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Overcoming imposter syndrome in the workplace

Overjoyed diverse coworkers give high five celebrate shared victory at meeting

Imposter syndrome in the corporate world is much more common than one would think.

Several studies reveal that more than 70% of people reported experiencing some degree of imposter syndrome at least once in their careers.

Imposter syndrome was first conceptualized in the late 1970s by researchers Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, who, in their research, originally referred to a pattern of perceived inadequacy observed among female graduate students.

Today, the definition of imposter syndrome extends farther than that. The Harvard Business Review defines it as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persists despite evident success,” and can affect anyone. Individuals with imposter syndrome feel that their achievements are attributed only to luck, timing and other factors outside of their control.

Ironically, it’s people who are hard workers, high achievers and perfectionists who are most likely to experience imposter syndrome, including doctors, lawyers, academics and even celebrities.

For these individuals, it has a way of making them feel like they are not responsible for the successes they’ve accomplished, nor do they deserve any of the rewards that go along with their success.

Common signs of imposter syndrome include:

  • Avoiding feedback
  • Turning down new opportunities
  • Second-guessing decisions
  • Failing to start or finish projects
  • Overworking to the point of burnout to prove worth
  • An inability to internalize achievements and downplaying accomplishments

If you’re experiencing any one of these indicators, here are five tips for dealing with and overcoming imposter syndrome in the workplace. 

1. Track your success

Amid juggling all your responsibilities, it can be easy to neglect your strengths and achievements.

Write down your successes and make a list of what you’ve accomplished to help you realize how skilled, qualified and competent you are in your role. Noting down any positive feedback you’ve received will also help you remember your worth since it’s evidence that other people see it, too.

2. Fake it till you make it 

It’s a common phrase but very true. In instances when you don’t feel qualified or deserving of your role, simply pretend that you are. This is the first step to actually feeling like you are worthy of your victories.

Don’t wait until you start to feel competent to put yourself out there and feel valued. After some time of “winging it,” you will eventually begin to realize that you truly are a valuable asset to your team.

3. Change your attitude and mindset

If you’re always thinking that you can’t do it, then you will always believe that you can’t.

Adopt a new mindset that you’re well-equipped with the skills and knowledge you need to do your job. Your employer wouldn’t hire (or keep!) you if you weren’t skilled in your role, so have that mentality whenever you face imposter syndrome.

4. Talk to someone you trust

If your feelings of self-doubt become overwhelming, reach out and talk to someone you trust – whether it’s your manager, colleague, mentor, family member or even a therapist.

There are always people willing to hear from you and want to help you. You might even be surprised to find out how many people around you feel the same way. Having that support will help you overcome your struggles.

5. Perfection doesn’t exist

As mentioned earlier, imposter syndrome impacts perfectionists and high achievers the most. These individuals set extremely high standards for themselves and are committed to doing only their best.

However, this only fuels imposter syndrome as these individuals often starts comparing themselves to a “perfect” outcome that can be unrealistic to achieve.

Realizing that you don’t always have to be perfect is a start to overcoming imposter syndrome. And sometimes mistakes happen, and that’s OK. That doesn’t hinder your growth or make you an imposter – it’s proof that you’re smart enough to continue learning.

Published on Feb. 18, 2022.