Have you ever been in a position where you feel like you’re a fraud and are going to get found out? Or that you’re going to get in trouble because everyone else around you seems to know what they’re doing and you, well… don’t. If you’ve been here, then you have experienced ‘Imposter Syndrome’.
Imposter syndrome can manifest itself in many different ways, but most commonly it happens when starting a new job or taking on a role that seems to be more advanced than what you have previously experienced. Even the most qualified candidates or experts feel deep down that their accomplishments and achievements are based upon pure luck and it's a complete fluke that they have been given this current opportunity.
Imposter syndrome can feel different for each person. For some people, they become overridden with anxiety, for others, they present symptoms of depression due to the feeling of inadequacy. Where some might be debilitated from the feeling of imposter syndrome, others might thrive under the self-inflicted pressure and work even harder to prove themselves as valuable and become even more skilled in their chosen field.
Why people come under the influence of imposter syndrome in the first place is somewhat unknown as there is no one single answer. It is, however, strongly linked with anxiety as imposter syndrome is most commonly found in those in a new environment, therefore the feeling of inadequacy and the fear of not succeeding become more prevalent in this instance. It is important to mention that these fears and feelings occur despite evidence of previous success. Knowing the difference between imposter syndrome and self-doubt is important because it will allow you to make the appropriate adjustments where it’s needed. Imposter syndrome is more of a temporary, situational experience, whereas self-doubt is typically an ongoing experience and usually affects people developmentally and in different areas of their life. Some could even argue that the false fraudulent weight of imposter syndrome could actually be good for you as it will encourage you to prove yourself and work hard to not feel like you’re ‘tricking’ people, whereas self-doubt can be pretty harmful as it may prevent you from getting new and exciting opportunities or having impactful experiences in the first place.
The different forms of imposter syndrome will ultimately result in uniquely impacting an individual's actions. Here are some ways imposter syndrome can negatively affect both your personal and professional life.
Salary Negotiations: When you feel as though you don’t deserve to have a seat at whatever table you’re at, it becomes nearly impossible to advocate for yourself and your future. You should feel comfortable and have confidence within your role to have a conversation about your salary, so try not to allow imposter syndrome to persuade or deter you from recognizing your potential, value, and specialized contributions to your position.
Asking Questions: ‘Ask the wrong question, and you’ll be exposed!’ That’s the sound of imposter syndrome taking over our logical brains and denying us the opportunity to ask important questions, even if you think they are dumb. When we don’t understand something, the obvious thing to do is ask questions and this is a good thing because our brain is demonstrating curiosity and interest. Imposter syndrome, however, makes us feel like we should already know the answers or that the person we’re asking will look at us like we don’t belong here. Trust me when I say to not allow your imposter-brain prevent you from asking any type of question about your work or project, as it will end up holding you back in the long run.
Workload: When a colleague or your boss hands off more work to you than what you can truly handle, imposter syndrome makes it incredibly difficult to say no or explain that you don’t have the capacity to take it on. ‘Saying no to this extra work would mean you can’t handle your job and can’t keep up with the rest of your team’ - Your imposter-brain. Once again, this is not true. More often than not, our workload will ebb and flow and sometimes we just won’t be able to physically do that extra assignment, and not expressing this to your team means the feeling imposter syndrome is forcing you to take on an unreasonable amount of work of which you may not be able to complete.
Contribution: When we work in a team there are different people with different skill levels all collaborating at once and it can feel intimidating working alongside someone very experienced and a pro at what they do, as you may still be in the learning phase. It’s not uncommon to feel that your contributions may be below everyone’s expectations or not very valuable in the grand scheme of the project, but this is just what imposter syndrome will have you believe. Be sure to contribute as much as you can and if your teammates have questions, consider it a great opportunity to add to your skillset.
Communication: When we’re facing imposter syndrome, all we want to do is hide and make sure no one sees us, because if no one knows we exist, the easier it is to go undetected. This theory only makes sense when your imposter syndrome mind is speaking. Communication is the foundation of all good systems and relationships, especially the ones at your job or within your education or profession. Don’t let yourself avoid communication, and instead embrace speaking to your teammates or colleagues as often as possible to ensure you’re open to feedback and eager to become better at your role.
How do we beat imposter syndrome? One of the first steps to overcoming imposter-like emotions is to recognize and acknowledge these thoughts when they occur and put them into perspective. When we are aware and observe these thoughts as opposed to acting or engaging in them means they don’t have the power to control or consume us, and we can be more deliberate of what feelings we let dictate us. Specific ways in which you can overcome the sometimes crippling fear of imposter syndrome is asking questions as frequently as possible, finding a mentor or someone who can guide you through the phases of your career development or educational journey, or possibly seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor who are highly skilled in helping people overcome these types of challenges. Learning your true value will ultimately determine how you respond to the fear of feeling fraudulent in any situation.