Thoughts From Our Heads

Thoughts From Our Heads


Living with Imposter Syndrome

Monday 11th May 2020

Have you ever had that creeping feeling that you are not good enough? That somehow you have got to where you are based on luck or by fooling the people around you? If you have, you have experienced Imposter Syndrome, which is described as the tendency to discount or diminish the obvious evidence of our own abilities. Symptoms of Imposter Syndrome include anxiety, perfectionism, fear of failure and self-doubt and it affects up to 70% of us at one time or another. 


For individuals and businesses the impact is significant. When a person has imposter syndrome they will implement a variety of coping strategies. They may try to fly under the radar as much as possible by procrastinating, not expressing ideas and not going for promotions. On the other end of the scale imposter syndrome can lead to workaholic behaviours and perfectionist tendencies, leading to stress and burn-out. 


So if you have imposter syndrome, what can you do about it? While it may never fully go away you can learn strategies to manage so you can build confidence, achieve success and reduce anxiety.


Focus on your own Measures of Success


Imposter Syndrome can be amplified when we start to compare our achievements to others, reasoning that if we were so good we would have achieved what they have achieved and that we haven’t is a sure sign that we are inferior. The outcome of this form of comparison is depression and lack of confidence. Everyone’s life advances at different paces and we all have differing degrees of success in different parts of our lives at different times. When we only look at one aspect of another person’s life we fail to see the whole picture and judge success on artificial measures. Instead spend some time figuring out what success means for you. It might be the Director level job with the corner office or it might be living a balanced life and spending more time with your family. Identify your own values and live a life in line with those values and remember comparison is meaningless as everyone is writing their own unique story.


Challenge your Perfectionist Tendencies


Perfectionism can lead to procrastination, micro-managing, over working and alimentation of colleagues. It is a symptom of and a contributor to imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome leads you to think you need to be perfect to maintain and advance your position (because you think you are less skilled than the people around you) and those perfectionist tendencies will lead you to feel inferior because you are never able to live up to your own standards. It’s a vicious cycle. The first step in addressing this is to recognise your own perfectionism and where it comes from. There may be childhood influences, feeling of inadequacy or a job profession that demands high standards and encourages harsh critique. Start to understand your own back story and what is driving these feelings. Once you know your story you can start to challenge it and write a new script.

The next step is to reframe your thinking about your standards of work, here are four truths that are helpful to accept:

  1. Done is better than perfect – when perfectionism leads to procrastination just take action! An imperfect plan acted upon is far better than a perfect plan that stays on the drawing board.
  2. Accomplishment is a journey not a destination – you will never reach a perfect level of performance, you are always growing and getting better. When you are always striving for perfection you miss the joy in the small successes and wins along the way.
  3. Mistakes are essential for success – mistakes are part of the learning process and when we live a life trying to avoid mistakes we miss opportunities for success and creativity. Embrace your mistakes as an opportunity to learn and do better next time.
  4. Other’s care less than you think. Lastly, know that while you may analyse, stress and amplify times when you failed to meet your own standards, for others it probably barely registers on their radar. People are far too concerned with their own mistakes to worry about yours!


Ask for Help

Imposter Syndrome can leave us anxious about asking for help because we think that it exposes our own inadequacies and we will be discovered for the fraud that we know we are. This can be especially true for people who have built their career on being an expert or specialist, when you are used to being asked for help it can be hard to do the same to others. When we fail to ask others for help we contribute to a culture of individualism, lower standards and cover ups within an organisation. An important part of beating imposter syndrome is recognising what you are good at and what you need help with. Know your own strengths and work in line with those strengths. Successful people are not good at everything, they are good at a few things and they focus on becoming excellent at those things. Asking for help leverages results as you reap the rewards from complimentary partnerships and accessing all of the available talent within your organisation. Asking for help also enables others to challenge their own imposter syndrome as they start to see themselves as valued and knowledgeable.


To uncover your strengths learn more about CliftonStrengths.


Reframe your Thinking


People with Imposter Syndrome think they are inferior and people without it don’t think that way. This has no bearing on your actual abilities, people with Imposter Syndrome are not any less capable than those without it. If you have it, you think and feel like an imposter and that needs to change. Use reframing techniques to see the positive in situations. Instead of thinking, I had no time to prepare for that presentation and it wasn’t very good, think, I managed to pull together a fairly decent presentation in a very short space of time. Listen for the negative voice inside your head that says you aren’t good enough. This voice is your worst enemy. Instead find another voice; imagine this voice is your biggest cheerleader, what would they say in response to your worst enemy? Find the alternative way of looking at something and show yourself self-compassion instead of self-critique. Start recording the small and big wins that you achieve to reinforce your own positive self-image. Identify the internal reasons for your success rather than attributing them to external factors. When you fail, consider what you could have done differently but also acknowledge the environmental factors that contributed to the failure.


Imposter Syndrome will visit most of us from time to time. Recognise it when it comes and use the these techniques to get perspective and acknowledge your uniquely, brilliant, amazing contributions to the world and workplace. Know that you made that happen and while luck plays a part for us all in life, you don’t get lucky without talent and hard work.