Imposter Syndrome: The silent career killer
What is imposter syndrome?
Have you ever felt like a fraud in your job and you’re not quite sure how you got there? You may be experiencing signs of imposter syndrome. Sometimes dubbed the 'silent career killer', imposter syndrome is characterised by constant feelings of inadequacy and persisting intellectual self-doubt even when faced with contradictory facts. In 1978, psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance introduced the concept of imposter syndrome (IS). At the time they found a greater prevalence in high achieving women however it is known to be much more widely experienced now. Generally manifesting itself in the workplace, it can have a huge effect on your health and wellbeing and may be present in your personal life aswell.
Spotting the signs
- You feel like a fraud and experience constant feelings of inadequacy
- You cannot take credit and always attribute your achievements and successes to luck and external factors whilst attributing any failures, even minor errors, to internal factors
- Feeling like you don’t belong
- You are uncomfortable when receiving praise
- You constantly downplay your strengths
- A fear of not living up to expectations, your own or others’
How it impacts your mind and your work
Leads to perfectionism, overworking and procrastination
Constant experiences of imposter syndrome can lead to perfectionism, overworking or procrastination. Perfectionism is seen in people with imposter syndrome, you are never satisfied with your work and constantly focus on what could have been improved on. This motivation to achieve success can lead to constant anxiety and become a vicious cycle. On the other hand, you may fear failure so much that you put off doing things, often procrastinating to extreme lengths, or even simply avoiding certain tasks you believe you will do wrong.
Affects job satisfaction and performance
You might stop taking risks, seizing opportunities, or working on new projects and end up growing comfortable and complacent in your role which can all stifle your potential for growth. Revising goals and becoming less ambitious is also a strong possibility in people with imposter syndrome and you may even completely give up trying.
Poor mental health
People experiencing imposter syndrome often have high levels of internal pressure and hold themselves to incredibly high standards. Your mental health can be affected if you are constantly feeling like you’re not good enough and need to do more; you may become overwhelmed very easily which can lead to burnout, anxiety or depression.
Imposter syndrome creates a conflict between self-perception and outsider’s perceptions of you. Feeling guilty for ‘tricking’ people into believing you deserve your job role and successes, you believe that you give the impression of being more competent and qualified for your role than you actually are. Coupled with the fear of being revealed as the fraud you’re convinced you are, this can eat away at you if it persists for long enough.
Recognition doesn’t feel genuine
Any recognition or appreciation you get feels like sympathy or pity. Not believing you are worthy of any praise or compliments leads you to question people’s motives when they offer it to you.
What can you do to overcome imposter syndrome?
Don’t aim for perfection
Aim for completion and excellence in what you do, perfection is an illusion and impossible to achieve. Constantly holding yourself to that standard will quickly become exhausting and overwhelming and can actually hinder your progress and development in your job role.
Learn to take constructive criticism
Accept that sometimes you will mess up. Mistakes will happen, and it is important to not beat yourself up about every little thing. Taking criticism as an opportunity for growth rather than an attack on yourself will help make it less painful and more productive.
Say thank you when receiving praise and compliments. It may be difficult but try not to immediately counteract; it is a chance to accept your efforts played a part, recognise your strengths, and give yourself credit.
Don’t compare yourself
Try not to compare yourself to others and accept that everyone is on a different path. Constant comparison, especially to unrealistic standards, means you will only continue to feel like you are not good enough. Social media is terrible for this, being aware that so much of what you see online isn’t realistic will help you feel more positive about who you are and where you are in life.
Recognise your self-doubt
When it occurs, learn to question your thoughts, and reverse negative thinking towards yourself and your work. Whilst feelings are important, sometimes they don’t reflect reality. By focussing on facts and identifying what are just your thoughts and feelings, you are more likely to reduce your feelings of inadequacy.
Talk about your feelings with someone you trust. Saying things out loud can be beneficial as it allows other people to reassure you and help you begin to recognise which thoughts are irrational, you may even find out they feel the same! When you are able to identify irrational thoughts and feelings then you can begin learning how to deal with them.
Success can be achieved without perfection; complete perfection is impossible to attain. It is common to doubt yourself and your abilities occasionally however if you find this being a continuous thing it may be part of a bigger problem. No matter how severely you experience imposter syndrome, it can have a huge effect on your professional and personal life. Being kind to yourself and trying to maintain a realistic perspective can help you when dealing with doubts and insecurities however if you feel imposter syndrome has a significant impact on you, consider speaking to a mental health professional.