Congratulations! You’ve finally landed that promotion or just gotten the job of your dreams. It’s an achievement to celebrate — and yet, you find yourself feeling anxious, doubting your skills or feeling undeserving of the role. Before you know it, you’ve gone down a rabbit hole and convinced yourself that you only got this position out of sheer luck and that other people will figure out you’re unqualified.
If this sounds like you, you may have what’s known as impostor syndrome. While it’s completely normal to doubt yourself from time to time, when those thoughts become a consistent narrative, it might signify something more.
Let’s take a look at impostor syndrome, how it can impact you in the workplace and what you can do to overcome it.
What is impostor syndrome?
Impostor syndrome, identified in the 1970s, is a psychological phenomenon where you doubt your accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. If you have impostor syndrome, you frequently experience feelings of inadequacy despite evidence to the contrary and only believe you’re successful due to good luck or timing. Even when you do receive praise, you might feel even more pressured — now you have to succeed or risk being “found out.”
Everyone can experience impostor syndrome, although research indicates that some groups may be more likely to be affected than others. Meanwhile differing from your peer group (for instance, by sexuality, race or gender) can exacerbate the problem. You’re also susceptible when beginning a new endeavor, such as college or a new job.
While the upside of impostor syndrome is that it can make you work harder and be more humble, it tends to ultimately be unhealthy, leading to burnout, anxiety and underperformance. Here are three ways you can battle this syndrome and feel more at ease at work:
1. Realize it’s not just you
If you have impostor syndrome, you’re not alone: 70% of the population have experienced it at some point. Even accomplished, well-known people report battling impostor syndrome: for example, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg; actor Tom Hanks; and civil rights activist and author Maya Angelou. Interestingly, evidence suggests that the better you are at your job, the more likely you are to feel as though you’re awful at it.
One way to feel less alone is to talk to a friend or mentor. Chances are, they’ll have gone through a similar experience and can offer support and advice, while also reassuring you that your feelings are completely normal (but likely unfounded). You might also encourage your manager to lead discussions about impostor syndrome with your team or form a workplace group to discuss the topic with like-minded coworkers.
2. Recognize your achievements
Another way to overcome impostor syndrome is to recognize your achievements. No matter how much you believe your success is due to luck or good timing, you wouldn’t have come this far if your performance wasn’t up to par.
If you have trouble accepting your achievements, start by keeping track of them. For instance, if you’re a recruiter, maybe you’ve gotten good feedback on your ability to connect with job seekers or for consistently delivering high-quality candidates to hiring managers. Make note of these instances for when you need a confidence boost: If you normally receive feedback through email, make a folder for your inbox with the good feedback you receive.
Resist the urge to brush off praise from others or to attribute your success to external factors. It may help to let your manager or team members know that owning your success is something you struggle with so they can offer more encouragement in these situations.
3. Don’t make perfection the goal
If you believe you need to excel at every aspect of your job, think again. Just because you don’t know everything doesn’t mean you know nothing. Focus on the top priorities of your job, play to your strengths and work to develop skills that need improvement. Consider talking to your manager about attending training sessions or classes for some of these areas.
If you do fail, realize that failure is often necessary for growth; your character isn’t defined by whether or not you succeed but by how you react to these scenarios. Take your failures in stride, learn from them and move on.
For many people, impostor syndrome is part of developing a professional identity. To overcome it, know that you’re not alone, recognize your achievements and don’t fall into the trap of seeking perfection. While it may creep back in from time to time, just remember that this is normal and that the feelings will pass.
When taken to the extreme, however, impostor syndrome can affect your mental health, career trajectory, job performance and more. In that case, you may want to work with a therapist or psychologist who can offer tools to break the cycle.
With these tips in mind, go forth with confidence and conquer your impostor syndrome!