How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome at Work

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Imposter Syndrome is the belief that we don’t believe we deserve the job we’re in or the success we achieve. To overcome it, become aware of what’s letting you down and allowing these intrusive thoughts into your mind. That awareness enables you to shift your perspective and start being kinder to, and more patient with, yourself.

Today’s post is by Ethan Lee of Inspiring Interns.

Imposter Syndrome is a term that was coined in the late 1970’s from research carried out by Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. Their researched showed that many high-achieving women tended to believe they were not intelligent enough and were being over-evaluated by others. Imposter Syndrome has therefore come to describe the feelings of people who, quite simply, don’t believe they deserve their job. Those exhibiting the syndrome believe that deep down they are frauds, and fear that sooner or later they’ll be exposed.

It’s thought that most of us will feel like an imposter at some point or another in our careers, with studies suggesting around 70% of us will experience the feeling sooner or later. While it’s not necessarily harmful in and of itself, the dangers arise when these feelings make you apprehensive, and hold you back from fulfilling the upper echelons of your potential.

Like all problems in both your personal and professional lives, understanding where they may be stemming from is a great place to start. There are myriad reasons that could be causing your imposter syndrome, but here are just some ideas:

You feel inexperienced

This is a likely scenario for younger workers, graduates, career changers and generally people who are prone to a weakened sense of self-worth or self-appreciation. The notion that you’re not automatically worthy of something can be a good thing in moderation, keeping you grounded, humble, and realistic about your goals and capabilities. When these thoughts are consistent and intrusive, however, they’ll certainly begin to be a distraction, and damage your performance in the long term.

You’re a perfectionist

Sometimes the bar you’ve set for yourself is much higher than what anybody is expecting from you. If you find that you’re a little too keen to outdo yourself and that nothing ever feels quite finished or good enough, you’ll always be creating more work for yourself. In management and leadership roles, this can make you hesitant to delegate, and far too harsh on your colleagues if they don’t meet your internalized standards – even if they can’t reasonably be expected to know them.

You’re not used to having to work hard

For some, the ability to grasp a new concept comes so easily, it requires little to no thought or effort. These so-called natural geniuses can get quite the shock, then, when they’re suddenly confronted with a task or concept that requires a previously untapped level of concentration, practice and time. It sounds like no problem at all to those who have always had to take their time in order to learn at their most effective, but for quick learners it can be a sharp blow to confidence and lead them to think that the need for so much practice must mean, logically, that it’s beyond their ken.

You don’t want help

Whether it’s a desire to look highly competent, a fear or apprehension of interacting with other people, or just an individualistic disposition, an aversion to seeking help with your work can hold you back. It’s not uncommon to equate the need to ask for guidance with a feeling of incompetence, but it isn’t weak to ask your colleagues for help – it’s natural. Seeking collaboration and input with your work shows that you’re open, communicative and unafraid to improve. It might seem intimidating, but you might be surprised just how warm people can be when you politely approach them for help.

So, what now?

If you recognized yourself in any of the above, then great – that’s the first stage to overcoming it. Build on this awareness to identify what’s letting you down and allowing these intrusive thoughts into your mind. Work on ways that you can shift your perspective and start being kinder to, and more patient with, yourself.

If you’re still unsure, reach out to friends and family. Ask them to speak honestly about their observations of your behaviors when it comes to confidence and work. Perhaps an outside perspective is what you need to shed light on these damaging traits.

Schedule a meeting with your manager or supervisor. Any boss worth their salt will be happy to help you improve and gain the focus you need to overcome these feelings of unworthiness. If they were the one who hired you, ask them what they liked about you and what they feel made you suitable for the role. Hearing everything that you’re good for is certainly going to give you a much-needed confidence boost.

When all else fails, just remember that you got the role because of who you are. Unless you outright told big lies about experience and knowledge on your CV and in your interview, you were chosen by someone who felt you were what they needed and was happy to have that decision against their name. Don’t let them down and don’t let yourself down. If there are complaints, address them and work on them with the appropriate support. If there are none, then relax! You’re right where you ought to be.

Ethan Lee writes for Inspiring Interns, which specializes in finding candidates their perfect internship. To browse our graduate jobs, visit our website.

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