The effects of Imposter Syndrome (and how to deal with it)


Have you ever felt like you were not the right person for your job? And that sooner or later, your manager would discover you were unqualified to be handling that position, and you’d lose your job? If any of these feelings sound familiar, you may be suffering from what is known as Imposter Syndrome, and you are not alone. Millions of people suffer from this condition, and it impacts people of all ages and genders, keeping them from enjoying their jobs, performing their best work, and seeking out higher level positions.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Cal Tech defines Imposter Syndrome as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.” Essentially, even if you perform well at your job, you may still feel like a fake and that it’s only a matter of time until everyone finds out. No matter how much evidence may exist to the contrary, the feelings of self-doubt persist.

Someone suffering from Imposter Syndrome can typically exhibit thoughts such as:

  • “Sooner or later they are going to realize they made a mistake in hiring me.”
  • “I have no idea what I’m doing, and it’s only a matter of time until my boss finds out.”
  • “I shouldn’t have gotten this promotion, I’m not qualified.”
  • Brushing off an achievement as “no big deal.”

Imposter Syndrome first came to notice back in the 1970s, when a psychology professor by the name of Pauline Rose Clance heard similar stories from many women that despite their success, they felt as though they didn’t deserve it. After conducting further research and talking to other participants, she discovered that this was a common issue, and published her findings.

Who deals with Imposter Syndrome?

Despite the phenomenon coming to prominence among women, it is experienced by both men and women alike. In fact, since the phenomenon was coined several decades ago, more research has been conducted that shows Imposter Syndrome is quite common among all genders, races, and occupations.

Clance later said “If I could do it all over again, I would call it the impostor experience, because it’s not a syndrome or a complex or a mental illness, it’s something almost everyone experiences.”

Imposter Syndrome doesn’t disappear as your progress up the career ladder, either. It impacts people of all career stages – from interns all the way up to CEOs. Many employees feel that it is only a matter of time before their boss sees they are “faking” it, while those in higher up positions feel that eventually their employees – or their own bosses – will realize the same thing. Achieving a certain level of success is not enough to make this feeling go away, and if you have it at a lower level, you’re likely to have it as you move along your career path as well.

How to deal with Imposter Syndrome

If you’ve been feeling like a fraud, or that you’re counting the minutes until someone catches you, here are a few strategies to help you cope.

First, start giving yourself some credit for your successes. You haven’t gotten to where you are simply because of luck (hopefully). It is more likely that you are good at adapting to new situations, figuring things out on your own, and coming up with practical solutions. You may feel that your accomplishments are no big deal, but it is almost guaranteed that someone else is looking at them and comparing themselves against you. Recognize what you’ve done well, and give yourself some credit.

Second, try to stop comparing yourself to others. Most people don’t wear their Imposter Syndrome symptoms on their sleeve, and many of your friends or co-workers could be experiencing the same thoughts of doubt. If you only compare yourself against the idea of a person, you will always find yourself lacking. Instead, recognize that most people are struggling, that you are not alone, and that other people’s accomplishments or failures do not impact your own.

Third, start keeping track of any compliments that you receive. This may sound a little self-serving, but it’s an effective way to deal with feeling like an imposter. Any time someone compliments you or your work, jot it down in a little notebook or save it on your phone. All too often when we receive compliments, we quickly brush them away or find a way to discount them. “I just got lucky” or “The task was a lot easier than it looked, anyone could have done it” are common responses to getting a compliment. Instead of brushing it away, jot it down, and the next time you are feeling like a fraud, go back and look at your list.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to recognize and talk about your feelings. Start a journal and let your imposter feelings out on the page, or find someone to talk to. Often just getting the words out – either onto a page or saying them aloud – allows us to gain a new perspective. And by talking to another person, you can get the reassurances you’re looking for that you are not, in fact, a fraud.

You’re not alone with your Imposter Syndrome

The next time you feel like you just lucked into something, or that you don’t belong somewhere, remember that this is quite common. Millions of people feel like an imposter each day, no matter their race, gender, or position. While you may think that it is only a matter of time before your boss catches you and sends you out the door, it’s entirely possible your boss could be feeling the same way regarding their own work performance.

The best thing you can do is recognize these fraudulent feelings when they arise, go easy on yourself for having them, and bring some unbiased evidence into the mix. By limiting, or completely removing, these thoughts from your mind, you can allow yourself to reach your full potential, and to enjoy the feeling of success when you do.

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