How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome at Work?

What is Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor syndrome describes the feeling that you are an impostor despite evidence to the contrary. For example, you may believe that you’re inadequate or a fraud, and tend to negatively compare yourself to others whom you perceive to be smarter and more successful. Impostor syndrome can happen in many areas of life, but is especially distressing and prevalent in the workplace.

Those who experience impostor syndrome at work report having thoughts such as:
“I’m just not as smart or accomplished as everyone else. They were foolish to hire me.”
“How long is this going to last before people realize I don’t know what I’m doing?”
“Maybe if I just take on more hours, more projects, more training, etc., I will start to feel better.”

Many who struggle with impostor syndrome have a tendency to focus on their perceived flaws or limitations instead of assets and accomplishments. They often have perfectionist tendencies (setting very high expectations with little-to-no room for failure), are
always “on” (putting in long hours with no breaks or vacations in an effort to be seen as hardworking and reliable), and usually go it alone (never ask for help or admit a need for assistance). They may also seek out endless trainings and take on extra responsibilities in an effort to feel more fully qualified.

Consequences of Impostor Syndrome
Mentally, impostor syndrome can lead to “catastrophizing”. This is when you fear catastrophic consequences if you are “found out” as an impostor. For example, you think: ”if I speak up in this meeting and say something unintelligent, everyone will know I’m a fraud, and they’ll start to realize they never should have hired me. Then I’ll get fired and never be able to find another job.” This type of negative self-talk creates strong feelings of doubt and shame and can increase a tendency toward anxiety and/or depression.

Impostor syndrome can also have negative consequences for your career. For example, if you hesitate to speak up about things you don’t understand at work (for fear of being “found out” as incapable), you will miss opportunities to learn and grow. In another way, if you hesitate to bring up new ideas or take charge (even if your ideas are great!) because you feel inadequate, you won’t have the chance to shine in the workplace and grab those promotions and opportunities when they arise.

Ways to Stop Impostor Syndrome from Holding You Back
First and foremost, remember that not all of your thoughts are true, and feelings are not facts. You may feel inadequate or uncertain of your abilities from time to time — everyone does! But just because you feel unsure or think you’re unworthy does not mean that’s the case. Try using some strategies to “note” and “talk back” to those negative feelings and assumptions. For example, if you have a thought that you are unqualified, just notice it by saying to yourself “I’m having a thought that I’m unqualified.” That mental separation can be very helpful in starting to examine and question your own negative thoughts before deciding if you want to believe them.

Another helpful strategy is to keep a list of your own accomplishments to reflect on when you’re struggling. Be open to accepting praise when others compliment your work, and try to praise others on their hard work, too. This will help foster a supportive atmosphere in the workplace, which will also make you feel more secure and less pressured.

Finally, therapy can be useful in discussing and processing the shame and anxiety that often accompany impostor syndrome. You can also learn and practice skills to mitigate the influence of these issues in your life and make choices you feel confident about.

About the Quarterlife Center (QLC):

Our QLC Counselors specialize in working with individuals and couples in their 20s and 30s in a supportive, caring, confidential setting. We will work with you to help you identify your passions, achieve your goals and thrive in your life. We offer the following services to clients:

If you’d like more information or you’re interested in scheduling an appointment, please contact us.




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