Overcoming imposter syndrome: how to stop feeling like a fake at work

Two people asking themselves questions related to imposter syndrome

Dismissing positive feedback. Attributing your success to ‘luck’. Anxiety, procrastination, and over-preparation. Sound familiar? You might be experiencing imposter syndrome.

Statistic showing that many people experience imposter syndrome

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome – a term first coined by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978 – is a psychological pattern in which people doubt their abilities and fear being exposed as a fraud. The condition disproportionally affects high-achieving individuals and is often accompanied by anxiety, self-doubt, and low self-esteem. Imposter syndrome is relatively common – it’s estimated that 70% of people will experience at least one bout of imposter syndrome during their lifetime. Imposter syndrome can affect people of all genders, ages, races, and backgrounds, but it is more commonly reported among women and people from marginalised groups.

5 symptoms of Imposter Syndrome

Recognising imposter syndrome

Recognising imposter syndrome can be difficult because manifests differently for everyone. It can also overlap with other conditions such as anxiety and depression. However, there are a few common signs that can help you determine whether you are experiencing imposter syndrome: 

  • Feeling like a fraud: You feel like you're not as competent or knowledgeable as others believe you to be and fear that you'll be exposed as a fraud.
  • Downplaying achievements: You tend to downplay your successes and attribute them to external factors, such as luck or the help of others.
  • Perfectionism: You feel like you need to be perfect and set impossibly high standards for yourself.
  • Self-doubt: You doubt your abilities and question whether you're qualified or capable of doing your job or pursuing your goals.
  • Comparing yourself to others: You often compare yourself to others, and you feel inferior or inadequate in comparison.
  • Over-compensating: You often work overtime or over-prepare to ease feelings of anxiety or self-doubt. 

If the signs above seem familiar, don’t stress. These feelings are common, and there are steps you can take to overcome them.

Ways to overcome and manage negative feelings

How to overcome imposter syndrome

According to the Australian Medical Association, there are three essential ingredients for managing feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt: connect, reflect, and grow. 

Connect

One of the most powerful tools for combating imposter syndrome is building positive relationships with colleagues. By having open and authentic conversations with others, you'll quickly realise that everyone experiences self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy at times, even those who appear to have it all together. If establishing positive relationships at work is challenging, seek out support from a peer support group, coach, or therapist.

Reflect

Developing self-awareness and self-compassion is crucial for overcoming imposter syndrome. Start by recognising the symptoms of your imposter syndrome and identifying the situations that trigger your feelings of inadequacy. Engage in reflective practices like journaling to help you untangle your thoughts and emotions. Learn about self-compassion and practice nurturing it. Imagine what a friend would say if you shared your imposter thoughts with them.

Grow

Cultivating a growth mindset is vital for learning and bouncing back from setbacks. Embrace the belief that you can improve your abilities with effort and persistence. Learn to distinguish between constructive and destructive feedback. Set challenging goals and reward yourself for your effort, not just your achievements. Celebrate your successes and learn from your failures.

Woman hugging her reflection in the mirror

Imposter syndrome is a common experience that can affect anyone, but it doesn't have to define your career or your life. Overcoming imposter syndrome requires a combination of self-awareness, self-compassion, and a growth mindset. By connecting with others, reflecting on your thoughts and emotions, and cultivating a belief in your ability to learn and grow, you can break free from imposter syndrome and its limitations. 

Need support? Reach out to Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 or visit their website at www.lifeline.org.au for 24-hour assistance. 

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