How Do You Overcome Impostor Syndrome?

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“Impostor syndrome” is a term used by clinical psychologists when referring to high-achieving individuals who are unable to internalize their accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed as frauds. A quick Google search reveals that up to 82% of high achieving professionals suffer from this psychological phenomenon, which affects their confidence and fulfillment at work. The encouraging news is that there are ways that impostor syndrome can be overcome.

Neither career professionals nor their clients are immune to occasionally feeling like a “charlatan.” In fact, 90% of career development professionals who attended a Canada Career Month event hosted by Career Professionals of Canada admitted to experiencing impostor syndrome at one time or another.

  • You may compare yourself to colleagues who somehow seem “smarter” than you.
  • You may feel like you are not qualified in some way to do the work you do.
  • You may feel like a “phony” or a “fraud.”
  • You might imagine that you are “going to be found out.”

Impostor syndrome can threaten a person’s self-confidence. Here are some strategies for overcoming this challenging syndrome:

Impostor Syndrome: Talking about our shared secret | Maryam Pasha | TEDxUCLWomen (9:23 minutes)

Don’t Let the Impostor Syndrome Cramp Your Career Style | Caroline Dowd-Higgins | IUAA Videos (1:39 minutes)

The Surprising Solution to the Impostor Syndrome | Lou Solomon | TEDxCharlotte (21 minutes)

Overcoming Impostor Syndrome | South Central Regional Library Council  (36:19 minutes)

Overcoming the Impostor Syndrome | University of Georgia Atlanta Career Center | Hallie Crawford (54:40 minutes)

Additional Resources

Afraid Of Being ‘Found Out?’ How To Overcome Impostor Syndrome | Margie Warrell | Forbes (post)

Feel like a fraud? | Kirsten Weir | American Psychological Association (post)

10 Steps You Can Use to Overcome Impostor Syndrome | Valerie Young | ImpostorSyndrome.com (post)

11 Proven Strategies to Overcome Imposter Syndrome | Leigh Espy | Project Bliss (post)

Helping an Employee Overcome Their Self-Doubt | Tara Sophia Mohr | Harvard Business Review (post)

Consider these questions and add to the discussion in the comments below.

  • What can we do to help clients who feel they have impostor syndrome?
  • How can we provide better emotional support to clients?
  • How can we help alleviate stress, anxiety, panic?
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This topic really peaked my interest! Every time I’m asked to do a keynote, my first reaction is, “Who me?”. I’ve really had to consciously force myself to start asking, “Why not me?”. The little bit of reading I’ve done on the subject of imposter syndrome suggests that women are particularly vulnerable to it. My mother (an exceptionally wise woman) often said, “Remember you are no better or no worse than anyone else.” So how do we come to a place where we can celebrate our own capacity as much (not more or less) than we celebrate the capacity and contributions of others?

I believe that many of us may struggle with this one. I know that I do. Since my career development path was one of experience, not education and often have felt “less than.” Even though I’ve taught many practitioners over the years I always feel a tinge of “I hope they believe that I’m good enough.” In some ways, this is good, I guess. This feeling makes me want to always do more and “over-deliver” on any training or facilitation that I perform.

Very interesting topic. I’ve experienced imposter syndrome before and I had to just ‘do it afraid’. I like what Caroline said “taking no risk is the biggest risk of all”. – very true.

Giselle – you’ve nailed it for me….taking no risk is the biggest risk of all. I always say “nothing gained if nothing tried” and every time I face a task that scares me I repeat this mantra to myself. And you know what? Things almost always turn out great…I learn things…I grows…I feel ‘lighter’ for giving it a go! Anxiety has played a bit part in my personal work and business operations, and I used to think it was a bad thing. Yet looking back, feeling anxious and worrying about the imposter syndrome has been a big fire-starter for me. Maybe this syndrome can be a positive thing for some of us, in its own unique way?

I had never heard of Imposter Syndrome till now. As I read the summary & then completed the poll, I found that I could relate to many of the elements that comprise this condition, (if I can call it that), both in myself & w/ clients. Fascinating … I plan to learn more about this starting w/ the resources supplied here. Thank you.

I have experienced the Imposter Syndrome at times. I think it is a natural reaction to wanting to succeed and achieve important goals. I have also seen this with my clients when transitioning to a new role, with new graduates in academic or professional transitions, and in interviewing situations. Supporting clients with positive reinforcement while reminding them of their unique value and accomplishments is important.
Being kinder to ourselves, accepting our strengths along with our weaknesses, and focusing on the positive are effective strategies. Reframing the script that we often tell ourselves to a more empowering one goes a long way to alleviating these feelings.
Here is an interesting resource on this topic: https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/planning-courses/tips-teaching-assistants/impostor-phenomenon-and.

Excellent resource Lori – will be using this as a resource

Hello Julia,
Here is another interesting resource which mentions the novelist, Maya Angelou’s experience – http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36082469. The Imposter Syndrome seems to be fairly common.

Thank you – I love this sharing 🙂

Now that I have listened to the presentations, I really have been through Imposter Syndrome!
This is excellent information and I will be making a meeting with my team and the psychologists on campus to discuss. Thank you