Updated: Oct 19
A few weeks back I was sitting with a group of women of different ages, working in various sectors. One was an ex-chemical engineer who traded her job to be a teacher. Another runs her own business making clothes while another was a teenager at an all-girls high school. The word “imposter syndrome” came into the conversation and my ears pricked up.
I’ve been hearing this term often in my coaching practice. And, from successful businesswomen who still doubt their place in the job sector, they’re working in. The women I described in my opening paragraph are all successful women in their own rights, including the teenager. Yet, they also battle with imposter syndrome.
It appears imposter syndrome has no boundaries. It doesn’t matter what color you are, how old you are, or how brilliant you are at your job. It still strikes fear into the soul of these phenomenal people. However, and I may be generalizing here, we did all agree that women face it more than men.
What is imposter syndrome? And, if you battle with this in your own life, how do you manage it? Read on to find out more. I also share nine tips to help you cope with feeling like an imposter.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
When someone battles with imposter syndrome they’re plagued with self-doubt. Self-doubt around their abilities to succeed. Self-doubt about even being where they are because they feel like they’re a fraud. Imposter syndrome often hits high-achieving people who fear every day they’re going to be exposed for their (perceived) personal incompetence.
Who Suffers From Imposter Syndrome?
While initial studies of this condition highlighted successful women were more prone to experiencing imposter syndrome, it can affect anyone. People from all walks of life and professions can feel like they’re an imposter no matter how high their grades or position in a company.
Women of color often report feeling like an imposter in the professional sector and fear being “find out” they’re not as capable as they appear to be. Members of the LGBTQ community also face this phenomenon which is underlined by one’s conditioning.
This conditioning is based on what you’ve been told while growing up. Do any of these statements sound familiar to you?
You’re not good enough to join ….. (organization name)
You won’t ever achieve anything in life
You won’t cut it in the working (or school) field
You’re too … (pick your color)
The more you hear these statements, the more you believe them. And, then when you're successful, you doubt you should be. You feel like a fraud. But, imposter syndrome can also be the result of certain personalities, low self-esteem, depression and anxiety, and new responsibilities.
How to Recognize Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome often rises when your sense of self-doubt mars your own perception of what you’re offering. Your perception also makes you believe others see you as someone who’s not up to scratch.
If you or someone you know displays any of the following behavioral traits, it could be imposter syndrome creeping in:
Overworking: People who experience imposter syndrome tend to overwork. By overworking, you can “hide” your perceived sense of incompetence.
Staying small: You don’t believe you have what it takes to be successful so you stay small by taking on roles that are safe and below your actual capabilities.
Self-criticism: If you don’t do something perfectly, you feel you’ve failed. You start to criticize yourself and beat yourself up every time you make a mistake.
Overcompensating: Instead of valuing your time and worth, you overcompensate by giving away your expertise, not charging for your services, or using up your free time to prove your worth.
Going solo: When you feel like you’re a fraud you’re too afraid to ask for help in case you get exposed. So, you go solo in everything you do even when you don’t know what to do.
Burnout: Emotional exhaustion and burnout start to happen the more you try to impress your work colleagues by overcompensating and overworking.
If you feel or think any of the following, you’re struggling with feeling like an imposter:
Feeling unworthy doesn’t align with what others think of you.
Believing you’ve fooled everyone around you, convincing them you’re someone you’re not.
Feeling in a constant state of self-doubt.
Believing your talents and abilities are actually not as good as you thought they were.
Coping with imposter syndrome can be challenging if you haven’t done the inner work to unpack what is causing you to doubt yourself and your abilities. Here are nine tips to help you manage this experience so you can become more comfortable in your space no matter where you are.
1. Acknowledge It and Talk About It
The first step to changing anything is acknowledging it. And, if you’ve identified that you’re battling with imposter syndrome, find someone to talk to about it. You may be surprised to find out how many of your peers are actually feeling the same way as you do!
If you don’t feel safe talking to your peers, find a mentor, friend, counselor, or coach with whom you can share your feelings.
2. Reach Out for Help
Going solo often leads to burnout. Reaching out for help when you’re uncertain about a work task or school project gives you the support and guidance you need without feeling like you’re a failure. Having a strong network you can trust and turn to, builds your confidence and improves your connection with others.
In my own personal experience, I’ve discovered that by asking others to help me, people are more than willing to assist. And, they respect me for asking for support when I need it.
3. Cast Doubt on Your Self-Doubt
Self-doubting yourself is based on a whole lot of limiting beliefs. One way of tackling your self-doubt is to ask questions that will break down your negative belief. You want to create a "dis-belief" around your self-perceptions that hold you back and make you feel like an imposter.
Identify stories of real-life experiences that prove you are successful, talented, and courageous. These stories will also help you build up your self-esteem, giving you the confidence to succeed no matter what you’re doing.
4. Drop the Comparison Game
It’s all too easy to compare yourself with others but this is a dangerous game to play. Everyone is on their own journey and they’ve all got their own challenges to deal with, most of which you don’t see. Your thriving work colleague may be the same age and color as you with the same university qualifications. And, she’s climbing that ladder like there’s no tomorrow!
You feel like an imposter because you’re not as vibey as she is but you know you can also make it to the top. Your abilities are uniquely yours and therefore, your approach will be different. Stop comparing yourself to others.
5. Own Your Space
A client of mine uses a mantra she came up with when dealing with imposter syndrome. Before going into any space that made her feel like an imposter, she would say quietly to herself, “I belong in this space.”
These are strong, empowering words and while you may need to “fake it until you make it,” it helps to believe you do own that space.
6. Change What Has to Happen
Often, we limit ourselves by putting rules in place about what has to happen in a certain situation to prove our worth. Do you have any of the following “rules” in place to ensure you’re good enough to be where you are?
I should know all the answers
I don’t need to ask for help
I am always on top of my game
I always bring something to the table
By placing these “hard and fast” rules on yourself, you’re restricting any chance of improving yourself. Instead, you’re making it very difficult for any positive change and growth to take place.
7. Change Your Self-Talk
Do you constantly say to yourself, “They’re going to find out I actually don’t know what I am talking about” or “My manager is going to realize he’s working with a dud?” Negative self-talk is destructive and it needs to stop if you want to stop feeling like an imposter. Even saying, ‘I am an imposter/fake/fraud” whenever you find yourself in a situation that intimidates you means you’re letting the self-doubt take over.
This takes us back to Tip #5 and using a mantra to self-talk your way into believing you’re not an imposter. So, the next time you’re sitting in a meeting with colleagues and everyone sounds so clued up, instead of saying, “OMW! I shouldn’t be sitting with these bright people”, turn it around and say to yourself, “Wow! I am going to learn so much from these amazing people!”
8. Recognize Your Strengths and Weaknesses
It’s always essential to recognize both your strengths and weaknesses. This is what makes every individual a unique and special human being. If you find you’re the only person of color or you’re years younger than the others in your field, choose to recognize what is a positive and what can be built on.
Acknowledging that you might not be an expert with chemical formulas but you know how to use your knowledge to contribute in other ways means you’re willing to learn. Each one of us can bring something to the table – we just need to know when and how to do it.
9. Use Visualization and Be Prepared
Whenever I need to make a presentation to an audience, I visualize walking onto the stage and strutting my stuff! I visualize captivating my audience with my personality, my content, and my genuine passion for what I want to share. Visualization is a very powerful technique for dealing with imposter syndrome.
It also helps to be prepared beforehand. If you’re still new in your work role, it pays to spend a bit of time preparing for meetings, workshops, and other interactive opportunities. This way, you can deal with your self-doubt by knowing your stuff by heart.
Watch this video by Elizabeth Cox as she talks about imposter syndrome and how to combat it.
Imposter syndrome is not something new and it’s commonly seen in the corporate culture. But, students experience it, new mothers feel it, and even the young male colleague who’s been promoted to CEO in your company may believe he’s an imposter. The trick is to recognize why you feel like an imposter and how to cope with it.
This post was originally published on September 21st, 2021, and updated on November 2nd, 2022.