Do you ever go to work feeling like you’re a fraud? Are you convinced that people are going to see through you and suddenly realise you don’t know what you’re talking about? Are you terrified of failure?
If so, you’re not alone and you can be reassured that the highest achievers are often the ones who worry about this the most. Oscar-winning actress Kate Winslet once confided: “I’d wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and think, I can’t do this; I’m a fraud.”
In reality, you can even give yourself a pat on the back if you feel this way, because it’s a sure sign that you care about what you do and are unwilling settle for mediocrity.
Impostor syndrome, sometimes called fraud syndrome, is a psychological problem where successful people are not able to internally recognise their accomplishments. This might seem to be taking it to the extreme, but high achieving, very successful people often suffer so this condition doesn’t equate with low performance. In fact, some researchers have linked it with perfectionism, especially in women. The tendency to downplay and discount success is significant amongst those with imposter syndrome.
Do you suffer from self-doubt and, despite evidence in your working life of your competence, remain convinced that you do not deserve the success you have achieved? ‘Imposters’ dismiss any proof of their success as luck, being in the right place at the right time, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and capable than they are.
In the more mild cases, you might just wonder why you have been chosen to lead that important project, or why your boss gives you a great rating at your performance review. But if you have a more extreme case, it can negatively affect your career. If you are convinced that you are not up to the job, this can stop you from asserting yourself or taking necessary risks. For example, you can become fixated exclusively on not making a mistake, rather than being proactive and taking measured risks that may provide great positive returns.
How to break the imposter syndrome cycle
If this sounds like you, here are some steps you can take to break the imposter syndrome cycle:
- Don’t procrastinate. Leaving things for later will only aggravate feelings of inadequacy. Deal with any issues head on and cross items off your to-do list. Tackle difficult tasks first and you’ll find that once they’re done you’re left with feelings of accomplishment and strength.
- Write a list of your strengths. Keeping track of your accomplishments is a good way to remind yourself that you are NOT a fraud or a fake. When you're feeling anxious or bad about yourself, have a look at your list. Accomplishments that may have seemed like no big deal at the time often become impressive with the passing of time and a fresh perspective.
- Recognise and write down ‘imposter’ feelings when they arise. This will help to break the cycle of negative thoughts. Often when you’ve written them down, you see the thoughts from a different perspective and can more easily separate yourself from them.
Working on these issues is clearly important but a touch of imposter syndrome can be a good thing. It keeps you humble and focuses you on improving your practice. Without the effects of this syndrome, people can become megalomaniacal and convinced of their own infallibility.
If you remain unable to find your confidence in the workplace and it is negatively affecting your career, speaking to a professional career coach or other support person may be a helpful step.