5 ways to beat imposter syndrome at work

By Hannah Kingston

Monday October 5, 2020


Have you ever felt like you don’t deserve your job? Maybe there is a lurking feeling that someone could do it better or you will be let go if don’t do everything perfectly. If the answer is yes, you may be living with imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is a condition that describes omnipresent feelings of incompetence, inefficiency, and self-doubt despite evidence that you are skilled and successful.

Here are five ways to beat imposter syndrome at work:

  1. Separate your emotions from the facts
  2. Re-write your own rule book
  3. Work hard at work, work harder on self-talk
  4. Fake it till you make it
  5. Vocalise how you feel

Separate your emotions from the facts

Our feelings don’t always represent the facts. If your feelings are starting to become overwhelming, it’s time that you start focusing on the facts. If you don’t think you are qualified for the job, remember your qualifications, or experience that qualifies you. If you don’t think you have the ability to take on a certain project, remember a time in the past when you managed something similar.

If you are having an anxious day at work, remind yourself of times you have smashed your own goals. If your imposter syndrome is starting to get in the way of your work, it may benefit you to write down a list of everything that makes you qualified for the role, as well as a list of examples that showcase your successes.

Re-write your own rule book

It’s time to get out of your own way. Perfectionism can be a useful tool but everything should be taken with moderation. If you find yourself obsessing over certain tasks or projects, start setting personal deadlines. Spend an objective, reasonable, amount of time on your work, and then move onto the next task.

Time management is an important skill to bring to work and you need to remember that efficient and great work can be achieved without stress. Work smart, not hard, and long. Write down your aspirational way of working and carry that with you. Write down the do’s and don’ts of how you would like to work.

To make the change less scary, decide that you will only implement the change for three weeks and then review. Keep following this process until you find a way of working that has minimal stress attached to it and feels good to you.

Work hard at work, work harder on self-talk

Working to the best of your ability is important, sure, but working on yourself will affect everything from your professional work-life to your personal relationships.

You need to stop the negative self-talk. Speak to yourself the way you would speak to your best friend. Would you ever tell your best friend that they are “under-qualified”, “bad at their job”, “not worthy of their title” or even a “fraud”? The answer to those questions is hopefully no — you wouldn’t, and you shouldn’t.

f you find your negative self-talk getting out of control, you should start taking note of what you are saying internally. When you objectively see the words on a page, you need to write down the facts beside it. If you are saying “I am not qualified for this job” — again, you need to write down your qualifications and proof that you are more than capable of thriving.

Fake it till you make it

It’s time to start faking it till you make it. Rome was not built in a day, your career shouldn’t be built in a day either. These things take time, but it is proven that a lack of confidence does not bode well for career progression, so, it’s time that you take this into your own hands and act confident until you feel confident.

Find what makes you feel good in a work setting and get on it. If you feel nervous when talking to your manager, start practicing in the mirror, it might sound silly but practice makes perfect. If you are concerned that you won’t reach your key performance indicators, start your morning with some affirmations that you will and can do it.

If you objectively know that you won’t reach your KPIs, speak candidly and openly with your manager and offer solutions in front of the problem, i.e. “I believe by implementing this “fantastic idea”, we will easily achieve these “fantastic outcomes”. I believe that X is not achievable in the current time frame due to Y, however, we can take this as a learning for our next project.”

Smile and always lead with the positives, don’t hone in on the negatives or publicly despair. Showcasing confidence ultimately helps you to get what you want and need.

Vocalise how you feel

Vocalise how you feel to someone you trust. Keeping your imposter syndrome locked in will only make it feel more powerful. As the old adage goes, a problem shared, is a problem halved. If you feel that your imposter syndrome is getting out of control and it is getting in the way of your everyday life, it may be time to reach out to a health professional, the issue could be deeper than it seems, it may be something that needs to be confronted alongside a counsellor. There is no shame in getting help, for a very common and often misunderstood issue.

Imposter syndrome is a term that was first coined by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in the 1970s. Clance and Imes believed that imposter syndrome was a condition that only affected females. They showcase in their research that the cohort who were most likely to suffer from imposter syndrome were high-achieving women.

Clance and Imes primarily identified the issue in women who, despite their education, accolades and skillsets, believed themselves to be fraudulent, lacking in confidence and willing to attribute their success to luck. Over the years, through the refinement of primary research, it has been shown that imposter syndrome can affect men and women at different stages of life from early university to later in one’s career.

Australian studies have shown that at least 30% of doctoral students suffer from imposter syndrome and the condition has a higher prevalence among those with greater family achievement, i.e those who come from a family of high-achievers.

Perfectionism, being a career-orientated person and social influences may all play a role in why you are feeling like an imposter. Maybe you are trying to stay on top of your work by imagining every possible outcome, sadly, imposter syndrome does not pave the way to success and can be highly debilitating for those who are experiencing it.

Researchers at the University of Salzburg surveyed over 200 professionals and found those experiencing the syndrome tended to be paid less, were less likely to be promoted, and felt less committed and satisfied at work. The good news is that there are proactive steps you can take to overcoming your imposter syndrome and reaching your best potential.

Have you ever lived with or are currently living with imposter syndrome? Share your methods for overcoming it in the comments.

READ MORE: Ten simple yet effective ways to make your CV stand out

READ MORE: 21 working-from-home tips to keep you focused

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