Don't Let Imposter Syndrome Derail Your Career

There are ways to overcome this feeling that 70 percent of people experience.

Posted Oct 23, 2020 | Reviewed by Devon Frye

JJ Jordan/Unsplash
Imposter syndrome makes people feel like a fraud and they fear being exposed.
Source: JJ Jordan/Unsplash

Are you constantly looking over your shoulder or incessantly checking your email to see if your worst fear came true? Do you think you were accidentally offered the job or accepted into your college? That people will find out you are a fraud and the job will be taken away? Do you attribute your success to luck rather than accomplishment?

Before you lose another minute of sleep, stop. What you are facing is called imposter syndrome and it impacts 70 percent of the workforce, including the author of this article. We are all part of a great imposter syndrome club which includes former first lady Michelle Obama, tennis champ Serena Williams, and Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks. 

The term, first coined over four decades ago by psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes, disproportionately impacts high achievers as well as marginalized groups such as women and underrepresented minorities. 

Often, after an achievement such as a new job offer, award, or completion of a degree is when imposter syndrome makes its ugly debut. Negative thoughts and anxiety kick in, as a person feels that the success and accolades are not earned. They feel the list of achievements on their resume was a result of a string of good luck and being in the right place at the right time. Worse, they feel their non-existent deceit will be exposed and they will be labeled as a fraud.

Don't Let Imposter Syndrome Derail Your Career

Often when I coach others, I ask them why they don’t actively pursue their next goal such as writing the article they’ve meant to pen or giving a presentation at a national conference. I hear a variety of excuses ranging from their lack of time to not being an expert (so they couldn't possibly give the talk).

What they fear is that it will be discovered that they are not the global expert on the topic. As such, they won’t write that article or give that presentation until it is perfect. I have news for you. It’s never going to be perfect. You also don’t need to be the world’s expert, just the expert in the room. That’s a big difference.

There are other ways to curtail imposter syndrome when it rears its ugly head. It requires a bit of advanced planning. Create a folder in your email where you save all of the compliments and kind emails you’ve received from others. Consider printing them out and saving them in a keepsake box. Pull it out when you are having an especially difficult day and read them as a reminder of why you are good at what you do. I have a mason jar filled with folded Post-It notes which I received from former mentees. Each note has 1-2 sentences that each student thought was the best mentoring advice I gave them. They also wrote their thank you messages on other Post-Its. 

The term "fake it until you make it" has never rung more true. The admissions committee didn’t make a mistake; neither did the hiring committee. If you think that, you are calling them stupid. Deep down, you knew that you could succeed. That’s why you submitted your resume for that job or applied to that school in the first place. You made it. You are now in. Have confidence and believe you can do it.