Have you ever felt like an imposter?

The term ‘imposter syndrome’ has been floating around a lot recently but it’s far from a new idea; the term was actually coined back in 1978. Imposter syndrome is something most people will experience, yet so many don’t even know how to recognise and move past it. We’re taking a closer look:

What is imposter syndrome?

Really, ‘imposter syndrome’ is just a fancy term for ‘self-doubt’ but it’s particularly prevalent in the professional sphere. It’s that feeling that you don’t belong in the position you have or with the responsibilities you’ve been given. It’s the feeling that you have no idea what you’re doing and you’re the wrong person for the job. It’s the feeling that, at any moment, someone with real authority might come barrelling in to tell you that the gig is up, you’ve been found out.

It’s not an uncommon feeling, either. In a recent UK-based study by Access Commercial Finance, it was found that 86% of their respondents had experienced imposter syndrome in the last 12 months. 66% of those were women while 56% were men.

Why do people feel like imposters?

Imposter syndrome isn’t grounded in reality. It’s a close cousin of Anxiety Disorders but it is important to note that it is not an actual disorder. There are many reasons why imposter syndrome might start to creep in but typically, most reasons stem from being thrown out of your comfort zone. For example, being in a new role can bring on feelings of inadequacy and worry that you are not really the right person for the job after all – even while succeeding at this new role.

The earlier study referenced some top reasons their respondents claimed contributed to their experiences of imposter syndrome: own self-doubt, receiving criticism and needing to ask for help were cited as some of the biggest contributors to this experience.

How do you know if you are experiencing imposter syndrome?

You might not have recognised the symptoms in yourself or those in your team, but the behaviours of those experiencing imposter syndrome are actually easier to spot than you might think. I’ve used the analogy of making coffee as an example:

  • Perfectionism – imagine you were asked to make a cup of coffee, but as you were making it, a little bit of milk spilled down the side of the cup. It’s an accident, but not one that affects the quality of the coffee. Those striving to perfectionism wouldn’t serve the cup with that single drop of milk on the outside.
  • Overworking – now, your coffee drinker has a choice of 15 different kinds of milks and when their coffee arrives, the drink has fancy latte art and marshmallows on the side – even though no one expected that of a simple cup of coffee.
  • Refusing praise – when your coffee drinker compliments you, you immediately assume they’re just saying it to be nice. After all, how good could a cup of coffee be? Sure, you put a lot of work into it but you were just doing what was asked of you, how is that worthy of a compliment?
  • Undermining achievements – perhaps you win an award for your coffee making skills. You chalk your achievements up to the quality of the coffee beans and the state-of-the-art machinery you use, never recognising your own skill.

Getting over imposter syndrome

All those symptoms mentioned above are great examples of self-sabotage. It’s a vicious cycle; the less you are willing to admit that you are capable and qualified for the job, the less capable you will feel.

It’s a tough pill to swallow but the only way to get over imposter syndrome is to keep going and push through it – break the cycle of self-sabotage. Remember to reflect on what you have achieved in your career and why that enabled you to enter in a new role. With time, you’ll become more comfortable in what you’re doing. In the case of those who struggle with a new role, you have been put in that position because you are good at what you do; eventually, you will become adept and successful in this new role too – it’s all about rebuilding confidence.

Are you or some of your team members suffering from imposter syndrome? Do you need to rebuild confidence? People Make the Difference can help. To find out more, visit www.pmtd.com.au or call us on 0412 333 415. Try our online leadership training videos – $99 for complete access. Great value if you’re committed to growing your leadership potential.