“I don’t deserve this success.”
“You’ve got to fake it to make it.”
“Everyone’s going to find out sooner or later.”
If thoughts like this have crossed your mind at work, you might be suffering from Imposter Syndrome.
The term was initially coined by psychologists Rose Clance and Suzanna Imes in the 1970s. It’s a persistent inability to believe that you deserve your success – a fear that your achievements aren’t the result of your own efforts or skills and that, sooner or later, your colleagues or boss will catch on.
Thoughts like this are intrusive. They can get in the way of your best work and keep you awake at night. And it might feel like there’s no way to shut them up – but that’s where you’re wrong.
Let’s take a look at five causes of Imposter Syndrome to see which might apply to you – and how you can start to look differently at all you’ve achieved.
Overachieving individuals perform better and achieve more than is expected of them. Sounds great, but many successful people struggle to embrace, accept and enjoy their own achievements.
Of course, there are positives and negatives to being an overachiever – with high levels of determination, passion, drive and energy can come very high, even unachievable career goals. Some might also take on huge projects and end up overwhelmed, anxious, stressed and insecure.
If you’re suffering from Imposter Syndrome, it might be because you’re an overachiever. Try dialling down how much you’re doing and stick to what’s manageable (and expected of you).
Attributing your success to external factors
Another cause of Imposter Syndrome is the influence of external factors. While being particularly lucky or having a strong support network are both great, they can also sap your self-confidence.
Rather than internalising success, you might give credit to others – thinking back to when a colleague spent time with you on a certain issue and gave advice. Perhaps in your mind, this is evidence that you are unworthy of success, when all it really proves is that you, like everyone else, couldn’t have done it alone.
If you feel like an imposter, it might be because you can’t accept any kind of praise for your successes. Try easing into it by sharing praise among your team, acknowledging your part in a group effort.
If you’re trying to be perfect in everything you do, you’re fighting a losing battle. You might also be setting yourself up for a dose of Imposter Syndrome.
We can all indulge in a little perfectionism from time to time. A project we’re particularly attached to, an opportunity we want to make the most of… But seeking perfection in every aspect of life just isn’t realistic – and is more likely to leave us feeling horrible if we don’t get there. Dr. Jessica Zucker puts it like this: “Perfection is an age-old myth that creates more pain than joy, more confusion than calm, more angst than creative productivity.”
If you’ve got intrusive thoughts of the imposter persuasion, it might be because you can’t settle for anything less than perfect. Try setting and sticking to deadlines – don’t settle for sub-par work, but accept that when a job is done, it’s time to move on.
Self-doubt is an angry beast and one that is brutally hazardous to productivity. Characterized by feelings of uncertainty regarding one or more aspects of the self, self-doubt is something we all experience in our lives. If you’ve ever been told you’re not good enough or incapable before, it can be difficult to see differently.
If you think you’re suffering from Imposter Syndrome, it might be because you don’t believe in yourself and your abilities. Try talking to a trusted colleague or boss about your concerns – you might find they can reassure you or, if you’d prefer, give you some ways to improve.
Suffering in silence
We’ve all been there, sat staring at the screen feeling incompetent because you can’t figure out that one issue – then beating yourself up for not being able to overcome it on your own. You may also be anxious to ask for help as you think it may show that you aren’t good enough at your job.
This can have a damaging effect on your mental wellbeing, but also hold your team back from completing an objective. When they don’t know if or how you’re struggling, there’s not much they can do to help.
If you feel like you’re going to get found out as a fraud, it might be because you’re not communicating enough. Try speaking to the team about how you feel – you might find they can make some constructive suggestions for how you can contribute.
How to cope with Imposter Syndrome
There are plenty of ways to cope with Imposter Syndrome. You could regularly assess your skills and abilities. You might want to stop comparing yourself to others. Perhaps embrace and share your feelings, cut back on your use of social media, question your thoughts, refuse to let it hold you back, help others who you can see are encountering a similar situation... and more.
But start with mindfulness of these five signs of Imposter Syndrome. Should you have any other signs that you’re willing to share, please feel free to comment below.