Have you ever thought good luck - rather than achievement - got you where you are now? Do you feel like a fake at work, fearing exposure at any moment? If so, is it time to give up your day job, throw in the towel, you’re simply not cut out for ‘insert profession here’? Or could you be suffering from ‘impostor syndrome?
To figure out whether the negative feelings about your capabilities are a reality, ask yourself: do you display signs of impostor syndrome? If so, don’t give up your day job; work on your self-worth instead.
What is Impostor Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome is not a diagnosable disorder, but a psychological term used to describe a person who is unable to celebrate or internalise their achievements at work or in their daily life, according to Psychologist Jaimie Bloch. “[This is] due to overwhelming emotions and thoughts about being an imposter or fraud, marked by persistent anxiety and fear around being exposed.
Medical Xpress reports that imposter syndrome is the sensation of feeling like a fake in the workplace and somehow in a position beyond one’s true capabilities. It’s a common phenomenon, with 70 per cent of people experiencing it at some point during their career.
In a study, 'Inspecting the Dangers of Feeling Like a Fake', published in Frontiers in Psychology, it is suggested that impostor syndrome is detrimental to your career prospects as well as your self-esteem. The researchers, including Dr. Neureiter, studied the responses to an anonymous online survey of 238 university alumni, working across a diverse range of industries and professions.
They were interested in how the impostor phenomenon would affect a sufferer's attitude to their career development, the ability to adapt to new working conditions and their knowledge of the job market. What they discovered was those who feel like fakes, though high-achieving, tend not to fulfil their potential and by underestimating their ability could be compromising their careers and their hiring company’s success.
Do You Have Imposter Syndrome?
According to Suzanne Mercier, a business strategist and Australia’s expert on impostor syndrome, there are 15 signs those with the syndrome exhibit. Is this you?
1. You feel you’re not good enough. You won’t put yourself or your ideas forward in case they’re judged and rejected, which would confirm your worst fears - that you’re not good enough!
2. Taking things personally and become defensive. People find it difficult to give you feedback because you’re prickly. Essentially, this is a defence mechanism to prevent others from reinforcing the feeling of not being good enough.
3. You can be judgemental of others, and highly critical of yourself.
4. Requiring external validation, which makes you more susceptible to uncertainty (events, people, anything unpredictable you can’t control - specific content is subjective, depending on sensitivities).
5. Sacrificing who you are to fit in – you want to be just like everyone else.
6. Compare yourself unfavourably to others (comparing your ‘insides’ or 3 a.m. thoughts about yourself and your worth - to other people’s outsides - their ‘mask’).
7. Putting yourself in the background (you live and work under the radar to avoid judgement). Paradoxically, you crave recognition and appreciation, just not judgement.
8. Behaving in a risky way to achieve a desired outcome, commonly with the intention of proving to the world you are good enough.
9. You may be lousy at selling.
10. Displaying inconsistencies in your work performance
11. You may appear disorganised.
12. Emotionally reactive, beyond what’s reasonable for the situation.
13. You may become paralysed and not be able to produce or let go of a report for example.
14. You may also procrastinate for the same reason.
15. You can be distracted by the next shiny new object, which is a sabotage strategy.
Could the Remedy Be Reaching Out?
So, you think you have impostor syndrome, what can you do about it? “As the impostor phenomenon contains the fear of being exposed, it might be expedient to provide networking programs or supervision groups where sufferers have the chance to share their experiences and feelings without any blaming,” says Dr. Neureiter. “Incorporating the impostor topic in support measures might enhance the reduction of impostor feelings as well as their negative effects.”
Tips for Overcoming Impostor Syndrome
You may not have the opportunity to join a networking group or supervision program and even if offered the chance, sharing might not be favourable to you. If so, try these strategies courtesy of Suzanne Mercier on overcoming impostor syndrome.
Reclaim strengths and value and your own success. People who feel they’re not good enough, often either fail to see their strengths or fail to recognise their value. They can also be quick to give credit to others.
Let go of perfection. Nobody is perfect. Go for excellence instead. Practice letting go of a project before it’s perfect. Leave room for others to make their contribution (collaboration).
Find purpose for your career, business, new job or new project. What’s the difference you want to make? (See Simon Sinek TED video “How great leaders inspire action”).
Stop comparing yourself to others. We all come into this world with different gifts, needs and opportunities for growth. None of us is perfect. We don’t know what challenges others are experiencing so a comparison with what we see is an unfair comparison - not useful. Learn from what others do. Don’t judge yourself for needing to learn it. I’m sure they also learn from you.
Silence the inner critic. It is well intentioned and often serves to protect us from disappointment. Turn that voice into a board of directors or cheering squad rather than a voice that undermines your possibilities.
Build resilience. Learn to flip the negative to find the positive - find the silver lining in things that go wrong (when you’re no longer deeply upset about it). Embrace gratitude (be thankful for everything around you, even the smallest thing). Unpack your day. What worked brilliantly? Do more! What worked well? How can you improve? What didn’t work?What can you do instead?
Practice asking for help. None of us is perfect. We all need help from time to time. Make a ‘clean’ request (not emotionally loaded or manipulative). Be open to someone else not being able to fulfil it. The more we ask, the easier and less personal it becomes.
Dream big and set yourself up for success to achieve it. Where are you now? Where do you want to get to? What capabilities do you need for the journey? Chunk down the steps so each step builds on the next, leading to mastery of whatever skills, capabilities and qualities you need to develop. Celebrate each step.
Keep a journal or file which contains all the wonderful things people have said about you. Your LinkedIn testimonials, references, thank you cards, feedback at work, note down kind comments people have made and make it your go-to place for when life feels grim. An instant pick-me-up!
Create an internal frame of reference. Validate yourself rather than relying on others to make you feel good enough. Kind feedback is always great. However, the danger is that we let others define who we are and what we want. Decide that for yourself.
Set boundaries of what is okay with you mentally, physically and emotionally and respectfully enforce them.
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About the Author
Haley Williams is a Content Writer for Australian Online Courses.
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