silence that inner critic.

#8 spend some time making your mood board.

Simply picturing your goals and the way you achieve them is guaranteed to trigger positive emotions and motivation. Oh, and don’t fear failure, rather reframe it as a learning opportunity - and take risks! Kickass women like Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama swear on visualization, positive affirmations and create their own vision boards.

the role of leaders in helping team members deal with impostor syndrome

It can be quite lonely and hard to struggle with impostor syndrome by yourself, and leaders also play a role in helping their team members feel confident in their roles through simple ways.

Acknowledging that imposter syndrome exists and that it is normal to feel that way, sharing your own experience with it openly, and being a safe space and a confidante can go a long way. Reminding them of their accomplishments and how their value and worth exist independent of their work can also be helpful, as it's easier to hear it from another person. To go the extra mile, provide mentorship or training opportunities to your team that helps them develop a healthy level of confidence.

Here's a little exercise to help you reflect further and choose strategies to cope with imposter syndrome:

  • what triggers your imposter syndrome?

  • how does imposter syndrome show up in you?

  • what will help you in the long run to counter imposter syndrome?

The next time you feel the imposter syndrome rearing its head, pause and use one or more of these strategies and watch as it disappears with a poof.

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