Overcoming imposter syndrome

Have you ever been asked to lead a meeting or presentation at work, but worried that they asked the wrong person? You might even have turned down the opportunity on the basis that you don’t think you have the knowledge and a colleague would be better equipped to do it.
Or have you been offered a promotion, but felt like a fraud when you accepted it and feared you might be ‘found out’? It may even have led to you accepting the position but not asking for a pay rise due to a mix of self-doubt and deception.
If any of these situations and emotions sound familiar, it is likely you have imposter syndrome – and you are not alone in feeling it.
The term is said to have been invented by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes back in 1978 and applies to individuals who were worried about being exposed as a fraud, particularly in their jobs.

Former US First Lady Michelle Obama has openly discussed how she has dealt with imposter syndrome, while Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg wrote about this psychological phenomenon and how she overcame her own insecurities in her 2015 bestseller Lean In.

In fact, 62% of 3,000 UK adults polled in 2018 said they had experienced imposter syndrome at work in the previous 12 months, but the research, conducted by OnePoll for Access Commercial Finance, showed some were more prone to it than others.

The survey found that 66% of women compared to 56% of men had experienced imposter syndrome in the last year – however, there can be long-term negative impacts on the careers and mental health for both.

Another poll, this time of job seekers by recruiter Randstad in June 2019, asked if they had ever suffered from imposter syndrome. Some 24% of respondents confirmed they had and, so much so, that they had to change jobs frequently.

Many women, including the former First Lady, have acknowledged that the feeling of being an imposter may never go away. However, Ms Obama wrote in her autobiography Becoming that when she was faced with those feelings, she “repeated the same words… many times” and that these were: “Am I good enough? Yes I am.

The good news is that imposter syndrome is not something you have to put up with – there are many ways to overcome it and make confident progress inside and outside the workplace.

But how?

Practical tips: 

Acceptance. Identifying and acknowledging these insecurities as imposter syndrome is the first step. Then you can recognise when you are experiencing the fear of being ‘found out’ and begin to challenge it. List the reasons why you are qualified to carry out your job and keep this with you to pull out when you need reminding. Laminate it if you need to!
Seek out a mentor. If self-doubt is holding you back from career progression, it might be time to find a mentor to help rebuild your confidence and take the next step at work. Some companies run mentoring schemes for their employees but otherwise there are external schemes that can help.
Prepare prepare prepare. If you have a presentation coming or a chance to request a pay rise, take the time to prepare. To avoid freezing when asked why you deserve to be paid more or when asked a question after presenting to colleagues, write down some notes and practice reading these out loud.
Have a mantra. Like Michelle Obama, it can be helpful to repeat a confidence-boosting mantra at times when you feel plagued with doubt and insecurity. It could be a question and answer, or a simple statement about your skills or attributes, but once you have decided on a mantra, write it down and then say it out loud to yourself.
Ask others about your strengths. It can be hard to identify where our own strengths lie, both at home or in the workplace. Women, especially, tend to downplay their personal and professional skillset. So ask a trusted friend or colleague to list your strengths – and do the same for them in return. This could be helpful preparation before a job interview, in particular. It might help you to see how others see you, and instil more confidence than if you were to do it yourself. They will appreciate being trusted enough by you to ask, and could also benefit from your list of their abilities.

Above all, don’t forget you’re not alone in feeling like this — we can’t all be imposters, can we?