Overcoming Imposter Syndrome in the Workplace

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome in the Workplace

"I'm not smart enough."

"They're just being nice."

"My boss will eventually fire me when she finds out she’s overestimated my abilities.”

These are some of the comments I heard from my friend after she found out she’d been promoted at work. It’s the type of advancement in her career that she’s been hoping for. But instead of celebrating the news, she spiraled into full blown panic and wants to turn down the offer. Why?

As an intelligent, hardworking and resourceful individual this promotion is something she is 100% capable of tackling. Yet, the woman hasn’t even attempted the job and she’s already labelling herself inadequate, incompetent, and a failure.

And she’s not alone in these self-sabotaging thoughts that create a perpetuating cycle of self-doubt. At some point in our lives, approximately 70% of people experience what is known as imposter syndrome.

What is imposter syndrome?

Have you ever felt like a fraud? Or had to guess or bullshit your way through a situation? Imposter syndrome is a feeling of being out of your depths in a situation you’re already entrenched in. Internally you feel as though you’re not skilled, qualified or experienced enough to justify being where you are.

Imposter syndrome is a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity and the unshakable belief that your successes are due to luck rather than abilities and knowledge. Despite our impressive accomplishments, our self-limiting beliefs prevent us from appreciating our success.

Imposter syndrome at work: why it’s a problem.

It’s an incessant challenge that I see negatively affect my peers – and myself – while we build our careers. As is the case with my friend, the fear of failing creates a barrier for productivity and innovation, holding back perfectly capable and bright individuals from accepting promotions and achievements that they’ve earned.

Turning imposter syndrome into a force for good

There is no quick fix or solution to this feeling. It doesn’t go away with any form of success. In fact, success will often heighten those thoughts of “How the hell did I get here?” But I’ve learned from Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-CEO and founder of software company Atlassian, that it’s not all bad to experience this feeling.

We can learn to harness our experiences with imposter syndrome and turn them into a force for good. Here are some helpful ways to work towards overcoming imposter syndrome:

Stop thinking like an imposter

If you go home every day feeling like a fraud, it’s time to recognize those self-defeating thought patterns. Replace them with more positive affirmations. The more self-aware you become at identifying your strengths, the better equipped you’ll be to eliminate negative self-talk.

Learn the difference between self-efficacy and self-confidence

Many people believe that the key to overcoming imposter syndrome is to increase your self-confidence or your self-esteem. But let’s be realistic. If I wake up tomorrow and tell myself “I’m just going to be more confident from here on out”, it’s probably not going to work. It’s very hard to increase your self-confidence. Instead, a trick to eventually increase it is to focus on your self-efficacy.  

Self-efficacy refers to the belief of your ability to perform specific tasks. If you do something that leaves you with measurable evidence of your abilities, it can eventually increase your self-esteem. Think about ways where you can add up small victories and accomplishments.

For example, I used to be terrified of speaking to customers on the phone. I felt that I wasn’t experienced or qualified enough to answer their questions. But I’d make the calls and they’d go well – again and again. But I’d still doubt myself before every call. Until one day before calling a customer, I thought to myself “Why am I nervous? I’ve proven that I can do this. The hard evidence is in my call log. And I called that customer with confidence.

Accept praise

Just accept the compliments. Accept your achievements. Write them down even. When you start to doubt yourself, the proof of your abilities will be added up right there in front of you.

Don’t seek perfection

Accept that you can’t excel at every facet of your job. Facing challenges and failures is a fundamental part of growth, so recognize that you don’t have to be good at everything.

Feel the fear and do it anyway

The fear will never go away as long as you continue to grow. You’re not going to learn or improve at anything if you’re sitting comfy. Though the anxiety associated with imposter syndrome can often be debilitating, it’s important to recognize that your fear is in response to you actually doing something with courage. Feeling fear because you made a choice to act is far better than feeling regret because you ignored your ambition. 

Know you’re not alone

Seriously. 70% of us experience imposter syndrome. And my guess is that majority of this percentage are very successful people. We’re all human. We all deal with self-doubt sometimes. 

The Silver Lining 

While imposter syndrome can cause us some stress, there’s a small silver lining associated with it. People who continually try to prove that they are good enough work harder and are intrinsically motivated to do their best, and then some. This is great for performance and achievements and is particularly positive for employers.

Individuals who experience imposter syndrome also make great consultants or project workers. Why? They don’t take their gig for granted and strive to prove themselves on every project.

Let's focus on this silver lining and harness our experiences with imposter syndrome and turn them into a force that drives us towards self-awareness and growth.

Sarah Visca
Sarah Visca is the Operations Manager at ConnectsUs HR, a company that provides tools & resources to quickly set up a Human Resources department.  
You can contact her here