Ever doubted your abilities and felt like a fraud? You're not alone! For career-focused women, imposter syndrome is extremely common and can hold you back from reaching your potential at work, and ultimately in life.
For me personally, I’ve struggled with imposter syndrome my entire life. I was a quiet, shy and introverted kid, who never felt high levels of self-esteem or confidence. I was relatively smart and had potential, but I simply didn’t have the level of self-belief I needed to really step into my best self.
Over time I started to grow my confidence, but whenever I achieved something, I felt like it was sheer dumb luck rather than as a result of my own hard work and abilities. When I got promoted at work I was worried they’d find out I’m actually not as great as they thought I was and fire me. This was despite having many years of experience, glowing reviews, and getting great results for the businesses I worked for.
What was happening in my brain didn’t quite line up with my reality. And the incongruence I felt was a constant battle in my own head. I never felt good enough, I didn’t let myself celebrate my successes for longer than five minutes, and I always felt like I was behind compared to everyone else.
These feelings aren’t unique to me. So many people feel this way, and there’s a name for it – imposter syndrome.
So, how do you stop feeling like an imposter?
I can tell you that it’s not easy and it’s a constant battle… but there are plenty of great strategies that can be used to effectively manage imposter syndrome, and I’m going to share some that have worked wonders for me.
To shed light on these strategies, we’re going to deep dive into imposter syndrome—how it can show up and strategies for overcoming it, so next time that little voice in your head tells you you’re not good enough, that you’re not cut out for the job or you shouldn’t go for that role you want because you don’t tick all the boxes, you have some effective methods to try out.
If you want to overcome imposter syndrome and step into your best self in your career and life, keep reading!
What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is a psychological behaviour/event that occurs in the mind or behaviour of an individual or group. It can present itself through persistent feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy, and the fear of being exposed as a fraud or "imposter," despite evidence of your competence, accomplishments, and skills.
It often shows up for high achievers who struggle to internalise their achievements and tend to give credit to their success to external factors like luck rather than their own abilities.
How can imposter syndrome show up?
The exact causes of imposter syndrome are highly complex and will likely vary from person to person, but common factors that contribute to imposter syndrome showing up include:
If you’re a perfectionist like me and want everything to be perfect, there’s a high possibility that you set such high standards for yourself that if you aren’t able to meet your unrealistic standards it can lead to feelings of inadequacy and make you feel like you’re a fraud or not as ‘good’ as others perceive you to be.
You may discount your achievements because you feel like you could have done better, and very rarely let yourself celebrate wins.
People with imposter syndrome often credit their successes to external factors like luck or help from others, rather than acknowledging their own skills and efforts. If you constantly feel like you got lucky, and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to achieve the same result again, you may be experiencing imposter syndrome. Because trust me – if you’ve done it once, you can do it again!
If you have a deep fear of failure, this can make you focus on the possible consequences of ‘failing’ and lead you to being hyper-focused on your performance. The problem is that you’re likely to focus on all the things you’re doing ‘wrong’ or could be doing better, rather than all the things you’re doing well. This can instill feelings of self-doubt, and cause any little mistake to build a case for feeling like an imposter.
If you’ve got a job at a well-known company, you work in a competitive environment, or you’ve got a new job or been promoted into a role with higher responsibility that you’ve never done before, this can exacerbate imposter syndrome and you may be more fearful of making mistakes or being thought of as not being the best person for the job after all.
However, it’s important to remember that you were hired because your employers are confident that you’re the best person for the job, so as long as you didn’t mislead them or lie in your job application or interview, all you need to do is develop the same level of belief in yourself as your employers have in you!
Compare and despair
If you constantly compare yourself to others and feel like you’re behind, less skilled, or not good enough, this can fuel imposter syndrome like pouring fuel into a fire. If you’re always seeing others as more capable or accomplished than you, this is a sure-way to feel inadequate.
So next time you catch yourself comparing and despairing – stop. It won’t do you any good, and it’s a great trigger for imposter syndrome.
Culture and societal beliefs
Societal pressures, stereotypes, and cultural expectations can all contribute to imposter syndrome, especially for women and people from marginalised groups, who are more likely to face additional challenges, unconscious bias and stereotypes in their workplaces.
Breaking societal stereotypes and unconscious biases isn’t easy, and it starts with mindset and belief in yourself and your abilities. Your gender, race, sexual orientation, or religion has nothing to do with your abilities, nor does it change your value as a person. And you don’t need to argue or prove otherwise.
Your past experiences
Your childhood and past experiences can affect your self-perception and confidence in yourself and your abilities. For example, if you were exposed to excessive criticism or incredibly high expectations from parents when you were younger, this can lead to feelings of inadequacy later in life.
If you had a lack of validation or recognition for your achievements as a child this can also make it hard to give yourself credit for your successes as an adult. Try not to blame your parents though, they may not have known better. What’s important is realising that generational trauma and past experiences can affect us, but we can show compassion for our inner child’s concerns and bravely overcome them.
Does any of that resonate with you?
These are just a handful of ways imposter syndrome can show up and what can contribute to it. Imposter syndrome isn’t limited to a specific gender, age or occupation. It can affect anyone, at any time.
Tips for overcoming imposter syndrome
Now that you know what can lead to feelings of imposter syndrome, here are some strategies you can use for overcoming it!
Self-awareness and acknowledgement
The first step for overcoming imposter syndrome is developing self-awareness to recognise when and where it’s showing up in your life, and acknowledging that you're experiencing it.
Understand that it's a common problem faced by so many high-achieving professionals, and nothing has gone wrong. Then, you can use the following strategies to help alleviate these feelings so you can continue to flourish in your career and life.
Self-reflection and journaling
A great place to start is to take out some paper and a pen (or your laptop), and start writing! Ask yourself what you’re feeling, and where these feelings of inadequacy might be coming from. Are there specific triggers or situations that tend to bring on imposter syndrome? Getting clear on what the problem is will help you find solutions.
Also keeping a journal where you document your achievements, challenges, and the moments when you felt like an imposter can help you gain perspective.
Develop a growth mindset
As already mentioned, your mindset is everything. A growth mindset is when you are always looking for lessons, solutions and opportunities, rather than focusing on failures, problems and roadblocks.
To develop a growth mindset, view challenges and failures as opportunities for learning and improvement rather than as evidence of your inadequacy. Invest in ongoing professional development, and practice the thought; ‘you’re either winning or learning’.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right,”- Henry Ford. Challenge negative thoughts with positive affirmations and empowering self talk, so that you eventually start to become your own cheerleader, rather than your worst enemy.
Replace self-doubt with positive affirmations, and remind yourself of your accomplishments and capabilities. Keep a list of your achievements and refer to it when imposter syndrome starts to sneak in.
Define clear career goals and create a plan to achieve them. Having a sense of direction and purpose can help boost your confidence. If there are areas in which you want to improve, create a plan for growing in those areas, then start taking action!
Celebrate your achievements
Make sure you celebrate milestones along the way (for longer than five minutes, too!). Encourage yourself to celebrate your successes, no matter how small they may seem. Take time to acknowledge and reward yourself for your hard work and accomplishments.
Set realistic expectations
Understand that nobody is perfect. It's okay to make mistakes and to not know everything. Set realistic expectations for yourself and remind yourself that learning and growth are part of the journey.
Focus on your strengths
It’s impossible to be amazing at everything (although this may be hard for high-achievers to swallow…) so concentrate on what you're great at and your unique skills and qualities that make you valuable in your role or areas where imposter syndrome is rearing its ugly head.
Treat yourself with the same kindness and compassion that you would offer to a friend facing similar feelings. Be gentle with yourself during times of self-doubt.
Get help and support
Talking helps! Talk to a trusted friend, mentor, or colleague about your feelings. Sharing your experiences with someone who understands and supports you can be incredibly helpful. Seek out a mentor or role model who has faced similar feelings and can provide guidance and encouragement.
Join or create support groups with colleagues or peers who also struggle with imposter syndrome. Sharing experiences and coping strategies can be empowering. That’s largely why I started the She Thrives Women’s Mastermind on Meetup. It’s a free group for professional women who want to have a great career and a great life, but struggle with common problems faced by career-focused women, like imposter syndrome! Check out the group on Meetup here.
Get therapy or coaching
If imposter syndrome is severely affecting your work and well-being, consider seeking professional help from a therapist or coach who specialises in this area. They will help you to unpack limiting beliefs and other factors that can be contributing to feelings of inadequacy, so you can move past them.
Are you ready to tackle imposter syndrome like a boss?
Overcoming imposter syndrome is an ongoing process, and it's normal to have setbacks along the way. Be patient with yourself and continue to work on building your self-confidence and self-belief. Over time, these strategies can help you manage and overcome imposter syndrome in your career.
If you’re looking for support with overcoming imposter syndrome, I’m a life and career coach who specialises in working with ambitious career-focused women who are feeling unhappy and stuck in their careers to find purpose and meaning, achieve work-life balance, and lead happier, more fulfilling lives, through doing the inner work required.
You can book a free 1-hour Career-Life Clarity Session with me to help get clarity on what’s not working in your career and life, where you’d like to get to, and how you can get there. Limited spaces available, so make sure you get in quick to secure your spot. Learn more here.
About the author, Janelle Kee-Sue
Janelle Kee-Sue is a certified life coach, accredited cognitive behavioural therapy practitioner, writer, storyteller and marketing specialist based in Wellington, New Zealand. She’s been to almost 50 countries, is a former professional bikini bodybuilding champion with a world title under her belt, and is passionate about helping women who are feeling stuck and unfulfilled in their careers and lives to get clarity on their next steps and start living the life they're meant for. In her spare time, you’ll find her at the gym, working on her novel, or hanging with her floofy Samoyed Zeus and her husband Ricky. Learn more.