In the world of business, self-doubt can be as crippling as any economic downturn. This is especially true when you find yourself battling the insidious “Imposter Syndrome”. It’s that niggling doubt that tells you that you’re a fraud, and soon, everyone will find out. But let me assure you, you’re not alone.
An estimated 70% of people experience these impostor feelings at some point in their lives, according to a review article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science. So, how do you push past the self-doubt to become the confident and high-achieving individual you’re meant to be?
Let’s delve into the top 10 strategies that can help you overcome the imposter syndrome and begin your journey towards achieving your full potential.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
The concept of Imposter Syndrome was initially introduced in 1978 by psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance. They described this psychological phenomenon in the context of accomplished professional women who, despite their considerable achievements, still harbored feelings of being imposters.
People with impostorism often attribute their accomplishments to luck, timing, or deceptive persuasion rather than accepting it as the result of their skills. This internalized self-perceived impostorism often leads to the vicious imposter cycle, hindering individuals from realizing their full potential.
The Journal of Behavioral Science research has shown that the imposter phenomenon is not confined to a specific demographic—it is a phenomenon in high achieving women and men across various fields. Understanding these dynamics is an essential first step to learn what is Imposter Syndrome and how to thrive in spite of it.
What Causes Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome is common among men and women of all ages; it can be triggered by a variety of factors and circumstances. One of the primary sources of this debilitating doubt is an environment that fosters high achievement. This could be a demanding workplace, an elite academic institution, or even a family that sets unusually high expectations. In these environments, failure is seen as unacceptable, and the pressure to succeed can lead individuals to doubt their abilities, even when evidence points to their abilities
Psychologists also highlight the role of personality traits in the onset of Imposter Syndrome, with perfectionists particularly susceptible. These people strive for flawlessness and set excessively high performance standards. When they fail to meet these unrealistic goals, they often question their abilities and feel like a fraud.
The advent of social media has also exacerbated the Imposter Syndrome phenomenon, with individuals constantly comparing their lives and achievements to others. This constant exposure to the ‘highlight reels’ of others’ lives can make one feel inadequate and fraudulent, fostering Imposter Syndrome.
Types of Imposter Syndrome
Dr. Valerie Young, a prominent expert in the field of Impostor Syndrome research, categorizes five primary imposter archetypes and gives a systematic review of each in her 2011 publication, “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Competent Individuals Experience Impostor Syndrome and Strategies for Thriving Despite It.” These competency archetypes, as Young labels them, mirror your personal convictions regarding the concept of competence.
Let’s delve deeper into each archetype and explore their distinct manifestations.
1. The Natural Genius
The “Natural Genius” type of the syndrome involves individuals who believe that competence equates to ease and speed. People with this type of Imposter Syndrome tend to learn quickly and effortlessly, and if they struggle to grasp a concept or skill, they consider it a failure, which fuels their doubts in themselves Their mantra is, “If I were truly intelligent, this would come easily to me.”
These individuals often grew up being praised for their inherent intelligence and talent, which sets an internal standard of effortless success. Consequently, they avoid challenges that could possibly lead to failure, thus denying themselves the opportunity to learn and grow. They view struggle as a sign of not being good enough and frequently compare their abilities to others, in many cases undermining their own achievements.
2. The Perfectionist
In the realm of the impostor phenomenon, the “Perfectionist” stands out. This type of the syndrome involves high achievers who are pushing themselves to always do better, work harder, set incredibly high standards, and are never satisfied with anything less than perfection. Even when they meet 99% of their goals, they’ll still ruminate on the 1% they did not achieve. To the “Perfectionist,” failure is not an option, and any minor mistake is seen as catastrophic.
For these individuals, their self-worth is tightly interconnected with their ability to achieve perfection. Their mantra is, “I must not make any mistakes”. Paradoxically, this relentless pursuit of perfection often hinders them from achieving their full potential. Their fear of failure and making mistakes can lead to procrastination, delaying the completion of projects or tasks. Ironically, while they strive for perfection to avoid criticism, their self-criticism is the harshest.
3. The Expert
In the Imposter Syndrome taxonomy, “The Expert” has a continuous thirst for knowledge. The most notable characteristic of Imposter Syndrome is that these individuals are never satisfied with their current level of understanding. Despite having high levels of expertise in their field, they undervalue their knowledge and are always seeking to learn more. Their mantra is, “I must know everything.”
“The Expert” often feels compelled to know every piece of information before starting a project and consistently looks for new certifications or training to improve their skills. They fear being exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable, even in areas they are well-versed in.
4. The Soloist
In the spectrum of five types of fraud syndrome, “The Soloist” stands out for their self-imposed need to accomplish tasks on their own. They view asking for assistance as a sign of weakness or incompetence, with their mantra being, “If I want it done right, I have to do it myself.”
“The Soloist” often struggles with delegation, believing that seeking help undermines their credibility and exposes them as frauds. This self-reliance can lead to burnout and missed opportunities for collaborative success. According to a study published in the Journal of Business and Psychology, about 25% of high-performing employees suffer from this form of Imposter Syndrome, which can significantly impact their productivity and job satisfaction.
5. The Superwoman/Man/Person
“The Superwoman/man/person” is one of the unique 5 types of Imposter Syndrome. They are characterized by their need to outperform everyone in every aspect of life—work, personal, family—to prove they are not imposters. Their mantra is often, “I can handle it all.”
“The Superwoman/man/person” often works longer hours, pushes harder, and tries to do more than necessary, fueled by the erroneous belief that they need to excel in all domains to validate their worthiness. According to the Workplace Imposter Syndrome report by Access Commercial Finance, about one-third of millennials admit to suffering from this type of the syndrome, which can lead to stress, burnout, and ultimately, a decline in performance and satisfaction.
10 Ways to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
1. Write Down Your Goals
Documenting your goals is the first step towards overcoming Imposter Syndrome. The simple act of writing down your objectives makes them tangible and serves as a constant reminder of what you’re aiming to achieve. By breaking down your larger goals into smaller, manageable tasks, you can more easily track your progress and celebrate your small victories along the way.
This practice also allows you to recalibrate your goals as circumstances change, ensuring you stay flexible and adaptable. As a business coach, I can attest to the power of written goals in enhancing clarity, focus, and motivation. Remember, a goal without a plan is just a wish, so start writing your success story today.
2. Focus on Facts
With our natural propensity to exaggerate our failures and downplay our successes, it’s easy to fall into the trap of negative self-perception. That’s where facts come in. Facts provide an objective measure of your skills, abilities, and accomplishments, free from the distortions of self-doubt and fear of success.
Start by documenting your achievements, no matter how minor they seem. Whenever self-doubt creeps in, refer to this list as a factual reminder of your capabilities. Additionally, seek factual feedback from peers, mentors, and subordinates. An unbiased, external perspective can offer valuable insights into your strengths and areas for improvement.
3. Learn New Things
Continual learning is a powerful antidote to Imposter Syndrome. By consistently expanding your knowledge and skill set, you not only stay current in an ever-evolving business landscape but also foster a growth mindset, viewing challenges as opportunities to learn rather than as threats to your competence.
Begin with areas directly related to your role or industry, attending webinars, workshops, or enrolling in online courses. Over time, explore diverse topics to stimulate creative thinking and innovation. According to a report by Deloitte, 90% of executives believe lifelong learning is crucial for long-term business success. As a business coach, I’ve observed how continuous learning fuels self-confidence, diminishes feelings of inadequacy, and fosters resilience, all of which are necessary to overcome Imposter Syndrome.
4. Build A Bigger Identity
Building a bigger identity is about more than just your professional accomplishments; it’s about embracing all aspects of your persona, including your roles outside the workplace. This involves acknowledging your personal passions, hobbies, relationships, and experiences that contribute to who you are.
Broadening your identity beyond your professional role fosters a more balanced self-perception and reduces the impact that any single area of life can have on your overall self-esteem.
5. Share Your Feelings
A study published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior confirms that sharing feelings of doubt and receiving social support can significantly reduce feelings of being a fraud.
When you openly discuss your feelings, you often find that others share similar experiences, which helps to normalize these emotions and reduce feelings of isolation. Furthermore, by voicing your insecurities, you allow others to provide support, encouragement, and a more balanced perspective on your abilities and accomplishments.
6. Let Go of Perfectionism
Perfectionism, while often seen as a strength, is a common trait among individuals suffering from Imposter Syndrome. It’s the relentless pursuit of flawlessness, setting excessively high-performance standards, combined with critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations. While striving for excellence can be beneficial, the unyielding quest for perfection can lead to stress, and burnout, and even deter you from pursuing ambitious goals.
The first step in letting go of perfectionism is to acknowledge that perfection is an unattainable standard. Instead, aim for progress and continuous improvement. Celebrate your achievements, however small they may be, and learn from your failures, for they are just stepping stones towards success.
7. Cultivate Self-Compassion
Cultivating self-compassion entails treating oneself with kindness and understanding during times of failure or inadequacy, much like how you’d treat a friend. It involves being mindful of self-critical thoughts, acknowledging them without judgment, and consciously choosing to offer self-kindness.
Self-compassion is a powerful tool that fosters resilience and emotional well-being, helping to combat feelings of Imposter Syndrome. It provides a healthy perspective, reminding us that everyone makes mistakes and experiences setbacks.
8. Celebrate Your Successes
Celebrating your successes, both big and small, plays a pivotal role in combating Imposter Syndrome. It serves as a tangible reminder of your capabilities, competencies, and growth. Make it a habit to acknowledge and celebrate your achievements, irrespective of their scale.
This could be as simple as completing a task, landing a new client, or learning a new skill. Celebration doesn’t necessarily mean grand gestures; it can be as modest as taking a moment to reflect on your accomplishment, sharing it with a friend, or treating yourself to something you enjoy. Regularly celebrating successes creates positive reinforcement, boosting your confidence and reinforcing your sense of self-efficacy.
9. Share Your Failures
Sharing your failures is just as essential as celebrating successes. When you openly discuss your failures, it humanizes you, making you more approachable and relatable. It provides an opportunity to reflect, learn, and grow, turning failures into stepping stones for success.
Additionally, it breaks the stigma associated with failure, fostering an environment where it’s safe to take risks and make mistakes. In fact, according to a Harvard Business Review report, organizations that encourage sharing failures have a higher rate of innovation.
10. Look for a Mentor
Finding a mentor is instrumental in navigating the complex landscape of business. A mentor provides invaluable guidance, shares insights from their own experiences, and challenges you to step out of your comfort zone.
They can aid in establishing realistic goals, identifying opportunities, and overcoming obstacles. However, it’s essential to choose a mentor who aligns with your values, understands your aspirations, and is genuinely interested in your growth. Further, a mentor-mentee relationship should be based on mutual respect and trust.
The Prevalence of Imposter Syndrome and Why It Matters
While imposter syndrome isn’t an official diagnosis, it is a real phenomenon that can have severe negative effects on both individuals and organizations It afflicts people across diverse professions, from entrepreneurs, successful women and men, executives, and managers to artists and academics. Regardless of their level of success or their field of work, these individuals often harbor a persistent fear of being exposed as fraud.
Why does this matter? Firstly, Imposter Syndrome can cause negative effects on an individual’s mental health, leading to excessive stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, and even depression. Moreover, it can hinder one’s professional growth and productivity. Individuals struggling with Imposter Syndrome often doubt their capabilities, which can prevent them from seizing opportunities, pursuing innovative ideas, or advocating for themselves in work environments. In extreme cases, it can lead to burnout.
In a business context, Imposter Syndrome can be particularly detrimental. It can stifle creativity and innovation, impede leadership development, and negatively affect team performance and morale. Moreover, organizations may lose the potential contributions that doubt-ridden individuals could make if they believed in their abilities.
Therefore, understanding and addressing Imposter Syndrome is not only crucial for personal growth and well-being but also for organizational success and development. As a business coach, I strongly advocate for awareness, open dialogue, and proactive strategies to prevent Imposter Syndrome at both an individual and organizational level.
How Do I Know If I Have Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome often manifests as a persistent feeling of self-doubt, an inner belief that you’re not as competent as others perceive you to be, and an overwhelming fear of being exposed as a fraud. You might find yourself attributing your achievements to luck or external factors rather than to your abilities. You might also have a tendency to downplay your success and set excessively high expectations for yourself.
If these feelings are pervasive and impacting your mental health or performance, it’s possible that you may be dealing with Imposter Syndrome. However, it’s important to note that experiencing self-doubt occasionally doesn’t necessarily mean you have Imposter Syndrome. It’s a normal human experience to doubt ourselves from time to time. However, if these feelings are chronic and are affecting your well-being and performance, it’s advisable to seek professional help.
What Does Imposter Syndrome Feel Like?
Imposter Syndrome can feel like a constant fear of being revealed as a fraud, even in the face of evident success or competence. This psychological phenomenon often manifests as chronic self-doubt and a consistent attribution of success to external factors such as luck or timing, rather than internal abilities. There’s often a sense of not being deserving of your achievements, feeling like they’ve been obtained through deception, or that you’ve merely fooled others into believing in your abilities.
This can lead to patterns of overworking, perfectionism, and avoiding showing confidence, for fear of being exposed. The emotional toll can be significant, leading to stress, anxiety, lowered self-confidence, and even burnout. It’s important to note that imposter feelings can vary between individuals and can come and go depending on the situation. However, the consistent thread is the internal experience of intellectual phoniness, regardless of any external evidence of accomplishment.
Is Imposter Syndrome or Anxiety?
Imposter Syndrome and anxiety, although often intertwined, are distinct in nature. Imposter Syndrome pertains to the persistent sense of being a fraud in one’s professional life, despite evident success and competence. It is characterized by enduring self-doubt and a belief that one’s achievements are undeserved or merely the product of luck. Conversely, anxiety is a broad term encompassing various disorders that induce nervousness, fear, apprehension, and excessive worry.
These disorders influence our emotions and behaviors and can manifest in physical symptoms. While Imposter Syndrome may contribute to or intensify feelings of anxiety, it is not inherently classified as an anxiety disorder. Nevertheless, if the emotions associated with Imposter Syndrome become overwhelming to the extent that they impede one’s ability to function or enjoy life, seeking guidance from a mental health professional can be beneficial.
How do People With Imposter Syndrome Think?
Individuals experiencing Imposter Syndrome often possess a recurring thought pattern that undermines their abilities and accomplishments. They frequently underestimate their own competence and attribute their achievements to factors such as luck, timing, or external circumstances, instead of acknowledging their own skills, efforts, or qualifications. They may believe that they have somehow deceived others into thinking they are more capable than they truly are, resulting in a constant fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
Moreover, they tend to set unreasonably high standards for themselves, leading to a perpetual sense of failure even in the face of evident success. This mindset can initiate a harmful cycle of self-doubt and fear, as they work excessively to compensate for perceived deficiencies, which in turn increases stress and exacerbates self-doubt.