From sports stars to CEOs, imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that many of us will face in our careers. This syndrome is defined by the California Institute of Technology Counselling Centre as ‘a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in the face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.
As complex as this may sound, imposter syndrome is actually a very common and normal phenomenon — over 70% of people will experience this at some point in their lives. While the cause of this crippling self-doubt is unclear, you can keep these feelings in check. The trick is to recognise the unhelpful thoughts, question their validity, and gradually rein them in.
Think you may have imposter syndrome? Here are some of the most common symptoms and how to deal with them.
Sign: Difficulty accepting praise
Even the highest achievers may have to deal with significant negative internal monologue. Despite attaining multiple awards, accolades and achievements, they might attribute success to luck, timing or even an error in judgement from their employer rather than congratulating themselves. Thus, they struggle to believe their success was deserved.
This failure to internalise accomplishments can prove problematic, especially if you’re planning to make major career strides. If you’re continually fearful that you don’t measure up, you’ll find it difficult to make the most of your potential, or you may hesitate to put yourself forward for the next career step you truly deserve, given your experience and ability.
Solution: Recognise and celebrate your success
Remember, you haven’t come this far because you’ve winged it — you’ve earned it, and it’s healthy to remind yourself of this from time to time. Make a point of thinking about how far you’ve already come, and your achievements — think back to awards, successful projects, and positive feedback from people you respect. None of this came your way by accident.
Sign: You try to be a workplace superhero
Another tell-tale sign of an ‘imposter’ is an inherent need to be the very best. If you can’t meet your impossibly high standards without help, you perceive it to be a failure — which only perpetuates the toxic cycle of self-sabotaging perfectionism.
Solution: Lean on others
There’s no shame in asking for help or admitting you don’t have the answer to something. Reach out for support from a mentor or trusted co-worker to get the job done. Feeling less stressed about the task at hand will increase your confidence.
If you don’t have a support network in place at work, this might be the time to ask for one or seek a workplace that does. It’s good to ask yourself whether your negative thinking has created your workplace environment or the other way around.
Sign: You constantly compare yourself to others
Everyone compares themselves to others, but done in excess, it can breed feelings of envy, low self-confidence and even depression. Using someone else as a benchmark can lead you to believe there is something inherently wrong with you.
Solution: Redirect your attention to your own goals and what is required to achieve them.
Recognise when you’re making these unhealthy (and unjust) comparisons, and distract yourself from such unhelpful thoughts. Cultivate a relationship with your manager where it’s okay to talk openly about your ambitions and where you want to go in the company. If you’re applying for a new role and you’re not feeling confident, ask a select few friends or a co-worker you trust to share five things they find great about you — this can work wonders as a little boost and reminder to focus on yourself.
What next for ‘imposters’?
Overcoming imposter syndrome requires self-acceptance: you don’t have to attain perfection or mastery to be worthy of the success you’ve achieved and any accolades you earn along the way. It’s not about lowering the bar — it’s about resetting it to a realistic level that doesn’t leave you overreaching and feeling inadequate.
If you feel like you’ve worked through all of the above and things still aren’t changing, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your current role and workplace culture. A more supportive and understanding environment can work wonders for your self-esteem and have a big impact on your career development.
This article is contributed by Robert Walters Singapore.