Imposter Syndrome – What Is It, and What Can You Do About It?

Imposter Syndrome (also called Imposter Phenomenon and Fraud Syndrome) is a pattern of thinking whereby a person persistently discounts their own accomplishments, feels that they are not good enough to be in their current position, and worries that they will be exposed as a “fraud”.  It’s a common experience and is prevalent in all people. But it can hold you back from going for that promotion or asking for the raise you deserve. If you find yourself feeling this way, what should you do? Here are some practical steps to help you cast off that negative thinking!

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Imposter Syndrome – What Is It, and What Can You Do About It?

Know that you’re not the only one

Tom Hanks, the fifth highest-grossing actor in North America, said, “No matter what we've done, there comes a point where you think, ‘How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?’”

The late poet Maya Angelou, who was awarded over 50 honorary degrees, said, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they're going to find out now. I've run a game on everybody, and they're going to find me out’.” 

And the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, who has led her country for five years (and counting), said, "Even though I have been in politics for a long time… there are days when I think, ‘Should I even be here? Is somebody about to find me out?’”

You get it. Lots of people suffer from imposter syndrome. You are not alone!

Keep a list of your achievements

What have you done well in your career and in life? Where have you received positive feedback? Why not make a list – there may be more items on it than you think! And keep it on hand to remind yourself of your accomplishments when doubt starts creeping back in.

Credit yourself where you’d credit others

One of the key markers of imposter syndrome is that people put their own achievements down to luck – even as they explain other people’s achievements as the result of innate talent.

The old rule tells us that we should only judge others as we judge ourselves – but we should credit ourselves as we credit others, too! Remember, this is not about making yourself seem better than you are – this is about being rational. Not only is it damaging to hold yourself to a different standard from everyone else, but it’s also not even logical!

Try learning from a mentor

A mentor can be a great person to talk to about our career concerns. Importantly, a mentor will be able to provide an external perspective. It’s easy to get caught up concerning ourselves about our performance, but it could easily be the case that from an outside point of view there’s nothing to worry about at all! Is there a mentorship program either in your company or through a professional network in your field? Try searching online to see if you can find any communities of this nature.

And if you end up finding mentoring useful, why not return the favor and become a mentor yourself? Often we learn as much from teaching as being taught!

Separate humility from self-doubt

Perhaps your imposter syndrome comes from a fear of being arrogant. And yes, a dose of humility is a good thing – after all, none of us are the finished article and we do well to remember how much we have to learn. But that doesn’t mean not recognizing your own abilities and achievements, or allowing your hard work to be ignored.

Aristotle said that every virtue lies at a golden point between two extremes: for example, courage lies in between cowardice and foolhardiness. Life is all about finding that balance. Fight off both arrogance and self-doubt by placing yourself at a healthy point in the middle!