How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Do you harbour a fear that, no matter how good you are at your job, how successful you currently are or how well qualified you have become, you are in fact a fraud: an imposter who will be found out one day and publicly exposed?  Imposter Syndrome is very common amongst successful people at work.  Imposter Syndrome is the fear you are not really that good at what you do, and that, one day, someone is going to find you out, call you a fraud and leave you to pick up the pieces of your shattered credibility and self-esteem.

Imposter syndrome affects those of you who are successful and effective at what you do, but can’t accept those truths about yourself.  You may be in a professional role which involves finding solutions to other people’s issues. You may be a supervisor, manager or leader. You may be in a technical role or be a specialist in your field.  Whatever job you do, you harbour an inner fear that you are not really as good as your customers / colleagues / clients / patients think you are, and that one day you will be found out. There may even be an inevitability to it. The cocktail of self-doubt and anxiety generated by imposter syndrome debilitates you, sapping your confidence, absorbing your energy and even keeping you awake at night.

Where does imposter syndrome come from?  Those of you who identify with this description have generated a belief that you are not as good as you appear.  But, and this is the crucial thing, those beliefs endure despite ample evidence to the contrary.  You are likely to be well qualified, effective at what you do, even successful at it, well thought of by colleagues and clients, with a track record of delivery and accomplishment – and yet you continue to doubt yourself and feel anxious about the possibility of being found out as a fraud.  You may even be waiting for the moment when someone publicly says: ‘Gotcha!’

So, how do you develop imposter syndrome?  I take the view that your anxiety is being fuelled by false beliefs about yourself such as: ‘I am a failure’ or ‘I am not good enough’. Beliefs like these can develop quite early on in life.  Because they pre-date your adult work successes – the qualifications you’ve earned, the jobs you’ve been offered and performed effectively, the successful projects you delivered or contributed to – you either don’t know that the false belief is there or, if you do know it’s part of your current thinking about yourself, you don’t know what to do about it.

Beliefs are self-generated principles on which you run your life, and they are not always consistent with the facts about you.  But the good news is that because those beliefs are self-created they can be replaced with more truthful beliefs which better serve your highest best interests. I take clients through three steps to address false, undermining beliefs:

  1. Identify your self-inhibiting beliefs.
  2. Replace those undermining beliefs with more truthful alternatives that better reflect your accomplishments, qualifications and skills.
  3. Generate and nurture a life-affirming mindset.

That mindset needs to be based on the truth about you:  the fact that they do have XYZ qualifications, have a track record of success, have been employed by x organisations for a total of y years, are effective technically at your job, are an able leader or manager or supervisor.

I coach clients to identify their qualities such as their passion, their willingness to commit heavily to bringing about positive outcomes, their dedication or desire to improve. Then we work on developing their skillset in areas where they genuinely feel under-powered and vulnerable.  I believe that confidence is learned skill which can be acquired even relatively late in life.

One of the benefits of working on your false beliefs is that, once you stop identifying yourself as a failure, you can start to factor into your self-image all the evidence which points to your being effective.  This opens the door for you to stop generating anxiety about a possible future failure when there is no current reason to do so, enabling you to use your energy to create even more success at work.  You really don’t have to live with the fear that one day someone is going to point to you and publicly cry ‘imposter!