5 strategies to crush Imposter Syndrome

70 percent of us will experience a period of self-doubt at least once in our lives. Let's see how to help that from happening.

You can’t go on thinking that every other professional you know has succeeded because of their great creativity, talent, persuasiveness, intelligence and dedication and you, on the other hand, have got where you are only because of luck, tons of effort and life’s randomness. It’s not healthy or true.

The Impostor Syndrome was identified from clinical observations during therapeutic sessions with high achieving women by Dr Pauline Clance in 1978. Despite objective evidence of success, these women had a pervasive psychological experience believing that they were intellectual frauds and feared being recognized as impostors. They suffered from anxiety, fear of failure and dissatisfaction with life.

Research from 2011 (pdf) suggests that around 70 percent of us will go through a period of these self-doubts at least once in our lives. Anyone can view themselves as an impostor if they fail to internalize their success and this experience is not limited to people who are highly successful.

In every industry there is a pervasive myth that there is a minority of super achievers who are born with a magical gift, while the rest of us mortals struggle by with our ordinary talents. Researchers at the University of Salzburg recently surveyed over 200 professionals and found that those experiencing the syndrome tended to get paid less, were less likely to have won promotions, and were usually less satisfied in their work and less committed.

These are some simple strategies to help reduce your Imposter feelings and protect your career.

#1 Speak up

Speaking about symptoms with a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional is a significant first step. Feelings of Imposterism are fueled by anxiety, low self-esteem and self-doubt so it’s important that companies foster a supportive environment. We can all strive to give each other constructive feedback that is aimed at processes and techniques rather than on personal criticisms.

#2 Learn to be a healthy perfectionist

A recent study by Belgian psychologists of over 200 staff in three different industries found that feelings of Imposter Syndrome went hand in hand with high scores on a measure of “maladaptive perfectionism” and with low scores on adaptive perfectionism.

Try to develop a healthy perfectionist approach. Strive to do as well as possible, for yourself, not for outside approval. Mistakes and set-backs are 100% normal.

#3 Look for promotions and job opportunities

While it’s important to try to tackle your Imposter feelings a practical approach is to recognize the ways these feelings are likely to hinder your career progression, and then to take deliberate counter measures, such as going for promotions and looking out for exciting job opportunities. The truth is, the more successful you are, the more likely it is that you will end up feeling like a fraud — it’s just such a common experience.

#4 Listen to other people’s stories

It’s easy to assume that everyone else got here through effortless talent, as compared with our own mix of luck and exhausting effort. One powerful antidote to Imposter feelings is to take the time to talk to trusted peers and mentors about their careers. Listen to their stories and experiences and you’ll likely discover that nothing came easy.

#5 Own your achievements

It's hard to accept praise for your accomplishments when you feel like you didn't deserve it, that you were just lucky, or worse, that anyone could've done exactly what you did. However, that's not true. You did the task the only way you could have done it and applied your unique knowledge and skills.


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