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The Role of Imposter Syndrome in Your Career Journey

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Published by Sreya Madanan on 5 February 2024

Feel like a fraud at work despite having great skills? Read this article to understand exactly what you might be going through, what imposter syndrome is, and its role in one’s career, along with strategies to overcome it.

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“I’m not good at my work. I’m a fraud.”
"I'll never be good enough to deserve this."
“I probably just got lucky with this promotion.”

Do you sometimes feel like a fraud at work; wondering when you'll be "found out" as not good enough? You're not alone. Many accomplished professionals struggle with imposter syndrome at some point in their careers.

Imposter syndrome is characterized by persistent self-doubt and anxiety about your abilities, which is usually irrational, in most cases. You may chalk your accomplishments up to luck rather than skill and have an intense fear of failure or making mistakes. This chronic self-doubt can hold you back from reaching your full potential.

In this article, we’ll dive into imposter syndrome, the different types, common characteristics, and most importantly - 10 concrete strategies you can use to overcome self-doubt and anxiety.

Read on to gain confidence, achieve more, and thrive in your career.

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

Coined in 1978 by researchers Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, Imposter syndrome describes high-achieving individuals who have persistent self-doubt and anxiety about being "found out" as a fraud or imposter.

Despite outward evidence of competence and success — awards, top performance reviews, praise from colleagues and managers — people with imposter syndrome have difficulty internalizing their achievements.

They often attribute their accomplishments to luck, timing, connections, charm, hard work, or external factors rather than talent or intelligence.

Inside, they feel like an intellectual fraud, afraid of being exposed. They constantly second-guess themselves, dismiss praise, and believe they don’t deserve their roles or responsibilities.

A recent study revealed that as much as about 65% of working professionals worldwide suffer from imposter syndrome at some point in their careers.

Perfectionism, over-preparation, and workaholism frequently accompany imposter syndrome as coping mechanisms to temper fears of failure.

Types of Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome can manifest differently for everyone. Check out the most common archetypes.

The Perfectionist

“I must go over my presentation and make it perfect, no matter what.”

Perfectionists set unreachably high bars, equating mistake-free performance with self-worth. External praise barely registers, while criticism cuts deep, feeding worries that you're not good enough.
The Expert

“Three educational degrees aren’t enough. I have to master this area.”

Knowledge gaps or unfamiliar tasks trigger intense anxiety about being exposed as less knowledgeable than people believe. Experts compulsively over-study to hide any shortcomings.
The Natural Genius

“How can I not know aerospace engineering? I was a topper in school.”

Unlike those who work hard, "natural geniuses" believe intelligence is fixed and effortless. If they struggle to quickly master complex topics, they feel phony and unworthy of rewards.
The Soloist

“I have already nudged my peer thrice. Does he think I’m stupid?”

Soloists think asking for help reveals inadequacy. They dismiss team successes as not individual enough while claiming full ownership of setbacks as proof of deficiency.
The Superhuman

“Sure, I can take other tasks. Doesn’t matter if I stay till late at work.”

Superhumans push themselves relentlessly to maximize productivity. While this earns praise, superhumans feel fraudulent for pursuing unsustainable tracks, fearing a breakdown will expose them.

Characteristics of Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome manifests through various thought patterns and behaviors. Common experiences include:

  • High self-doubt in your skills and abilities despite evidence of high capability
  • Attributing successes to external factors like luck or charm rather than merit
  • Decreased confidence when tackling new challenges
  • Isolating yourself and not collaborating to hide feared inadequacies
  • Perfectionism and detailed over-preparation to manage risk
  • Impossibly high standards, relentless self-criticism
  • Overwork, extended hours, forfeited vacations to keep ahead
  • Intense fear of failure and aversion to risk or promotion opportunities
  • Low self-esteem and significant self-discrepancy between public image and feelings

If not identified and acknowledged properly, imposter syndrome feeds a spiral of anxiety and overwork which risks burnout.

The tingling feeling of being exposed and losing your charm may lead you entailing humiliation and failure in the long run — whether you’re a student or a working professional. Read on to understand a few tips on overcoming imposter syndrome without sacrificing your self-worth.

10 Strategies to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Remember: recurring imposter thoughts do not define your Career Growth or potential.

Through self-awareness, shifts in thinking patterns, risk-taking, and embracing imperfection, imposter syndrome slowly fades. Small consistent steps build confidence compoundingly.

Try these 10 science-backed strategies to overcome imposter syndrome:

  1. Acknowledge the Feeling, Don’t Run Away From It

    Normalize and validate self-doubt by recognizing imposter syndrome as a common phenomenon even among Successful Career of subject matter experts. Talk to peers and understand you're not alone. There’s comfort in naming the demon plaguing you.

  2. Change and Reframe Negative Thoughts

    Imposter syndrome often acts as an inner bully. Actively reframe critical self-talk with the encouragement you’d give others. You can also ask for words of encouragement from a mentor. Treat yourself with the compassion you deserve.

  3. Set Realistic Goals (But Don’t Be Sad if One or Two Gets Missed)

    Perfectionists set impossible bars and then feel fraudulent when falling short. Sounds relatable? If yes, then it’s time to keep your goals ambitious but realistic by benchmarking peers. Achieve as much as you can, and then appreciate your progress instead of self-criticizing.

  4. Celebrate Small Wins and Save Them in Your Brag Folder

    Track accomplishments large and small in a brag folder (or, a sparkle folder, as the Gen-Z working professionals like to call it). Revisit it whenever self-doubt resurfaces. Quieting inner critics with factual counters retrains thought patterns, building confidence to take high risks.

  5. Challenge Perfectionism and Embrace Authenticity

    Chasing perfection is exhausting and self-defeating, no matter which stage of the career you are in. Strive for excellence with room for growth instead of demanding flawlessness. Know and believe that the mistakes help you improve. Embrace them as teachers, not threats.

  6. Learn the Difference Between Modest and Fear

    Being modest helps in moderating arrogance but that doesn’t mean you lack confidence in your stance. Separate healthy humility from imposter fear so you know when to speak up or apply for that promotion. Don’t let mistaken risk aversion hold you back.

  7. SMC Expert Tip:

    When major initiatives like new roles or bold ideas inevitably involve setbacks, use Bridges’ Transition Model to maintain self-confidence. Define the failure event, gather lessons learned, then look ahead to redefine goals. Keeping conviction requires closure of the reflection loop!

  8. Seek Mentorship or Support From the Community

    Connect with mentors who boost your confidence or friends who help with affirming words. Joining communities of peers facing similar self-doubts or challenges can be especially helpful. You realize you’re not alone while gaining cheerleaders rooting for your success.

  9. Be Kind to Yourself: Emotionally and Physically

    Striving toward unrealistic standards leads to exhaustion and poorer outcomes. Avoid burnout with healthy habits boosting energy and resilience: sufficient sleep, exercise, healthy eating, alone time, and passion projects. Make self-care priorities, not luxuries.

  10. Seek Confidence Outside the Workplace

    Imposter thoughts often concentrate at work where the stakes seem highest. Recall complements on parenting, creative hobbies, home projects, volunteer work or anything affirming self-worth beyond job performance. Let positive signals in other areas chop off work doubts.

  11. Fake It Till You Make It

    New challenges inevitably stir self-doubt, but don’t let discomfort deter ambition. Lean into fears by acting confidently even while doubting privately. With practice, the veneer grows more authentic. And if you stumble? Use it for learning then confidently get back to it!

The Takeaway

At its core, imposter syndrome reflects discrepancies between people’s exterior presentations and private self-doubts — all successful people likely contend to some degree.

But recurring imposter thoughts need not define your career or potential. By slowly cutting off negative thinking patterns early and then building confidence systematically with small repeated wins, the imposter demons are likely to set you free.

You deserve to own your accomplishments and pursue bold goals without being plagued by self-doubt.

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