Imposter Syndrome & Overcoming the Phenomenon

Dec 1, 2023 | Career Advice, Professional Development

According to the 2020 volume of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, up to 82% of people face feelings of imposter syndrome (phenomenon); struggling with the sense they haven’t earned what they’ve achieved. This can lead to a professional career that is halted by fears and worries that they might be a fraud.

Breaking Down Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome is less of a medical diagnosis and more of a phenomenon that a large number of people across demographics and career success have felt, sometimes more than once. Normalizing it as a phenomenon can help others realize how many other people relate to imposter feelings and anxiety. Imposter Syndrome can be visualized to be on a spectrum; it’s healthy to have a small dose of self-doubt in order to adapt to new environments and sometimes that can help with growth and acknowledgment that there are still many more learning opportunities left. However, on the other side of the spectrum, imposter syndrome can impinge on someone’s mental health, affecting the way a person views their achievements and hindering risk taking due to the fear of failure. As acknowledged in The American Psychological Association’s article on how to overcome imposter phenomenon, “when people fear failure, they might prematurely take themselves out of situations, including careers. And feeling unqualified can also lead people to struggle with negotiating for a better salary, or even cause them to stay at a new job longer than they want to.”
Imposter syndrome was first explored by researchers Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanna Ament Imes who “observed the experiences of 150 women who earned PhDs, were respected professionals in their fields, or were students recognized for their academic excellence.” (McLean: A Guide to Imposter Syndrome–and Overcoming It)  During these observations, the researchers saw that even though there was success and high praise, all of these women considered themselves not all that bright or they were just lucky to have had such success. Many people who are impacted by the imposter syndrome phenomenon have similar feelings and lead themselves into believing they have been fooling themselves and everyone around them about their level of competence and intelligence. Those entering new opportunities or have gained recent success might be more likely to be impacted, causing other career hindering worries. Overtime, constantly feeling inadequate can  also cause career burnout and mental health issues, like anxiety and depression and those affected might “end up sabotaging their own success, obsessing over minor mistakes, or working twice as hard to prove themselves as a result.
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Identifying the Imposter Syndrome Phenomenon

The imposter syndrome phenomenon can impact the most successful professional and the professional just starting out; there is no amount of success that needs to be had for these feelings to arise. As a result, most of us experience imposter feelings at one point or another through personal or professional endeavors. Being mindful of this phenomenon not being an isolated experience can ease the anxiety that others are trying to “find you out” as a fraud or not capable enough; others might be feeling the same way towards you. Being able to identify and recognize what imposter feelings are and how they show up in your life can also help build ways to cope and manage the phenomenon when future opportunities and successes come to fruition.

As overwhelming as it is to read that this phenomenon happens to the best (& most) of us, imposter feelings don’t have to stick around forever. Being mindful of how to combat the phenomenon can create long term feelings of self confidence in skills and ability.

Overcoming Imposter Feelings & Professional Self Doubt

Valerie Young, co-founder of Imposter Syndrome Institute, an internationally recognized thought leader, has done decades of speaking and leading workshops on imposter feelings and how to overcome them. As a leading thought leader, Young delivers some of the best expert advice on how to overcome these feelings:

  1. Break the silence. Knowing that this is a shared experience across many people with many different levels of success can be “tremendously freeing.”
  2. Separate feelings from facts. You might feel like you don’t know everything you need to, especially at the beginning of a job or new responsibility. Feeling stupid doesn’t make you actually stupid. Learning how to do something new has a curve to it.
  3. Recognize when you should feel fraudulent. Young says it best: “A sense of belonging fosters confidence. If you’re the only or one of a few people in a meeting, classroom, field, or workplace who look or sound like you or are much older or younger, then it’s only natural you’d sometimes feel like you don’t totally fit in. Plus if you’re the first woman, people of color, or person with a disability to achieve something in your world, there’s that added pressure to represent your entire group. Instead of taking your self-doubt as a sign of your ineptness, recognize that it might be a normal response to being on the receiving end of social stereotypes about competence and intelligence.”
  4. Accentuate the positive. Caring about the work you do is a good thing; not forgiving yourself when a mistake is made is not good. Striving for excellence where and when it matters most is key.
  5. Develop a healthy response to failure and mistakes. Realize the learning value of making a mistake and knowing what to do next time.
  6. Ask for guidance when you need it. Your questions and understanding of a task is just as important as the task itself being completed.

For more expert advice on overcoming feelings of imposter syndrome, check out Imposter Syndrome Institute’s website: Resources.

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Upskilling to Conquer Imposter Syndrome

Upskilling through earning a certification can be powerful tools in conquering imposter feelings and can help by increasing confidence, expanding knowledge and expertise, providing a community and support, and can provide concrete proof of achievements. The process of earning a certification demonstrates competence and expertise in a specific area and this external validation can provide a strong counterpoint to the internal voice of doubt common in imposter syndrome. Certifications are often recognized by employers and colleagues, adding weight to your qualifications and increasing your credibility in your field. Upskilling  also allows you to delve deeper into your field, gain new perspectives, and refine your existing knowledge. This broader understanding can help you feel more prepared and capable in your role.

Many certification programs also offer mentorship or coaching opportunities, which can provide invaluable guidance and support. Mentors can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, develop coping mechanisms for self-doubt, and navigate career challenges.

Overall, upskilling through earning a certification can be a powerful weapon in the fight against imposter syndrome. Earning a certification gives you a tangible reminder of your hard work and dedication. This visual representation of your accomplishments can serve as a powerful tool for self-motivation and a constant reminder of your capabilities.By boosting your confidence, expanding your knowledge, providing community support, and offering tangible proof of achievement, these efforts can help you silence self-doubt and embrace your abilities with greater self-assurance.

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