Secrets to overcoming the dreaded imposter syndrome

Do you constantly doubt your abilities and skills? Do you feel like you’ve only succeeded due to luck, and not because of your talent? Do you ever fear being discovered as a ‘fraud’? 

You’re probably experiencing imposter syndrome, and you’re not alone. A recent study by KPMG found that 75% of professional women identified having experienced imposter syndrome at various points during their careers.

But fear not, here are some tips to understand imposter syndrome, help you push back against it and overcome it once and for all.

First things first: what is imposter syndrome?

As Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey write in their aptly named article, “Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome”, imposter syndrome is when you doubt your abilities and feel like a fraud. Psychologist Susan Albers explains, “You have this fear that the people around you are going to figure out that you don’t know what you’re talking about and expose you as a fraud.” 

Women & the ubiquity of imposter syndrome

Although no one is safe from the wiles of impostor syndrome,  societal and cultural norms make it easier for women to fall into its traps. In their article for Harvard Business Review, Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey mention how these broken systems reward confidence in male leaders, regardless of their competence, yet punish women both when they lack confidence or “for showing too much of it”, proving women are in a lose-lose scenario. What’s worse, research found that imposter syndrome can happen at any time, age and professional status do not matter.  

➔ 56% of executive women have feared that those around them won’t believe they are as capable as they are expected to be.

Many women feel more isolated and less self-assured the higher they climb the corporate ladder. With fewer women at the top of the corporate ladder, there is not only pressure to be successful to show that the company made the right decision for the position but also for other women to follow.

Signs that you are experiencing impostor syndrome include: 

  • self-doubt
  • attributing success to external factors
  • sabotaging your own success
  • setting unrealistic expectations/goals for yourself
  • frustration in the inability to meet self-imposed standards of success. 

How to deal with imposter syndrome

Navigating your way out of these intrusive impostor syndrome thoughts can be difficult if you’re not sure where to start. But luckily, this self-perpetuating problem can be overcome. Pushing back on impostor syndrome can be as simple as reframing your mindset. Here are a few steps to work on to change our mindset and help combat imposter syndrome once and for all:

  • Put your thoughts into perspective: question whether your thoughts are rational. The next time you have a thought like “They made the wrong decision hiring me, I don’t belong here.” or “I’m letting everyone down”, observe the thought instead of engaging with it.
  • Develop a new script. Reframe your way of thinking and your state of mind. Take a moment to see a situation as an opportunity for growth. 
  • Create your own brag sheet and own your accomplishments: list your recent wins and  take note of your accomplishments. When you feel like imposter syndrome is creeping in, take out your list and use it as a tangible reminder that you are not a fraud. Next time someone congratulates you, don’t attribute it to luck or someone else. As New York Times editor Jessica Bennet writesown the role you played in your success by forbidding yourself from falling back on excuses.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others. As Arlin Cuncic writes in “What Is Imposter Syndrome?” When you compare yourself to others you will find faults in yourself that will fuel the feeling of not being good enough. Feel like you’re starting to compare yourself to others? Stop it in its tracks by thinking of 2 or 3 items in your brag sheet and try to embrace your own journey.
  • Talk to someone: be it a therapist, a family member or a friend, sometimes just talking to others can help you put your irrational thoughts into perspective.
  • Fake it ‘till you make it. Yes, it’s a worn out phrase, but it still stands. Don’t wait until you feel like your most confident self  to put yourself out there. Change your behavior first and allow your confidence to build.

Now is the time for you to challenge your own tropes and start recognizing your potential. The first step is to put your negative thoughts into perspective and develop a new script where you recognize your accomplishments and stop comparing yourself to others. Imposter syndrome doesn’t just hold you back emotionally, but it also holds you back financially, be it by not asking for a promotion, not negotiating a raise or not applying for new positions: by listening to imposter syndrome you miss out on incredible opportunities for professional growth. The world needs, without a doubt, more women actively participating in the economy and no one else can bring to the table what you have.

Overcoming imposter syndrome starts with recognizing your own worth and boosting your own confidence. You got this.