January 20, 2020 4 min read

What is Imposter Syndrome, and what steps can you take to overcome it?

When embarking on a new project, career or endeavour, it’s only natural to feel daunted and to compare yourself to others in the same field or area. However, if this makes you feel like you’re unqualified to continue, to speak on the subject or to work within the sector, you could be suffering from Imposter Syndrome – and it’s important to ensure that this doesn’t make you stop or downgrade what you’re looking to achieve.

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What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome isn’t a medical condition (although it sounds like it!) but it can develop into a mental health and anxiety issue. Put simply, it is the persistent belief that your success is undeserved and/or illegitimately achieved, because of under-qualification, lack of knowledge or lack of position or power. This may also harbour a fear of being ‘exposed’ as being a ‘fraud’ or ‘not the real deal’.

Imposter Syndrome is often triggered as a result of comparing yourself to other people in the same space. When you perceive their achievements, esteem and qualifications to be greater than yours, it is easy to feel doubt as to your own abilities. Even when presented with external and actual evidence of your successes, Imposter Syndrome will make you believe it is insufficient.

Imposter Syndrome can be suffered by anyone, but in particular it is likely to affect those with a high intellect, those who use social media frequently, and women. 

The term ‘Imposter Phenomenon’ was first discussed in the late 1970s in a psychological paper focusing on high-achieving women in business, having interviewed and sampled over 150. Surveys since have shown that up to 85% of the British adult population (both men and women!) may have suffered from Imposter Syndrome at some time in their lives. 

Why you need to overcome Imposter Syndrome if you’re suffering from it

It’s fairly evident from its description that suffering from Imposter Syndrome isn’t pleasant, but the impact it can have on the mental health of those with it can be extremely detrimental; particularly when it’s allowed to impact on their everyday work and personal lives. 

Untreated Imposter Syndrome can often inhibit an individual’s appetite to progress in their chosen field. When you’re constantly telling yourself that you won’t feel comfortable doing something, charging a certain fee or achieving a certain goal, then it’s unlikely that you’ll go on to do it and progress in the way you could. Business wise, this can get in the way of charging reasonable rates, applying for promotions or new roles, promoting and marketing yourself and networking. 

If you want to progress in your field, it’s paramount that Imposter Syndrome is acknowledged and worked on if and when it presents itself.

How to use Imposter Syndrome to your advantage

Coming across as humble and human is a position in all aspects of life, and admitting and working through Imposter Syndrome can help improve the external perception of a person. People have much more respect for honesty and hard work than they do ‘blagging’ through!

Similarly, Imposter Syndrome can help reinforce to you the importance of checking your work and managing your communications well. When kept in check, to this point, Imposter Syndrome can be used to the advantage of the individual.

Whether or not Imposter Syndrome is present, it’s important always to stay open-minded and keep learning no matter how far you progress or succeed.

Steps to take to overcome Imposter Syndrome

It is important to acknowledge Imposter Syndrome and once this has been recognised, it can be worked on. First off, it’s really key to remember that lots of people feel the same way and that everyone started from scratch at some point! Nothing worth having wasn’t worth working hard for… and taking a few risks along the way.

There are several steps that can be taken to help tackle and overcome Imposter Syndrome. These include, but are by no means limited to:

  • Surrounding yourself with people in the same position or field. This can be through attending networking events and speaking to/connecting with as many as possible, joining Facebook or social media groups to learn from people, and putting yourself ‘out there’ to meet others.
  • Enjoy and celebrate your successes – even small wins! An encouraging note, a good review or a new skill learnt are all worth celebrating and telling others about. Note down your gratitudes and achievements as often as you can; they’re great to look back on as an indication of how far you’ve come.
  • Take risks and make decisions! As long as you’re able to acknowledge that not everything may work out how you’d like it to, taking risks is key to business development and growth.
  • Don’t be afraid to pivot. If something isn’t working out or your original goal is no longer feasible, change tactic and direction. The world is changing all the time and your work will undoubtedly be impacted by external forces out of your control at some point. Work with these things rather than against them; ride the wave!
  • Don’t wait for perfection. There may never be a ‘right time’ for your next step so if not now… when? A Mark Victor Han quote sums this up perfectly:

“Don't wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. So what? Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident and more and more successful.” 

The first step to overcoming Imposter Syndrome is to recognise it and acknowledge it. Whether or not it is discussed is up to the individual, as are the steps taken, but there is lots that can be done and lots of action taken to work with it and through it – so why not start today?