When You Feel like a Fraud: 3 Ways to Stop Imposter Syndrome

Did you know 70% of us experience imposter syndrome at least once in our lives? That’s that sneaking suspicion we don’t deserve our success, that we’re frauds. The fear of being ‘caught out’ in a job that’s too good for us.

Despite being so common-place, it can be a very isolating experience. So what to do about it? Read on for some practical tips on combatting imposter syndrome.

“I Feel like I Don’t Deserve My Success”

Imagine this scenario:

You’ve entered into a new job, a new company, or have new responsibilities. It was a competitive process to get here and you competed against some very competent colleagues. No matter how hard you work in this new role, you feel like it’s not good enough.

You’re not as fast or as clever as the others. Everyone else seems to get it. Sometimes you wonder if they made a mistake hiring you. Maybe they mixed your name up with someone else? Soon they’ll realize and take it away from you.

What’s going on?? This is a very common experience, known as the imposter syndrome. It’s a feeling or state of mind rather than an illness. And it’s especially common for high-achievers and perfectionists.

You’re Not Alone

It might be a comfort to know you’re not alone. And to see just how high up the chain this experience goes. COO of Facebook and author of the best-seller Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg experiences it. Tina Fey. Meryl Streep. CEO Howard Schultz.

The Tech billionaire Co-founder and Co-CEO of Atlassian, Mike Cannon-Brookes says he still feels it. He says it’s a common misconception to assume successful people feel successful. He often feels, “well out of depth, yet already entrenched in the situation”.

If you still believe that it’ll go away once you’re ‘good enough’ at what you do, once you’re successful, ask yourself why actor Tom Hanks still experiences it. If being a household name, nominated for five Oscars and winning two doesn’t say you’re in the right job, what would?

You Can Kick Imposter Syndrome

Often when we are in this self-doubting mindset we think it’ll go away once we are ‘better’ at what we do. But it’s just that – a mindset. So even if you’re promoted to a managerial or senior role, you’d have the same hang-ups about your new role.

The better you do, the more responsibilities or promotions you get, at every rung you climb, you’ll feel like you don’t deserve to be there. If you win an award for your efforts (an Oscar, let’s say), you’ll still feel they made a mistake.

So if others’ acknowledging your excellence won’t cure it, what will? Here are three tricks to try.

Tip One: Label It

The trick is to label it, to know it’s a normal experience. Say it out loud to a trusted colleague. “Sometimes I feel I don’t know enough to do this”.

You’ll be surprised to see how often they admit the same feeling right back – even though you feel like they’ve got it covered. So many of us are faking our way through at work.

Tip Two: Challenge it

Whenever those thoughts of “I can’t do this” creep in, challenge them. What’s the evidence that you can’t do it? What’s the evidence that you can do it?

For example, “I respect my Team Leader/Manager, and she gave me this assignment. She’s intelligent, and the project is important to the company. She wouldn’t give it to me unless she had faith in my abilities”.

Or as simple as, “I felt I couldn’t do the last two assignments like this and I got an excellent grade for both. I can do the same here”.

Over time, you’re using these alternative, positive thoughts to drown out the negative. To re-wire your brain. Research on the plasticity of the brain says we can create and recreate our thinking every day. Find a simple mantra that gives you some strength. A deep breath and a whispered, “I got this” will get you there.

Sheryl Sandberg challenged her imposter syndrome with pen and paper. She found herself agonizing each evening about minor mistakes or incomplete projects. She got into the habit of writing a list each night, of three things she had done well. Big or small. Three achievements. And in this way, she rewired from self-criticism to feelings of self-confidence.

Tip Three: Shine a Light on Strengths

Although we spend every day in our own skin – or maybe because of that – it can be hardest of all to see ourselves. What do we do well? What do our colleagues most appreciate about us?

I found the book StandOut 2.0 to be a turning point for my own imposter syndrome. Marcus Buckingham writes about the importance of each of our ‘genius’ – the thing we do best, the gift we offer. These activities are flow experiences for us.

By taking the StandOut 2.0 Strengths Assessment, you see what it is that you do better than anyone else. Finding and focusing on these freed me. I no longer felt like I needed permission to spark up new projects – my strengths profile says that’s the genius I bring to the workplace.

End Imposter Syndrome: Let’s See Your Genius

The Imposter Syndrome boils down to a sort of perfectionism. We see all the gaps in our knowledge and all our mistakes. We fail to weigh that against what we offer through our IQ and Emotional Intelligence (EQ). And all the ways our experiences, technical skill and temperate benefit our organization.

Sure, maybe you’re not like the others. How incredibly fortunate your organization is! If they kept hiring the exact same skillset they’d never innovate and grow.

Your differences are your strength. They are the benefit you bring to your company. So stop doubting yourself. Go ahead and light that place on fire.

After all, they chose you because they always knew you would.


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