How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome in the Workplace


Imposter syndrome, also known as the imposter phenomenon, occurs in the workplace when an employee feels they aren't qualified or capable for the job they have. This feeling is often not based on logic or fact, but to the employee experiencing imposter syndrome, the facts don't change the way they feel.

As a professional, feeling like a fraud or imposter can decrease your motivation, drive, productivity and effectiveness at work. It can lead to burnout, tense work relationships and emotional exhaustion; all things you want to avoid when building a career.

In an article published by the American Psychological Association, Ph.D. student William Somerville described imposter syndrome as not only thinking he was less qualified than his peers but wondering if he is capable of performing the job at all. 

"There's a sense of being thrown into the deep end of the pool and needing to learn to swim," Somerville said. "But I wasn't just questioning whether I could survive. In a fundamental way, I was asking, ‘Am I a swimmer?'"

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Professionals who experience imposter syndrome tend to give others the credit for their success, constantly strive for perfection and assume that everyone else must know much more than them. But while imposter syndrome can be caused by external factors, there are several things you can start doing today to combat it at work.

Give Yourself Credit

If you’re a young professional starting your career, you’ve most likely worked very hard to get the position you’re in. Give yourself credit for that this is going to be your first step toward overcoming imposter syndrome.

Continue to make an intentional effort to recognize when you do something good at work, instead of waiting for validation from your coworkers or boss. Looking to others for validation of your hard work and successes can set you up for disappointment, but the one person who will always be around when you succeed is you. 

Flip the Script

Imposter syndrome can make lies swirl around in your head all day at work.

“I’m not good enough to do this.”

“I don’t have as much experience as everyone else.”

“I don’t deserve this job.”

An effective way to counteract these emotion-driven thoughts is to replace them with facts. Every time you find yourself thinking something negative about your abilities and achievements, take that thought captive and tell yourself what is true.

You do deserve this job because you worked hard for it and they picked you.

You are doing your best and you have what it takes.

Practice Affirmations

If you struggle with replacing lies with facts in your head, write the facts down. Make a list of affirmations to read to yourself when you feel the imposter syndrome trying to sneak its way in. It may feel cheesy the first few times, but affirming your strengths and accomplishments can boost your confidence and help in overcoming imposter syndrome looming in your mind. Here are a few example affirmations, but make sure the ones you choose truly speak to the lies you tend to tell yourself at work.

"I am capable."

"I have earned my seat at the table."

"I can make good decisions."

"My presence and voice matter."

"I am prepared to handle what is going on."

Practice Resiliency

Failure happens. And when you’re struggling with failure as a young professional, it can feel like confirmation that all the lies you’ve been telling yourself are true. But that’s not the case because failure happens to everyone!

Practicing resiliency, the ability to recover from difficulties, can help you gain some perspective, learn from and accept your mistakes, and confidently move forward. A simple way to start practicing this skill is to set aside 15 minutes to journal after you feel like a failure has happened at work. Write down how you’re feeling, what happened, what you learned and what you can do next.

Showcase Your Strengths

Even though your validation shouldn’t come from other people, if an opportunity comes around to showcase your strengths at work, take advantage of it. While it’s important to challenge yourself at work with tasks and projects outside of your comfort zone, doing that exclusively can be draining and exhausting. Instead, leaning into your core competencies can grow your self-esteem and silence self-doubt which can ultimately help in overcoming imposter syndrome.

Set Boundaries

If there are certain people or situations that seem to consistently make you feel like a fraud or imposter, set some boundaries to avoid them when you can. In addition, think through some scenarios that might bring doubt to your mind to craft an action plan. For example:

“What will I do if my boss isn’t happy with my work?”

“What will I do if my coworker keeps bringing up that she was in college when I was born?”

 “What will I do if I see someone else effortlessly do something that’s really hard for me?”

Processing these things ahead of time will help you feel prepared and prevent imposter syndrome emotions from taking over in the heat of the moment.

Find a Mentor

Overcoming imposter syndrome as a young professional can be hard to do alone. Find a mentor in your field who can help you believe in yourself and navigate the challenges you’re facing. Chances are they felt the same way when they started their career.

Imposter syndrome can be hard to shake when you’re young and it seems like everyone else at work knows more and has done more. Give yourself credit and lean into the facts about your strengths, accomplishments and knowledge to break free from doubt and fear.

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