What is imposter syndrome and how can you overcome it?

“We all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is”

Michelle Obama

Do you ever feel like a fraud? Are you ever overcome with feelings of doubt in respect of your capabilities at work? If so, then you could be one of the thousands of people who experience imposter syndrome.

I have just finished reading Michelle Obama’s book for the second time and this particular subject, whilst it certainly isn’t new, is one that so many overlook and it can be a really confidence knock. It was a part of her book that really resonated with me, many times in my career I have experienced not being taken seriously, that led me to think that there is a problem with how I present myself to others.

You question yourself “are you smart enough” “what the heck do I know about xyz topic?” “why should these people listen to me?” so it’s very easy to see how quickly imposter syndrome can take hold.

Overcoming imposter syndrome is a big challenge as the resolution to it is not obvious, sometimes it can be worsened by enforcing praise which can enhance the feelings of being a fraud. Accepting praise for a job well done is a good place to start, acknowledge your achievements and if a peer pays you a compliment about a piece of work, take that on board, it means you have done well!

Culture could also play a big part in imposter syndrome, we’ve heard the term “toxic workplaces” regularly in the news recently, encouraging a positive culture by sharing the strengths and working constructively with weaknesses within our teams can really help with overcoming imposter syndrome as it eliminates the opportunity to draw comparisons between groups of employees.

Acknowledging that imposter syndrome is incredibly common and remember that it is nothing to be ashamed of. In her book, Michelle has it as a reoccurring theme throughout, especially when moving into public life with her successful husband.

“I stood at the foot of the mountain, knowing I’d need to climb my way into favour. For me, it revived an old internal call-and-response, one that tracked all the way back to high school, when I’d shown up at Whitney Young and found myself suddenly gripped by doubt. Confidence, I’d learned then, sometimes needs to be called from within. I’ve repeated the same words to myself many times now, through many climbs. Am I good enough? Yes I am.

Michelle Obama, Becoming 2018

Its hard to imagine what that situation must be like, after all, it is only a select few people that get to live in the White House! But with such a great level of responsibility, its almost inevitable that voices of self doubt can creep up and increase a level of fear of success.

So how can we overcome this feeling of being an imposter? Here are some ways we can tackle the problem:

  • Acknowledgment; recognising that feeling of being a fraud or not seeing yourself as being good enough. Acceptance is the first step to tackling these feelings
  • Sharing is caring! If you do feel that self doubt creeping up on you, it helps to talk about it and provide that needed reassurance when we are feeling inadequate
  • Get a coach or mentor; having a career coach or mentor can help keep you on track and build your confidence
  • Nobody is perfect; sometimes we are too hard on ourselves, no one lives a perfect life, our careers, like our lives are very much a rollercoaster, if it was the same all the time it would be boring, embrace the highlights as much as the low points. Each has a lesson to teach us

What are your experiences with imposter syndrome and what steps have you taken to overcome these issues? Feel free to share your advice in the comments box, you never know, it may help someone more than you know!

3 thoughts on “What is imposter syndrome and how can you overcome it?

  1. Natalie,
    Been following this and your male mental health work… keep it up, we desperately need advocates such as you

    It is often though that imposter syndrome (IS) is predominantly female but I’m here to say it is not. Many men, despite a perceived need for outward bluster and laddishness are insecure in promoted roles. This often leads to what I call ‘reactive aggression’ in short a form of ‘do as I say macho management’ that is incredibly counter productive.

    I’m looking at developing a session on this for MAP in October (in discussion with Eleanor LJ) so please drop me a note if you’d be interested in some joint research or presentation


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Natalie,

    This is a great post, and very inspirational! I have been feeling this way myself recently, but having read this it has helped!

    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

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