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Impostor Syndrome: What Is It and How to Overcome It

August 30, 2021

Have you ever doubted yourself and your abilities? Has your anxiety flared up when you’ve started a new project? Have you ever decided not to apply for a job vacancy because you thought you weren’t good enough, even if you were qualified for it? And have you ever thought that "you don’t belong here" when starting a new role? 

Well, if you answered "yes" you’re not alone. Various studies show that about 70% of individuals experience so-called impostor syndrome, or impostor phenomenon, at least once during their professional life. 

In this article, we will discuss what impostor syndrome is, how it can impact your professional life, and how to overcome such feelings.  

What Is Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is a psychological term that refers to people who believe that they are not as competent as others perceive them to be, and they struggle with fear of being exposed as frauds at work. 

The term was first used by Psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in the late 70s. In their research, they primarily focused on female professionals who experienced such a phenomenon. But since then, it has been recognized as a syndrome that impacts both men and women. And it can affect anyone from fresh graduates to top executives. 

Some of the common signs of impostor syndrome include the following:

  • Feeling of inadequacy at work 
  • Irrational fear of being discovered as a fraud 
  • Uncertainty about your competencies 
  • Attributing accomplishments to luck rather than skills and hard work
  • Sense of guilt about success
  • Constant comparison to other people

Eventually, these feelings may lead to loss of self-confidence, anxiety, inability to handle pressure and even depression. That in turn, can negatively impact your work performance and career prospects. 

For example, professionals undervaluing their skills and abilities often avoid seeking promotion, or a pay raise, because they don’t believe they deserve it.  

It’s vital to identify imposter syndrome and to deal with it before it causes serious damage to your mental health and professional life. But how do you overcome imposter syndrome? Keep on reading to find out. 

How to Overcome Impostor Syndrome at Work

Here are seven actionable tips to deal with impostor syndrome at work: 

#1 Be aware of the symptoms

The first and most crucial step to overcoming impostor syndrome is to pay attention to your negative thoughts. Understanding the main symptoms of impostor syndrome will help you recognize that you have this problem in time, and you can apply some strategies to your life to cope with it.  

#2 Create a ‘Wins Folder’

If you remind yourself about your past accomplishments you’ll feel a lot better about yourself. And the best way to track these accomplishments is to create a special folder where you collect all positive feedback from clients, colleagues and supervisors. 

You can also take notes about performance reviews, promotions you have received, successfully completed projects and so on. 

Then, when you feel insecure you can go back through this folder to boost your self-confidence. 

#3 Break the silence 

A lot of people with impostor syndrome are ashamed of their fraudulent feelings, and instead of discussing how they feel they struggle with their feelings alone. 

But sharing your thoughts with a trusted friend, or a mentor, will not only reduce loneliness, but it will also help you to see your skills and abilities from a more realistic perspective. 

And if your impostor feelings rise to a level you cannot handle, even with a friend's support, there is nothing wrong with looking for professional help and undergoing therapy. 

#4 Develop a healthy response to failures

Often, people who suffer from impostor syndrome are perfectionists. They set extremely high and often unrealistic standards for themselves, and then they think that every tiny mistake they make will expose them as frauds. 

But the truth is that failures are a part of life. Mistakes are inevitable. And you need to think of them as opportunities to learn and to improve yourself, and not as something you need to avoid at all costs.  

#5 Stop comparing yourself to others

Social media has made it so easy for us all to compare ourselves to other people. But comparing yourself to everyone else is a pretty dangerous habit, especially when you’re about to start a new job. 

Constantly worrying about whether someone else has more experience, or a better education than you, won't lead to anything good. Always remember that the only person you should compare yourself to is you a year, five or ten years ago. 

So, focus on your own achievements and stop worrying too much about what others have accomplished. 

#6 Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Building healthy relationships with coworkers is vital for overcoming impostor syndrome at work. 

Remember that when you’re starting a new job, it’s expected that you won’t know everything. And asking more experienced colleagues for guidance, if you don’t know how to approach a task, does not mean that you are incompetent. 

It means that you’re a responsible person who’s willing to learn and become a good team member. 

#7 Practice

Finally, don’t forget that self-doubts are very common, especially when taking on new responsibilities or starting work in a new company. 

However, it’s essential not to get paralyzed by these feelings. You should think of it as a time to take action instead. 

Learn the necessary skills you need for your new task and practice these skills a lot. This is the only way you can build confidence in your abilities. 

Conclusion

In today's fast-paced workplace, anyone can feel inadequate at times, especially when you work in the tech field. 

But whether you have a degree in Computer Science, or an education from a coding bootcamp, remember that there is always something new to learn because technology evolves quickly. 

So, follow the tips above and don't let impostor syndrome hold you back from achieving your career goals.


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