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Impostor Syndrome: Tackling Feelings Of Inadequacy

Updated: Feb 7

Man suffering from imposter syndrome

Do you feel psychologically uncomfortable when superiors give you recognition and compliments for your exceptional performance at work? Do you believe that your success is the result of luck, not your achievement and accomplishment? Are you worried that your colleagues will find out your competence is a lie? If you answered yes to any of these three questions, the chances are that you have experienced impostor syndrome at some point in your professional career.

Impostor syndrome is the overarching term describing an individual’s feeling of inadequacy, skepticism of their accomplishments, and fear of being exposed as a “fraud,” even though they are professionally skillful. It not only can bring negative thoughts to life but also considerably impact their work. Research found that 70% of the U.S population has experienced impostor syndrome at some point in their career. Employees with this experience underestimate their capabilities and rarely ask for help. There are two main types of “so-called impostors.” The first type of “impostors” usually over-prepare, attempting to prove that they are qualified and spend more time on a task than necessary; The second type of “impostors” procrastinate assignments until everything is perfect enough to meet the high standards that they set for themselves. Whichever type they belong to, it stands in their way and slows down their productivity. If over-preparation leads to an accomplishment, they will believe that they won’t gain achievements without extra hard work; If procrastination yields success, they will attribute achievements to luck.

In addition to impacting work performance, impostor syndrome can destroy careers. Increased self-monitoring, self-doubts, and fears of failure that it causes make them feel inferior and puts too much pressure on themselves. Eventually, they will be exhausted from it and become counterproductive. Their careers can not survive if impostor syndrome keeps following them. Luckily, this phenomenon is widespread and natural. “Imposters” will be free from the pressure, lack of confidence, and fears chasing them for years once they get rid of the impostor syndrome.

Here are some tips for employees who have impostor syndrome to overcome this difficulty and boost their confidence in the workplace:

1. Talk to an experienced mentor.

What makes impostor syndrome so powerful is that the fear of being exposed as a “fraud” stops you from talking about the issue. By seeking help from supervisors or advisors, you are stepping out of your comfort zone to fix the problem. If some of them have struggled with this feeling, they can show you how to handle self-doubt during your talk with them, and you will learn ways from their stories and insights to kick impostor syndrome out of your life. It helps normalize the stress you feel, so you will understand you are not alone in this invisible fight.

2. List out your accomplishments, big and small, in every project.

When facing recognition and compliments after accomplishing a task, you as an “impostor” may feel overwhelmed by praise coming from others and think you don’t deserve that much for an entire project. A way to overcome this feeling is to identify your role in a team and make a list of your contributions to every work project. This way, you will be more comfortable acknowledging and accepting small successes you have achieved. After completing your project and looking back on your accomplishments, you will realize that the talents, skills, and strengths you possess are indispensable to the project’s success and your company’s growth. In addition to helping recognize your actual values, this trick also distinguishes strengths that you possess and weaknesses that you need to improve.

3. Stop comparing yourself to others.

For every “impostor,” they have lived in the shadow of “everyone else is doing a better job than I do” for years. Their internal comparison in the workplace results from countless social comparisons coming from others, including their parents, the closest people in their life while growing up. Over many years, accumulated comparisons are perceived and interpreted by them as incompetence and skill deficiencies, and they always have the urge to prove they are qualified. It is difficult to stop comparing entirely right away, but what you can do to take a break from it is to know less about others' work-life and stay away from boastful, over-confident colleagues. Without knowing other people’s accomplishments, the only comparison will be to yourself. You can see how much you have progressed and achieved through self-comparison. Surpassing others may make you feel proud, but your growth gains benefits only when you put effort into making improvements and exceed the person you used to be.

Getting over impostor syndrome is challenging but NOT impossible. Acknowledging your feelings and exposing yourself to trusted and supportive mentors are the first steps to fight impostor syndrome. As long as you keep practicing proper steps, you will be on a healing journey to cure your fears and eventually no longer suffer from awful feelings.


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