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How to overcome imposter syndrome at work

Imposter syndrome is quickly becoming a widespread psychological phenomenon and according to a recent survey, now affects two thirds (69%) of British adults. With numbers that high we felt it would be helpful to share our tips on how to manage it.

What is imposter syndrome?

How to overcome imposter syndrome at work

Have you ever felt inadequate?  Like you don’t deserve to be in your role? That your achievements have just been down to good luck? That one day your colleagues will discover that you’re an imposter? Whether you know it or not, as the statistics show, many of us have experienced imposter syndrome at some point in our career. It can be experienced differently in different people but generally manifests feelings of self-doubt, self-criticism or critical comparisons to others that make you feel inadequate.

Research by Dr Valerie Young categorised the condition into subtypes and argues that people who suffer with IS will fall into one or a mix of the below:

Perfectionism

“This describes people who set extremely high expectations for themselves, and, even if they meet 99% of their goals, they feel like a failure. Any small mistake will make them question their own incompetence”.

The Superman

“This describes people who push themselves to work harder than those around them to prove they’re not imposters. They feel the need to succeed in all aspects of life – at work, as parents and partners – and may feel stressed when they’re not accomplishing something”.

The Natural Genius

“When the natural genius has to struggle or work hard to accomplish something, he or she thinks they’re not good enough. They are used to skills coming easily; when they have to put in effort, their brain tells them that’s proof they’re an imposter.

The Soloist

“This subtype feels they have to accomplish tasks on their own. If they need to ask for help, they think that means they are a failure”.

The Expert

“This describes people who feel the need to know every bit of information before they start a project, and constantly look for training to improve their skills. They might be hesitant about applying for a job if they do not meet all the criteria, or be hesitant to ask a questions so as not to expose themselves for not knowing the answer to something.”

So now you know that anyone and everyone can experience imposter syndrome in their career, and that it comes in several different forms, you may be wondering whether it’s something we can overcome or something we have to learn to live with.

Techniques for Managing Imposter Syndrome

Interrogating our previous experiences and using them as our own resources to learn from, is a great place to start when it comes to managing imposter syndrome.

As described in the above subtypes, the feeling that success and perfection is linked is common in IS and can be really damaging. This association can stem from a lot of different situations, however, will usually relate back to a previous experience in childhood or a personal relationship, whereby there are certain expectations you are pressured to meet. This expectation of success meaning perfection is not only damaging but also factually incorrect as it is just as important to learn from our mistakes than to get things right every time. As Albert Einstein famously said, “failure is success in progress”.

Contrary to popular belief, we need to normalise negative emotions and experiences in all walks of life. Reject the relationship between success and perfectionism. Fail, let it upset us, learn from our mistake and progress from there. Without these mistakes, we can’t learn to move on. Rather than fearing failure, or burying your feelings, learn to face them, listen to how they make you feel and then combat them with evidence of why you’re good enough. The more you practise this process, the more you will recognise your unhealthy patterns and learn to work with them effectively – eventually a feeling of self-worth will emerge.

The symptoms of imposter syndrome make it very difficult to openly talk about. There has been a huge positive shift in transparency of wellbeing in the workplace in recent years and with that we should begin to be honest and open about imposter syndrome. Suffering in silence will only exacerbate the feelings you’re experiencing. Businesses should continue to focus on building cultures that champion healthy attitudes towards failure and providing safe places for honest and open conversations.

By facing our fears and learning from our mistakes we can combat imposter syndrome and enjoy the great successes and achievements that we have earnt.

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