Have you ever felt that you didn’t belong?
Maybe you got a job that you considered to be outside of your resume qualifications. Or maybe you landed a date with someone you thought was way out of your league.
In these circumstances, you feel like you got lucky and that it’s only a matter of time before the truth is exposed!
That “truth” you tell yourself is that you aren’t worthy. You aren’t smart, qualified, skilled, good looking, or fun to be around.
These negative thoughts, self-doubt, and insecurity creep up throughout your life. They restrict you from feeling confident and achieving more.
You may be experiencing what is referred to as “imposter syndrome.” And it isn’t just you who has these feelings. Odds are that most people around you are going through the same thing.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which one doubts that their abilities and accomplishments were attributable to their own performance and competence. They believe they got where they were because of luck and other external factors.
Those with imposter syndrome lack confidence in their innate skills and knowledge. They fear that they will eventually be exposed of that.
Imposter syndrome can take place in your social life, years in school, and most prominently in the workplace.
Age and status don’t insulate someone from feeling inadequate. Those from entry-level positions up to executives can fall prey to self-doubt.
The International Journal of Behavioral Science estimates that nearly 70% of working professionals have experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their careers.
No matter the achievements and accolades, those with imposter syndrome often feel that they are lucky to be where they are and it is only a matter of time before that luck runs out.
Traits of those with imposter syndrome
- Downplay accomplishments and achievements
- Second-guess themselves and their work
- Fear failure or negative feedback
- Discount praise given to them
- Believe they do not live up to expectations or standards
- Fear their lack of knowledge and skills will eventually be exposed
- Avoid taking on new responsibilities just at the edge of their skill level
- Attribute success to outside factors and not because of their own abilities
- Don’t ask for raises or promotions
- Don’t pursue opportunities or individuals that are “out of their league”
- Think their friends only hang out with them for a certain reason other than their character
- Go through relationships scared they will mess things up
Examples of Imposter Syndrome
The workplace can be a comfortable or cutthroat environment based on the company and industry you’re in.
In a prestigious industry filled with high-achievers that went to the top schools, it’s easy to feel like you aren’t on the same level as everyone.
The person to your right graduated at the top of their class. On your left is someone who is two years younger than you but is technically your boss.
On LinkedIn, you see post after post of people patting themselves on the back for the new promotions they got. They subtly boast about the new deals they closed or the amazing entrepreneurs they get to work with.
After being exposed to all this, you go back to your desk with self-induced anxiety and depression because you “know” you can’t compete.
You’re scared of being exposed that you have no skills or intelligence. Because of this, you hold yourself back. You’re scared of taking on new responsibilities and projects because that would open up the opportunity for you to screw up.
This doubt becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your development and confidence remain stagnant and may even decline.
College is filled with people across the world you have never met before.
Maybe you were the smartest kid at your hometown high school. You were used to being “the smart one” and may have even won the “most likely to succeed” superlative.
However, when you got on campus, you found that everyone seemed smart. Even smarter than you. They took more AP classes than you, won more scholarships, and have a list of extracurriculars they were a part of.
You think to yourself “How did I even get into this school?”
Since you feel like you don’t belong, you’re scared to speak up and participate in your classes.
You don’t even attempt to join clubs because you think everyone is so far ahead of you already.
Even though you are maintaining a 3.9 GPA, you still believe you have gotten lucky. Or maybe you recognize that you have good grades but don’t think you have the resume to go pursue internship opportunities.
“Why bother?” you say to yourself. “My peers will get all the internships anyways.”
You’ve been going on dates with a person you’ve really been into. Everything has been going well and you’re really hitting it off.
You haven’t had luck with anyone for the past year or two and fear that you’ll mess things up.
The person is a 10 in your eyes and you think you’re only a 6. You wonder how the heck this person is still into you?!
You attribute it to luck or that you’re just someone they’re settling on. Surely it can’t be because you’re actually a great and entertaining person to be around.
The fear of losing something good leads to anxiety, which causes you to behave differently. You end up overcompensating for anything that can push that person away.
Because of your changed behavior, you actually do things that end up ruining the relationship. The person that attracted this “10” is not the same person anymore. They sense the insecurity and leave you.
Causes of Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome is thought to be attributable to a mixture of things including personality traits or perhaps the environment someone was raised in or exposed to for an extended period of time.
Some may have anxiety or other disorders they grapple with in all areas of their life. Others might have been raised to be perfectionists, always needing to be the best in everything they did.
Once these individuals make it out into the world, they encounter adversity they aren’t used to.
They compare themselves to others and develop a negative story they tell themselves about what they lack.
They dismiss the fact they got accepted into a big-name university. Later, when they land a job at a prestigious firm, they are discouraged when they aren’t the smartest in the room. This leads to self-doubt.
Effect of social media
The age of social media only exacerbated the problem of imposter syndrome. Individuals see their peers on Instagram traveling the world and attending fun festivals and sporting events.
They close the app and open LinkedIn and see everyone posting updates on their careers.
People see these things and can feel that they aren’t doing enough. Confirmation bias takes effect and soon individuals are seeking out evidence to confirm their doubts.
Ultimately, imposter syndrome is caused by insecurity.
10 Tips on How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
1. Take note of what you have accomplished
Take some time to sit down and write everything you have accomplished. These can be things in your social life, in school, and in your career.
Jot down what you had to overcome to get get to where you are. This will show you that you are capable, you are knowledgeable, and you have tons of self-worth.
2. Set reasonable expectations and look for small wins
One cause of imposter syndrome is setting expectations that are too high for yourself. When you come out of college, you aren’t going to walk into a company and perform better than those who have 2 years under their belt.
Things take time and you have to accept this. Set reasonable expectations that allow you to achieve small wins.
If your major goal is to master how each business segment works in the company, start by mastering one of them. Once you “win” against mastering one, you can move onto the next. Focusing on every department at once in a week’s time is unreasonable and overwhelming.
The small wins will boost your confidence and help you build momentum to keep moving forward.
3. Focus on what you CAN do instead of what you can’t
When we feel out of place, we often focus on everything we CAN’T do.
- “I don’t know how to do this.”
- “I’m not skilled enough to do that.”
If you asked any individual, they would give you an endless list of things they couldn’t do.
Focus on what you can do and do more of it.
If you’re good at making great PowerPoints, find ways to deliver value through effective presentations.
If you have fast Excel skills, use your speed to get things done quicker.
Maximize what you are good at, while working on things you are bad at. Dwelling and not taking action do you no good.
4. Up your skills and knowledge
One way to tackle the problem of feeling inadequate is to level up your skills and knowledge. Put in the time and effort to improve yourself, even if only by a small fraction.
For a professional in accounting, you can commit to learning one new concept per day.
Take advantage of books and online resources such as courses, YouTube and blogs (like this one)! Growth will occur from the act of learning and in the confidence you develop.
5. Pay attention to negative thoughts
You’ll never be able to fully rid yourself of negative thoughts. What you can do is become self-aware and pay attention to them when they show up.
- What is it that I am feeling right now?
- What is causing me to think this way?
- Is this feeling justified?
By taking the time to recognize your negative thoughts, you can think about them logically and change them.
These feelings are often creations of your own mind. Your mind is just as capable of eliminating negative thoughts as it is capable of creating them.
6. Change the story you tell yourself
As a victim of imposter syndrome, you have a story you tell yourself.
Maybe your story is…
“I’m not built to be in this job. I only got lucky because others interviewed badly. I’m not capable of the responsibilities I have been given and it’s only a matter of time before my boss finds out I’m incompetent.”
Make a shift in mindset to change your story.
Your new story can be:
“I deserve this job because of all the work I put into college and all the studying and practice I did for the interview. I am new and I may not be experienced yet, but I am driven and know I will pick things up quickly. I have always been a hard worker and that is what got me here. That isn’t going to change now.”
We mentioned how negative self-talk can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Well, so can positive talk. Staying positive and even “faking it til you make it” can lead to you becoming the person in your new story.
Write your story and hang it on your fridge. Recite your story in your head. Do anything to make it stick and reinforce it in your mind.
7. Step outside of your comfort zone
A symptom of imposter syndrome is shying away from difficulties. Fearing failure, you walk away from opportunities that are past your comfort level.
Stepping out of your comfort zone is difficult, but can help you in your development. You don’t need to step one mile out of your comfort zone. Simply step a few feet outside of it.
When you move towards minor discomfort and challenges those things eventually become normal. This helps you confirm to yourself that you are capable of challenges. As a result, your comfort zone grows.
If you look to get one mile out of your comfort zone from day one, you’ll never get there and may not even try. However, if you walk a few feet out of your comfort zone every day, you’ll eventually hit that mile mark.
(Ehh maybe a bad analogy above, but you get the gist). The point is to take consistent baby steps forward.
8. Boost your confidence through other activities
If you are lacking confidence in one area of your life, you can look to boost confidence in other areas.
For example, if you have been having a hard time at work lately and are feeling down, you can uplift yourself by going to the gym.
You enjoy fitness and consistently work out. The positive changes in your body help you feel better about yourself.
As a result, you actually feel happier and livelier at work. The discipline and perseverance you built up in the gym have trickled into your work. Now you find the motivation to tough things out to come out on the other side.
This can be the benefit of boosting your confidence through other activities.
9. Find a mentor
A mentor provides numerous benefits to your professional and personal development. When you find someone years ahead of you in the position you want to be in, having someone to guide you and give advice along the way is invaluable.
Whenever you feel like you don’t belong or that you aren’t good enough, you can go to your mentor for support.
They were once in the position you are in and have probably felt everything that you are feeling. They might even still be dealing with imposter syndrome themselves.
Reminding yourself that everyone was once in the position you’re in is reassuring. And hearing this from a mentor who has found success can show you that you are on the right track.
10. Meditate with affirmations and gratitude
Finally, I would recommend that you try meditation. Meditation can help you collect your thoughts end empty your mind from them.
Implementing affirmations into your meditation can calm and uplift you. Remind yourself of what you have achieved and what you know you are capable of. This will mold your mindset and move it away from the negativity you have fallen victim to.
Practice gratitude as well. Those who are high-achievers are often the ones who feel imposter syndrome the most. If this is you, be grateful for what you have achieved. Be grateful that you simply have a job or a home over your head.
This can put things into perspective for you and you’ll realize how much you DO have and forget thinking about everything you don’t have.
Meditation doesn’t have to be a major event and it doesn’t require much of your time. A simple few minutes of reflection and calming your mind can have profound effects on your well-being.
Imposter syndrome is everywhere. Even those that appear the most confident to you probably doubt themselves frequently.
Experience and qualifications don’t offer immunity from this phenomenon, but it is manageable.
Understanding that what you are going through is normal and that many others are going through the same problem can alleviate some of the anxiety.
Don’t compare yourself to others but compare yourself to who you were yesterday. Focus on yourself and becoming better day in and day out. By doing this, you’ll build momentum and confidence over time.
You’ll eventually turn into the person you never thought you could be but always aspired to become.