What is imposter syndrome and how to overcome it?

Updated: Apr 23, 2021

Let’s talk imposter syndrome

So what is it? Imposter syndrome is a mental pattern that makes you doubt your skills, accomplishments and talents, leaving you feel like you’re a “fraud” despite evidence of your skills and successes. If you suffer from imposter syndrome you remain convinced that you do not deserve all you’ve achieved and incorrectly attribute your success to just being lucky for example.

Many high achievers in the corporate world feel like this (men & women). I’ve been there in my career and so have most people I know. The truth is that most people won’t tell you or ever even talk about it, which amplifies your feelings of being a "fraud" as you think you're the only one thinking like this.. People suffering from imposter syndrome are usually high performers at work, they are very successful but yet still feel like they don't belong and that they were lucky and eventually they will be "caught out". It’s important to recognise these thoughts and patterns in order to overcome them.

How to identify imposter syndrome?

For me the easiest way to identify it is when I detach from my thoughts and just listen to them. I would best describe it as this harsh, critical voice. Things like "you were lucky you got until here, eventually the luck is over and everyone will see that you're actually not good at what you do". It can also sound like "the criticism was justified, you're not really good enough to do this anyways" or "you can't apply for that role, you don't know half of what's required".

Does this sound like you?

- You are trying to be perfect and set really high expectations for yourself. As soon as something goes wrong you get upset and feel "exposed" as not being good enough. Perfectionism is often used to avoid being criticised and to be seen as perfect.

- You are trying to take on more and more work to show everyone what you are capable of. You want to keep up with everyone else and make sure you're not seen as not good enough so you feel the more you do the more it will validate your worth.

- You dislike asking for help or asking questions when you don't fully understand something as you see it as a sign of weakness. You want to be seen as being capable and avoid requesting help from others when you're unsure or struggling.

- You may feel that you are never good enough and will never know enough about a specific topic or subject. You feel the need to be an expert in everything and unless you feel like you have everything 100% figured out and know the ins and outs you won't be qualified.

So what can you do to overcome it?

A) acknowledge and observe the thought but don’t engage in it.

B) question the thought “is this really true?” What’s the evidence? Ask yourself if thinking like this helps you in where you want to go and what you want to achieve or if it slows you down?

C) Remind yourself that you deserve your success and remember to celebrate small and big achievements and create a sense of deserving. We often forget to acknowledge what we've achieved and how far we've come. It's important to reflect on the journey and not just judge the moment. Write down what you've achieved so far, from the small and big wins.

Don’t let these thoughts control you, slow you down or stop you from taking action and going for what you want and deserve. Sharing your feelings with someone you trust can help you to put thoughts into perspective. Ask yourself how you would respond to a friend who came to you with these thoughts? You can try to speak to yourself in this way too. We're often way harder on ourselves than others so shifting your point of you can help you as well in dealing with self limiting beliefs about yourself and your ability.