Got promoted recently? Landed a big sales win? Singled out by the boss for a job well done on a recent project?
All of the above warrants a great celebration and a pat on the back but instead, you feel like you don’t deserve any of it. What you really feel is that you had to cheat your way through to get all of these successes and that you’re bluffing the big guys up there that you are good at what you do.
If this is you, welcome to the imposter syndrome club, one where many people experience. It’s more common in women with evidence showing that two thirds of women had imposter syndrome while men were 18 percent less likely to suffer from it.
The syndrome was actually coined by psychologist Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978 (yups, that’s how long it’s been around!). They defined it as “a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments... despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved.”
In other words, you feel you’ve been given a pat on the back for something you don’t deserve and it’s making you feel like a big cheat at work!
What’s the downside of imposter syndrome? That it has a negative impact on your mental health. Imagine coming to work every day where everyone thinks you’re a star employee... except you. Or how others give you credit for the work you’ve done... and you don’t think you deserve any of it and feel awful for accepting the credit. You start to think: “It’s only a matter of time that they find me out and realise I’m not all that.”
When this happens, you start operating out of fear and anxiety. You begin to question your self worth, and insecurity starts creeping in about your strengths and abilities. This triggers a reaction in your brain where stress kicks in about being discovered and outed for not being who you really are. This can lead to mental and physical exhaustion as you over-do to “cover up the lie”, so to speak. Which we all know is not great for your physical health as well!
On top of that, according to a study from the University of Houston, imposter syndrome can also affect your personal relationships and home life. The researchers surveyed 463 employees and found that those who experienced imposter syndrome are more likely to have conflict with work and family roles because they are emotionally exhausted. They have a greater risk at experiencing high levels of burnout and job dissatisfaction.
And when your work slides, your boss starts noticing and even make a comment on it... and then you think, “See, now they know I just got lucky that one time!” Making your imposter syndrome seem even more real!
So what do you do? While it’s not likely to fully rid of imposter syndrome, you can train yourself to manage it and start believing in yourself. Here’s the step by step:
#1 What’s really bothering you?
There’s always an underlying reason that would make you feel like you don’t deserve it. Is it because of your new promotion? Are you afraid of leading the big project? Do you feel like maybe you don’t have the right chops? Be honest and ask yourself the right questions to find out what’s the real reason behind your imposter syndrome.
#2 Remind yourself that you can do it!
Once you’ve identified these reasons, it’s time to think of everything else you have achieved. Reflect on the hard work you’ve put in to get to where you are now. Think of what you’ve done to earn your spot. Write it all down on a piece of paper so it appears more “concrete”.
#3 Tell yourself that those who achieved things are competent and worked hard
Like you! Unless you literally stole credit from someone else, there is a possible likelihood you did do right to receive the pat on the back. You may not see it but your boss does. And your boss has more years of experience when it comes to recognising good work.
#4 Give yourself a break
Maybe you’ve been working too hard and the burnout is real. It’s time to take a step back and look at the overall picture. A win is a win – and if you were given that, then you should recognise that you probably deserve it. Plus, having imposter syndrome means you are actually doing something right – many highly successful people like Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, Tom Hanks and more also claim to have imposter syndrome!
Photo by Vince Fleming and Clark Tibbs on Unsplash