Imposter syndrome—the sense that you’re not good enough even when you’re performing brilliantly—is a dynamic you’ve certainly heard of before, but new evidence suggests it’s even more widespread than previously thought.
It’s important to understand imposter syndrome, because it can get in the way of doing your best work—but perhaps more importantly, it can get in the way of your happiness and fulfillment.
Defining Imposter Syndrome
People with imposter syndrome lack a belief or confidence in their own capabilities or their ability to generate meaningful outcomes. There are two sides to the phenomenon. On the one hand, when those with the syndrome are successful, they attribute it to luck, chance or external circumstances. On the other hand, when they fail, they internalize the mistakes and believe their shortcomings are impossible to overcome.
In addition, they tend to live in fear of being found out, and they feel like frauds. When others give them positive feedback, they tend to believe the positive perspectives are flawed or provided just for the sake of flattery.
Do you struggle with imposter syndrome? Click on the conversation bubble at the top of this article to share your comments.
Impacts of Imposter Syndrome—And Who Struggles
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The phenomenon can have negative career and personal consequences. When people experience imposter syndrome, they tend to undermine their own performance because they lack confidence and resist owning their success. They may also avoid pursuing new opportunities—especially those which require them to stretch or take professional risks.
Brand new research from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg demonstrates a broad array of people experience imposter syndrome. Previously attributed mostly to women or those earlier in their careers, the study found the syndrome is prevalent across genders, ages and intelligence levels.
The new study also found imposter syndrome is not correlated with intelligence or performance. It is truly a misperception that a person has about their own capabilities. In addition, imposter syndrome is correlated with greater incidence of depression.
Of course, some level of reflection, critical thinking and scrutiny can be healthy for personal and professional growth. Self-awareness helps people identify flaws and work to improve, but imposter syndrome takes healthy self-reflection to an extreme and can leave people drowning in feelings of self-doubt or obsession about mistakes.
How to Cope
Those with imposter syndrome can take positive action to manage it in a number of ways:
- Surround yourself with people who care. When you’re questioning your own capabilities, it can be especially helpful to spend time with friends who will provide honest feedback and who will remind you of your strengths.
- Balance your time. Feelings of inadequacy can drive perfectionism, obsessing or overwork. Be sure to manage your time and your energy, investing where it’s appropriate and taking time away to recharge and reset.
- Track your progress. People tend to magnify negative feedback and minimize positive achievements. To counteract this common cognitive bias, track your progress, so you can provide yourself with validation of all you’ve accomplished and all you’ve learned along the way.
- While imposter syndrome is not defined as a mental illness, it can be accompanied by depression, so if you’re struggling with your wellbeing, seek professional guidance, coaching or counseling.
- Don’t wait. It is a myth that you need to wait for things around you to be ideal in order to be happy—when the project is finished or when the challenging boss moves on to another role for example. Instead, recognize your own ability to create the conditions for joy and happiness. Remind yourself of how you contribute to the community. Connect with people around you and support others. Foster gratitude and seek opportunities for new learning. All of these are correlated with greater happiness in your work.
If you are challenged with imposter syndrome, in what ways have you managed it? Click on the conversation bubble to share your comments.
Understanding imposter syndrome can help those who experience it to take action, but others can also provide support as well. Tune into colleagues, ask questions, empathize and provide recognition and appreciation for those who are doing good work around you. Through these approaches, you’ll support those who may question their own capabilities and contribute to an overall positive experience and constructive culture.