Have you ever been sat in an important meeting at work and thought “how did I end up here?” or “everyone’s going to know I don’t know what I’m doing soon”? If so, you’ve felt what psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes first referred to as the imposter syndrome. The phenomenon which has been discussed in many books, blogs, and podcasts, can be defined as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success”. Even if you haven’t heard the phrase, these feelings may sound familiar. The subject can be difficult for people to talk about however when someone speaks up, this can be empowering for others.
Individuals who see themselves as ‘imposters’ suffer from feelings of self-doubt and see luck as playing a huge role in their success. This sense of intellectual fraudulence and seeing yourself as a ‘fake’ is something that according to research “70 percent of people will experience it at some point in their lives”. So, when you next feel these negative thoughts creep into your mind the chances are, you won’t be the only person in the room feeling like this.
The imposter syndrome can affect anyone regardless of gender, race, or background. Many leaders and high achievers have spoken publicly about their experience with imposter syndrome. American businessman, ex-chairman, and CEO of Starbucks Coffee, Howard Schultz has spoken about this in the New York Times “Very few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO. They’re not going to tell you that, but it’s true.” The imposter syndrome can become more of an issue if it is affecting you in your day-to-day life and holding you back at work.
Below are some top tips on how to combat the imposter syndrome:
- Identify the doubt - acknowledging your feelings is the first and most important step. Even if it’s simply writing your feelings down so you can understand them more clearly. Once you start to recognise these feelings you can then challenge the inner voice in your head.
- Talking - many of your friends, family, and even co-workers will have felt similar insecurities to you. Talking to others can be a real comfort and a great way to cope with your thoughts. If you tell others how you feel they can also help you challenge those negative feelings and help you come up with some coping strategies.
- Positive affirmations - your brain sometimes gets mixed up on the difference between reality and imagination. Regular repetition of positive affirmations can help encourage your brain to take these positive affirmations as fact. So, next time you are worried about that big presentation, take a few minutes beforehand to look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself "I’ve got what it takes." It might seem silly, but science doesn’t lie!
- Use your failures as case studies - as Michelle Obama once said "Failure is a part of the process. You just learn to pick yourself back up." As humans, we aren’t supposed to be perfect. As long as we are learning from our mistakes and use them constructively in the future. Take advantage of the failures and reframe them as a learning opportunity.
- Own your achievements - whether it’s getting an exciting new role or promotion remind yourself that your skill and talent got you to where you are. It wasn’t just luck, it was you. Allow yourself to celebrate success and be kinder to yourself.
Some of the Concirrus team tell us about their experiences with the imposter syndrome how they deal with it.
Mita Chavda - Head of Technical Sales
"Having imposter syndrome is not uncommon, especially when you start a new role, or move into a newly created role. Within a short amount of time, your exposure alone will fill you with knowledge. It’s also important to recognise past achievements and remember that others believe that you are capable of the role you are doing. Discussing your thoughts and fears with others can also help reassure you that you are more than capable. Your job isn't to get it right every time, but to make calculated, informed decisions and learn along the way!”
Michael Bootle - Finance Assistant
“I have definitely felt the imposter syndrome before especially when presenting. Thoughts such as 'why would anyone want to listen to me?' pop up into your brain and it can lead to a lack of confidence. What works for me is acknowledge my skills and strengths - I seem to make people laugh so I tend to lead with humour. For example, when presenting a FedTalk here at Concirrus I knew that if I got through the first 60 seconds, I would be fine. It’s about allowing yourself to feel the fear and do it anyway. Nothing is ever as bad as you think, and I’ve heard on the grapevine that my FedTalk is regarded as one of the best!”
Apoorva Chauhan - Software Development Engineer
“Having thoughts such as ‘you’re not good enough’ can be really demotivating. I think one of the most important aspects of the imposter syndrome is the knowledge that you are not alone, and it is okay to have these thoughts sometimes. The key is to shift its impact from demotivation to motivation. This takes a conscious effort to keep a watch of your negative thoughts. Seeking support from your friends and family will help you get there.”
Jamshid Vandrewala - Customer Support Analyst
“When I first encountered the imposter syndrome many years ago, I realised it was a self-limiting belief which focused on the gaps in my achievements and not my successes. Another word for affirmation is self-talk. I highly recommend reading the book - 'What To Say When You Talk To Yourself' by Shad Helmstetter. This book taught me how to speak to myself daily in a positive way and to focus on how I see my ideal self. You become what you believe. E.g., ‘I am appreciated’ or ‘life happens for me, not to me.’”
Deandra Cutajar -Data Scientist
“The Impostor Syndrome makes you believe that you do not deserve your achievements and successes. That voice propagates with every task, or during a conversation where you feel what you have to add is irrelevant and not valid. Nonetheless, every perceived weakness is equally a strength. When faced with a challenge you deem out of your league, it helps breaking it down into tiny action points you can execute 'Slowly but surely!' This is my life motto, it's something I tell myself every day.”
Caroline Hurst - Marketing Director
“I have always set a really high bar for myself which heightens the feelings associated with imposter syndrome. However, having spoken to others about it I soon discovered that lots of people suffer with the same feelings. I try to take a moment to remember that we're all experts in our own field and whilst I may not know everything there is to know about marketing, I have many years of experience and training providing a solid foundation for my specialty. I focus on positive comments I may have received in similar situations in the past to quieten my inner voice. Breathing techniques can also help people dealing with imposter syndrome.”
Are you interested in becoming a mental health champion at work? Find out more here.