Careers advice

Dealing with imposter syndrome: signs and solutions

How do you fix imposter syndrome?

Constantly having to convince yourself that you’re capable of doing your job? Feel inferior to your colleagues? Worried that sooner or later you’ll get ‘found out’ as unable to complete your day-to-day tasks?

Trust us, as uncomfortable as you might be feeling, you certainly aren’t alone. In fact, feeling like this has a name – imposter syndrome. To help you deal with this, let’s take a look at what this imposter syndrome actually looks like, how to recognise it in yourself, and some strategies to manage it in your day-to-day work life.

Imposter syndrome: a definition

Imposter syndrome can be defined as feeling as if you don’t deserve the job that you have, and that you don’t have the necessary skills. People with imposter syndrome often say they feel like a ‘fraud’, and worry that someone will realise that they’re in over their heads.

Ironically, imposter syndrome tends to affect successful people more than others – usually because these people have more accomplishments to feel they don’t deserve!

There are a variety of signs and symptoms of imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome symptoms: what to look out for

Like many anxieties, imposter syndrome can impact different people in a variety of ways. However, some common symptoms include:

  • Self-doubt: this is by far the most common. At the heart of imposter syndrome is doubting your ability to thrive in your current role because you think you’re simply not up to the task.
  • Being overly self-critical: because you worry about failing, you always feel like your performance at work is subpar, even if you’re doing just fine.
  • Overworking: as a result of this, you often put in long hours and don’t give yourself the breaks you need to actually succeed.
  • Setting unrealistic goals: because you constantly feel the need to prove yourself, you set goals that are simply unachievable. When you fall short, this just reinforces your belief that you don’t have what it takes, creating a vicious cycle.
  • Feeling any successes are down to luck: if you do succeed at something, you’ll almost certainly look for some external factor to pin it on. This could simply be ‘luck’, or it might be that you pass credit to someone else, because you couldn’t possibly have achieved this result.
  • Hedging your bets: due to your insecurities about your ability, you often use vague language like, “I’m pretty sure”. This is especially true if you’re called upon in meetings to give an opinion, because you’re worried that someone else will have the answer and ‘prove’ you don’t know your stuff.
  • Being unable to accept praise: if a colleague or your manager praises some work you’ve done, you justify it to yourself by thinking, “they’re just being nice,” or “they don’t know enough about the technicalities of my role to understand how bad a job I did.”

This is by no means a definitive list of symptoms, as imposter syndrome can manifest itself in many different ways. However, if some, or all, of these ring a bell, there’s a good chance you’re experiencing imposter syndrome.

How to deal with imposter syndrome

1. Track your success

One way you can prove to yourself that you’re more than capable of doing your job is keeping an active record of all of your wins.

Depending on what works best for you, this could be anything from measuring your KPIs to show that you’re smashing them out of the park to keeping a document of all the nice things people have said to you at work. You can then look at this whenever you’re going through a phase of doubting your abilities and it’ll bolster your confidence

Tracking your success is one way to prove to yourself that you aren't out of your depth.

2. Talk to your manager

We get that this could be a difficult conversation to have, but if things are really getting on top of you, it’s important you don’t suffer in silence.

If you speak to your manager, there’s a good chance they’ll have experienced something similar themselves earlier in their careers and so might be able to suggest some strategies that have worked for them previously. Also, from an objective point of view, they'll be able to show how the work you’re doing is benefitting the team, and the company at large.

3. Recognise when you’re being a perfectionist

This is easier said than done, but try to recognise when you’re pushing yourself too hard as a result of your imposter syndrome.

Your success tracking should help here, as you’ll be able to see how you achieved great results in the past and gauge what you need to do in order to repeat this.

It’s also about recognising early warning signs in your head, and stopping yourself from spiralling downwards. If you start feeling like things are getting on top of you, take a step back and take a breath. You’ve succeeded before, and you’ll do it again.

4. Develop a healthy response for when you do fall short

We all fall short from time-to-time, in our personal lives and at work. While this might sound like your worst nightmare, because it happens to everyone, you need to work out how to respond in a way that doesn’t reinforce your negative preconceptions about yourself.

Perhaps the best way to do this is conduct your own little retrospective to work out what went wrong. Not only does breaking things down help you step away from the feeling of disappointment you’re likely feeling, you’ll also learn how to avoid making these mistakes next time.

5. Fake it ‘til you make it

Everyone, and we mean everyone has done this at one point or another in their career, and it does not mean you’re incapable. In fact, you should take courage from your ability to think on your feet and get through those difficult situations. You’re only going to get more confident with time. It’s all part of building your resilience in your career.