Is Imposter Syndrome Preventing You From Getting Ahead at Work?


“Imposter Syndrome” in the workplace is more than just a lack of confidence, although that usually plays a part. When an otherwise competent professional feels as if he or she is incompetent, a fraud, or undeserving of the job and any accolades, promotions, or positive feedback they get, then they’re probably grappling with a good dose of imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome can present itself at any stage in your career, although mid- to senior-level professionals are often likely to feel it more intensely because they’ve simply had longer time in the workforce to accumulate more accomplishments to doubt and question.  

While it may seem like an insignificant little insecurity or personal "quirk," some people can feel this so intensely that it affects their job performance, their morale level, and even their overall job satisfaction and happiness. If you feel that you’re constantly living a kind of professional lie at your job, while simultaneously advancing in your career and being handed more and more responsibility (which, naturally, you feel you don't deserve), that kind of guilt and insecurity is bound to show itself in other (negative) ways or areas of your life.

Here are a few strategies for tackling imposter syndrome and coming to a more realistic understanding of your skills and your value as an employee:

Work on self-awareness

Try to identify where this deep-rooted lack of confidence in your own abilities is coming from and then make an effort to work through that, either on your own or with professional help.

Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses

Be totally honest with yourself in this professional growth exercise. Write down every strength (both professional and personal) and weakness that you can think of. Afterwards, consider how your unique strengths have led to successes you’ve had in your career. Once you make a clear connection between actual characteristics, traits, skills, or experience you have and your professional accomplishments, it’ll be easier to accept your successes as, well, yours. Likewise, understanding your areas of weakness (everybody has them, so don’t let this side of the list drag you down into a spiral of insecurity and doubt) will give you actionable areas that you can dedicate some time and energy to improving.

Ditch the negative talk

Do you find yourself starting sentences with “This may not make any sense but…” or “I know this probably won’t work but…” If you regularly qualify your ideas and opinions with an apology or self-deprecating remark, it’s time to modify your communication style. These subtle negative phrases will keep you stuck in a cycle of self-doubt, and they also can often come across as disingenuous (even annoying?) to your colleagues and leadership. If you’re not confident in your ideas, how do you expect anyone else to jump on board either?

Let go of perfectionism

If you’re a perfectionist, you’re often more at risk to suffer from imposter syndrome at work because your failure to be perfect (no one is perfect, after all) chips away at your self image and confidence levels. Over time, this constant sense of failure can give you the distorted sense that you’re actually incompetent, when in fact you’re just human and likely doing a very fine job.

Always aim for growth

Perhaps you’re feeling like a fraud or a “fake” at work because you have a legitimate skills or knowledge gap that is preventing you from doing your job well or meeting goals and expectations. If that’s the case, don’t just brush over the issue and try to “fake it ‘til you make it,” which can cause you further anxiety and stress as you try to keep up the facade. Confident people at all career levels have growth mentality and are comfortable recognizing an area of weakness and taking proactive steps to gain the knowledge or skills they need to reach their peak performance levels and grow as a professional.

Don’t compare yourself on social media

Many people with imposter syndrome find that the more time they spend comparing themselves to others on social media, the more inadequate they may feel about their own perceived underperformance. Avoid the insecurity trap of measuring yourself based on what you see on your news feed and keep your eye on your own career path and goals.

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