Do you catch yourself feeling like you don’t belong in the room or wondering if you don’t have what it takes to succeed at work? Imposter syndrome is more common than you might think, and it’s responsible for making very qualified people feel like they haven’t earned their place at the table.
Keep reading to understand what imposter syndrome is and how you can overcome it at work.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is used to describe the internal, psychological struggle of feeling inadequate in areas where you typically excel. Imposter syndrome isn’t a diagnosable mental illness; it is used to describe certain feelings of self-doubt that often lead to anxiety or depression.
In the workplace, imposter syndrome might mean feeling like you aren’t as capable as people around you might believe. Despite having a track record of success, some professionals still feel like they need to prove themselves with every task. Imposter syndrome can give too much weight to a mistake or critique, making you feel like a failure even though you usually succeed in their position.
Types of Imposter Syndrome
There are five basic personality types that suffer from imposter syndrome.
The perfectionist: This type of person feels like they aren’t as good as others might think and they could have done better if things don’t go perfectly. It’s very hard for the perfectionist to believe adequacy is okay for some projects or tasks.
The genius: Some naturally smart people feel like frauds if something takes a little longer to master. This personality type tends to be naturally smarter than the average person, but they don’t believe they are competent or intelligent enough.
The expert: Some may start to master a subject and still feel like they don’t belong at the top because they don’t know everything about that topic. Despite an expert level of understanding, realizing there is still more to learn makes this person feel like a fraud.
The soloist: Some people feel like they aren’t good enough if they get help along the way. The need for support can make some people feel like they aren’t competent enough to get there on their own.
The superhuman: This type of person feels like a fraud whenever they aren’t working the hardest or doing the most. They might feel like a failure if they find out someone else is on a higher level or has accomplished more. It can be very difficult for the superhuman to take a break.
Imposter Syndrome Test
If you struggle with feelings of inadequacy, take this quick imposter syndrome test:
- Do you feel unable to assess your competence and skills?
- Do others praise your abilities, but you struggle to believe they are as good as you’re told?
- Do you sometimes feel confident but question yourself with every mistake or issue (like a difficult boss or unhappy customer)?
- Do you attribute your success to external factors (like mentors or good luck)?
- Are you afraid you won’t live up to expectations or that you will let everyone down if they finally see you for what you are?
- Do small mistakes consume a disproportionate amount of your thoughts or energy?
- Will negative remarks outweigh a majority of comments praising your work or abilities?
- Do you wonder if people secretly don’t like you or think you don’t deserve your position?
- Are you afraid that you won’t live up to someone’s expectations—like your boss, parents, friends, or coworkers (or even yourself)?
- Do you struggle to feel successful at the end of the day or feel like a failure for the amount of work you still have left on your to-do list?
- Do you sabotage your success by putting unnecessary parameters or setting unrealistic goals that you wouldn’t set for someone else in a similar position?
- Are you an overachiever who feels anything short of being the best isn’t good enough?
- Do you believe that others secretly have it more together than you or know something you don’t?
How many of these questions describe how you feel at work? All of them are signs of a type of imposter syndrome. For some, this syndrome brings a powerful motivation to succeed. However, many feel constant anxiety because of this unending pressure to perform at the very highest level.
Often, imposter syndrome turns into a vicious cycle—you may feel the only reason you succeed is because you put in extra time and insane amounts of effort, and you feel like you don’t belong in that same position without continuing this break-neck pace as a professional. Doing well doesn’t help you relax or change your self-doubt; you still wonder if you have a right to be where you are.
6 Ways to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
There are many techniques to help you move past the feelings of fraud and inadequacy.
Discuss irrational beliefs: Don’t hide your feelings—talk to someone about how you feel like a fraud. This will help you avoid feeling like something bad will happen if someone ever finds out your “secret.” Irrational beliefs only worsen and grow when they are hidden.
Catch negative thoughts: Pinpoint when you start to think about yourself negatively and question those thoughts. Is it rational to feel like a fraud or failure?
Focus on others: Shift your focus away from yourself and think about how you can help someone else. Consider mentoring a younger coworker or helping someone in a tough situation to build your confidence in your ability to help.
Stop comparing: Be genuine about wanting to learn more about others and stop trying to compare yourself during conversations. Use social media sparingly since it can spark feelings of inadequacy and comparison.
Track your efforts: Celebrate smaller milestones to feel productive at work. Try the Pomodoro Technique to help break up a long to-do list into manageable pieces by tracking focused time blocks and not completed tasks.
Make an objective list: Write out the successes you’ve had and the failures. Look objectively at how many positive things you’ve done that are outweighed by any shortcomings. You can also collect a list of positive comments from peers, clients, or customers to reflect on when you are struggling with feelings of self-doubt.
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