Combating Imposter Syndrome

combating imposter syndrome

Have you ever taken a step back, looked at your career and wondered how you became so successful? Professional years go by quickly, so if you’re sitting in your director role but feeling like your entry-level job was just a few years ago, you’re not alone. If you’re also convinced that you aren’t qualified enough to be in your current position, you aren’t alone in this, either. 

A 2021 study by InnovativeMR found that around 65% of working professionals today are dealing with what is known as imposter syndrome, a unique feeling of self-doubt. It can happen in various areas of life (such as motherhood, for example), but it’s particularly prevalent in the workforce. And while anyone can experience imposter syndrome, women seem to be disproportionately affected by it. 

We all know that confidence is essential to success at work, so when feelings of imposter syndrome creep in, we have to do what we can to combat them. It’s not an easy task, but it’s essential – because if we won’t give ourselves the credit we deserve, who will?

What is Imposter Syndrome?

The concept of imposter syndrome was first introduced in the 1970s by psychologists Suzanne Imes, Ph.D., and Pauline Rose Clance, Ph.D. At the time, they called it the “imposter phenomenon.” They described it as something that “occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success” and that those experiencing it “often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and [they] fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.” 

Imposter syndrome doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can feel it. However, Imes and Clance found it is more likely to affect minorities, people who are starting a new endeavor, and perfectionists. They say perfectionism and imposter syndrome “often go hand in hand,” and the combination often results in someone procrastinating on a project out of fear they won’t complete it “to the necessary high standards” or overpreparing and spending far more time on the task than is necessary. 

How imposter syndrome affects women

Anyone can experience feelings of imposter syndrome, but women seem to be disproportionately affected by it. Here are some interesting statistics:

  • 53% of professional women between 25-34 are currently experiencing imposter syndrome
  • 75% of female executives report experiencing imposter syndrome at some point in their careers
  • 85% of working women believe women than men more commonly feel imposter syndrome
  • 81% of professional women believe they put more pressure on themselves not to fail than men
  • 85% of professional women have not spoken to someone at work about their imposter syndrome out of fear of looking weak
  • 50% of all imposter syndrome sufferers are working moms, and these women tend to have a higher focus on work than their personal lives due to feelings of guilt

What Imposter Syndrome Looks Like and How To Combat It

On the inside, Imes and Clance say someone with imposter syndrome “has an all-encompassing fear of being found out not to have what it takes” to do their job. Other signs include:

  • Persistent thoughts of self-doubt
  • Overpreparation
  • Hesitancy in applying for new jobs or taking on projects that require advanced experience (even though they have this experience)
  • Not speaking up when they know the correct answer to something
  • Attributing success to external factors or luck
  • Inability to accurately assess their skills
  • Associated feelings of anxiety and or depression
  • Setting unattainable goals, essentially setting themselves up for failure
  • Feeling pressure to overachieve (overcompensate)
  • Overly critical of their work performance

Combating imposter syndrome

One of the hardest things about imposter syndrome is that you have to be able to identify it in yourself to combat it actively. Now and then, you may have a well-meaning co-worker or supervisor who calls your attention to it, but it’s so often felt internally that others may not even realize you’re experiencing it. So, first and foremost, you’ll need to be self-aware by checking in with your feelings and thoughts. If you see that you’re exhibiting signs of imposter syndrome, try to combat it with some of these practices:

  • Respond to your negative self-talk, prove it wrong
  • Serve as a mentor to someone more junior than you within your industry; your experience may become more evident in this setting
  • Write down some of the things you’re good at; use your formal job description to help guide you if necessary
  • Go back through your previous employee reviews to get a sense of where you excel and how you’ve grown professionally over the years
  • Resist the urge to compare your career journey with others on similar paths; no two careers are the same
  • Let go of the desire to do everything perfectly 
  • Seek professional help from a counselor or therapist

Combating thoughts imposter syndrome examples:

Situation #1: You’re assigned a huge, overwhelming project.
Imposter Syndrome Thought: “There is no way I am skilled enough to do all of this.”
Combating Thought: “That’s not true. I’ve done work like this before, just not at this volume. As long as I stay organized, there is no reason I can’t accomplish this task.” 

Situation #2: A job a step up from yours has opened up.
Imposter Syndrome Thought: “I am not qualified for this position. It’s not even worth applying.”
Combating Thought: “It’s up to the hiring managers to decide if I’m a good candidate for the job, not me. I will not reject myself before they have a chance to consider me.”

Situation #3: You’ve made a mistake that you cannot fix and has inconvenienced someone.
Imposter Syndrome Thought: “I can’t believe I ever thought I could do this job well. I’m in way over my head.”
Combating Thought: “This was a single, fixable mistake. My work will never be perfect. That doesn’t make me unqualified.” 

Don’t Let Imposter Syndrome Hold You Back

Imposter syndrome can feel crushing at times, but it’s only you who is holding you back as a result. It’s essential to regularly remind yourself that you got to where you are now through hard work and merit. So celebrate your victories, keep your confidence up, and push yourself to continue to move forward.  

If you’re ready to push past your imposter syndrome and take the next step in your career, look at The Mom Project’s job marketplace. 

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