How to Cope with Imposter Syndrome

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It's often easy to slip into feelings of imposter syndrome. Here, we give you tips to overcome them.

It’s your first day at a new job, and you’re all set to give it your best. Your outfit is poppin’, you arrived 15 minutes early, and your office supplies are nestled in your briefcase.

Your family is proud of you. Your network is proud of you. Somewhere deep down, you’re proud of yourself, too. 

Yet as you walk in, meet your coworkers, get settled at your desk, and begin your tasks, a restless feeling begins to kick in. You feel a spotlight on you – eyes on you – as racing thoughts crowd your mind.

The calming feeling you once felt begins to slip away, and you start to think your praise is ill-deserved. You begin to wonder, “how did I get here? I do not belong.” 

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Where is all of this coming from? For years, you’ve done the grunt work. Your college professors have approved your efforts. You’ve earned degrees or certifications in your field. Hiring managers have reviewed your resume and decided you fit the bill.

On paper, you have everything you need and more to be successful: education, experience, curiosity, and passion. Yet, inside yourself, you can’t help but succumb to an onslaught of self-doubt.

This ruminating feeling may be a symptom of the imposter phenomenon

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

According to the American Psychological Association, imposter syndrome “occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.”

While not recognized as a diagnosis of any kind, psychologists note that this extreme feeling can come with anxiety and depression. 

Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes first introduced the concept in 1978 and theorized only women experienced this phenomenon. After new developments in research, Clance published a paper acknowledging that feelings of imposter syndrome are not unique to women.

People of all genders, sexes, races, ethnicities, beliefs, and economic statuses experience imposter syndrome. In fact, it’s estimated that some 70% of people have these feelings at some point in their lives, Time reports. 

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In our results-based society, love, praise, and value often feel like they’re only administered after achievement. Your self-perception may stem from childhood patterns of being praised and acknowledged only after you’ve “won a gold star.”

Maybe your feelings of nonbelonging have more to do with you looking or acting differently than those inside your professional sphere. They may also come from anxiety, environmental, or institutionalized discrimination.

As Valerie Young, Ed.D., co-founder of the Imposter Syndrome Institute says, “The only way to stop feeling like an imposter is to stop thinking like an imposter.” A little doubt is natural, but if your insecurities stop you from doing what you love, we have tips to overcome imposter syndrome. 

Give Up Perfection 

As Brené Brown says in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.

It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.” 

Release the pressure to be perfect and appreciate your shortcomings. We all have strengths and weaknesses. No one expects you to be perfect. It’s okay to ask for help. We all need constructive criticism from time to time, and it helps orient us to be better at what we do.

The only way to better your game is by practicing and doing. It’s okay to have room for growth. We all have it. 

Reassure Yourself and Celebrate Your Wins

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Give up the long-standing ideas that tell you you’re only valuable or lovable if you achieve something or do it perfectly. Take time out of the constant need to do better, be better, produce more, earn more, or whatever it is that makes you feel like you’re not enough. Along the way, you’ve done something worthwhile, so celebrate it! 

It doesn’t matter if it happened yesterday or 10 years ago. Doesn’t matter if it’s what you consider a “small” win. Celebrate you. Eat your favorite dessert, reward yourself with that purchase you’ve been dying to make, or take a day off and unplug.

Whatever you’d do in your perfect “yes day,” make it happen. Not just because, but to celebrate. Create a system for you to do this periodically. 

Speak to Someone

One sign of imposter syndrome is the fear you’ll be found out by others as a fraud. This may stop you from telling people how you feel, suffering in silence about your anxieties and low self-worth. You may think if you list all the reasons you shouldn’t be where you are, friends, bosses, and coworkers will reassess your position.

Try not to let these catastrophizing thoughts overcome you. There is no merit in it. 

Many times, being vulnerable and having a conversation with a trusted party can give you perspective. They may reveal you’re not alone in your worry. Talking with a colleague can unveil where and how they started their career journey. You may find that it’s similar to your situation. You may begin to realize your accomplishments hold weight. 

Change Your Narrative 

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Acknowledge the thoughts you’re having and let them flow. Don’t fight it. Reading this article and giving your feelings a name helps put things into focus. What stories about yourself are you repeating in your mind?

Identify precisely what brings up feelings of insecurity. Who told you that your accomplishments weren’t enough? When did you begin to feel as if they didn’t matter? Are these rational thoughts? Are they fact or feeling? Are they fair to you? 

Then, remember all the times your teachers, bosses, clients, and family endorsed and honored the work you’ve done. More often than not, these aren’t pity praises, especially if they’re coming from multiple sources. Try to accept the positive.

What will it take for you to see yourself as the well-achieved, successful person you want to be? What will it take for you to believe them? Take the time to unpack this, and rewrite your story moving forward. 

Just Keep Going

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Don’t let your feelings of fraudulence stop you from doing the work you want to do. It’s better to do a task “well enough” than not do it at all. Pursue your goals full-heartedly. You are exactly where you’re supposed to be, and you will learn more along with the experience you gain. 

Appreciate where you are, and do what you need to be where you want to be. No one else can be you, and you can be no one else. Your unique mix of education, experience, background, and outlook brings an added, necessary presence to the table. 

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