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15 Jun 2020 Austin Belcak

What Is Imposter Syndrome (And How To Overcome It)

Have you ever felt a sinking feeling in your gut when your experience doesn’t quite match up with the job description? A feeling that you don’t really belong there, or that you’re just an imposter? Sounds pretty bad, right?

What if I told you that’s not even the worst part?

This sensation is well known around the world, and it not only shakes your confidence but it actually causes you to suffer from needless stress.

This is known as imposter syndrome, and we'll talk about how to overcome it!

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

So, let’s get scientific. What exactly is imposter syndrome?

Megan Dalla-Camina of Psychology Today defines imposter syndrome as “A psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.” This doubt of prior accomplishments makes people suffer from an internalized fear that they’ll be exposed as a fraud.

Clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the term “imposter syndrome” in 1978 to describe the pattern of behavior seen in people who aren’t convinced they deserve the success they have.

This is that little voice in your head saying “I feel like a fraud” or “what gives me the right to be here?” — it’s a voice we all hear on occasion.

When you find yourself attributing success to luck instead of your own hard work, that’s imposter syndrome. The good thing is that there are highly effective (and incredibly easy) ways to get past it.Man is frustrated and stressed out while looking at his laptop

Now, while the phenomenon isn’t listed in the DSM, Kirsten Wier of the American Psychological Association says that it’s generally acknowledged to be real, and that imposter syndrome is associated with depression and anxiety.

Data reveals that 70% of people will suffer from imposter syndrome at some point in their careers. That’s a lot of people!

Why Are You Experiencing Imposter Syndrome?

There are a number of different ways people think that lead to imposter syndrome. Often, it begins as a child feeling, as if you had to work incredibly hard to achieve a certain level of success for some reason.

It seems for minority groups, it's even more likely you’ll suffer from it.

Kirsten Wier gives the example of Frederick Hives, an African-American PsyD candidate, who says, “I was taught I would need to ‘work twice as hard to be half as good.' While this instills a goal-oriented approach within me, it also keeps me feeling as though my efforts will never be enough.”

Women are also typical sufferers of imposter syndrome, though men are not immune to its grip.

Valerie Young, author of “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women”, suggests that there are certain personality competence types that experience these feelings:

  1. The Perfectionist – These people will feel a blow to their confidence if they come even slightly short of their goals.
  2. The Expert – This type of person is never confident until they have all of the facts, plenty of certifications, and are sure they’re ready. They don’t apply for jobs unless they’re qualified, and they don’t stick their hand up unless they’re sure of the answer.
  3. The Natural Genius – These people see hard work as a sign that they’re not innately capable of the job. When so many things come to them naturally, having to work at something “proves” to them that they are an imposter.
  4. The Soloist – The soloist works alone, as any call for help makes them believe they are a fraud because they weren’t good enough to handle it by themselves.
  5. The Supermen/Superwomen – These people are always trying to prove they’re not an imposter by working super-hard in every part of their life.

Is this starting to sound familiar to you?

How Imposter Syndrome Can Affect Work Performance

Unfortunately, people suffering from imposter syndrome and showing the personality traits above tend to suffer at work because of it. This is because:

  • They slow down teams by not asking for help
  • They lack confidence
  • They’re unwilling to make public presentations
  • They over-prepare and suffer burnout as a result
  • They intimidate people with their superhuman accomplishments and credentials
  • They don’t try new things or step up to new roles
  • They’re not great at taking criticism

Man is frustrated and sad sitting on a bridge above a city

None of this behavior is going to get you that coveted job though, is it? So, what do you do instead?

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Melody Wilding from The Muse suggests that to overcome imposter syndrome you should always view yourself as a work in progress, with certain skills that need work to improve on, acting before you’re ready and taking your mistakes in stride. She says “Truth is, there will never be the “perfect time” and your work will never be 100% flawless. The sooner you’re able to accept that, the better off you’ll be.”

Amy Morin from Very Well Mind says the answer to coping with imposter syndrome is in asking yourself hard questions, like:

  • “What core beliefs do I hold about myself?”
  • “Do I believe I am worthy of love as I am?”
  • “Must I be perfect for others to approve of me?”

Abigail Adams of TIME magazine interviewed psychologist Audrey Ervin and author Valerie Young on how to deal with imposter syndrome. Ervin’s advice to her clients was to observe thoughts rather than to engage with them, and to first to ask yourself ‘Does that thought help or hinder me?’

Young says “the only difference between someone who experiences impostor syndrome and someone who does not is how they respond to challenges”, and that this is good news, as we merely need to “think like non-imposters”. The people that don’t feel like imposters aren’t actually more competent or more intelligent, so it’s simply the mindset that’s different.

Change Your Response

If you’re an ambitious career-minded person making strides into new industries and following non-traditional career paths, you’ve probably felt imposter syndrome at some point. Despite having proven that you’ve got what it takes to have the role you’re in, sometimes that imposter sensation will just sweep right over you.

But armed with these tactics, you’ll be over it in a moment, never suffering from imposter syndrome for more than a minute. Leverage that on a daily basis and you might just skyrocket your confidence while you’re at it!

Austin Belcak

Austin is the founder of Cultivated Culture where he helps people land jobs without connections, without traditional experience, and without applying online. His strategies have been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, & Fast Company and has helped people just like you land jobs at Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, & more.



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