Hey, you did great at that last presentation! You’ve been keeping on top of things at work, your output has been great and your KPI is amazing! So…why do you keep feeling like it’s all going to come crumbling down any second? If this seems familiar to you (or has become a permanent part of your mental soundtrack), then you may be suffering from imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is a condition which makes you believe that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. Instead of appreciating and valuing your success, you instead feel that you are, for want of a better word, an imposter (and not the one from the game)- that your current and previous successes in your career have all been due to luck, and any moment now, you’re going to be called out and exposed for all your deficiencies. And guess what? It can affect you no matter what your qualifications, level of work experience, expertise or social status is.
Common signs of imposter syndrome can include:
- Fearing that you will not live up to expectations
- Constantly attributing your success to external factors
- Constant self-doubt
- Unable to realistically assess your skills and competences
- Feeling disappointed when you fail to meet challenging deadlines
While this can sometimes help push us onwards and fuel our drive to perform- more often then not, people suffering from imposter syndrome often wind up self-sabotaging themselves as this sets up a vicious cycle where you’re forced to overexert yourself to ensure that your weakness isn’t ‘discovered’. This can go two ways;
1. You manage to achieve your goal but continue to attribute your success to sheer luck and continue to worry about being exposed, or;
2. You fail to achieve your goal due to the excessive amount of stress you have placed yourself under, which serves as further fuel to your feelings of inadequacy.
As difficult as it may be to acknowledge, imposter syndrome is real and pervasive. Even the most talented among us can have the occasional moment of it. But if it’s consistent enough that you feel this way most of the time, you are in serious danger of having these thoughts entrench you. Thankfully, the cycle can be stopped. Here are some tips on how:
Set Realistic Goals for Yourself
Yes, sometimes rushing to meet a difficult deadline and actually managing to meet it can give you a rush. And yes, it is recommended to “Shoot for the Moon” when pushing yourself to achieve. Rather than stress yourself out and risking frustration with unrealistic deadlines, it’s better to plan things out. Set realistic goals instead which focus on quality work and build up to a stellar level of productiveness. This helps protect your mental health and ensures that your quality of work improves in the long run.
Cut Out Toxic People
For better or for worse, the people you surround yourself with will have an influence on you, directly and indirectly. While constructive criticism from friends and co-workers is useful and can help you grow, make sure that you’re not confusing it with unnecessary criticism and belittling comments instead. Take a long, hard look at some of those concerns you’ve been having and examine them. Are they things you’ve thought of yourself? Or have they been triggered by someone who may not have your best interests at heart? In the case of toxic individuals, drown them out and set boundaries for your own peace of mind, and if they refuse to respect these boundaries, cut them off.
Avoid comparing yourself with others
We’ve all done this one time or another, when a friend or co-worker achieves what we haven’t (or can’t), we congratulate them…but we also fall into the trap of comparing our weakness against their strengths. Not only is this illogical to do, given that we all have different strengths and weaknesses, it also tends to compound feelings of inadequacy, making some feel like more of a fraud than they already do. By all means, praise your co-workers and friends for their accomplishments and achievements. But never forget that you have your own strengths, and have made your own valuable contributions as well.
List Down Your Accomplishments
While we might not believe we’ve achieved much, sometimes it helps to have a record of all that we’ve done. Make a list of all your achievements at work. It could range from things as simple as writing a good report to single-handedly saving the company from financial ruin (We kid. But hey, you never know!) When you list down your achievements, both big and small, you then have tangible evidence of how much you actually have done, as well as a reference for when self-doubt starts creeping in. Having a tough time doing it? Ask a trusted friend or mentor for help!
Speak to a Professional
While it’s easy to tell yourself not to have negative thoughts, following through can be another kettle of fish entirely. In overcoming impostor syndrome, it can help to get advice from a professional. Speaking to a trained mental health professional like a psychologist can often serve as the first step to identifying why you have these thoughts in the first place, and how you can re-frame them.
Given how pervasive imposter syndrome can be, it’s arguable that trying these tips out may not completely get rid of the issues brought on by the syndrome in question. However, we hope that with these tips, you can take the first steps to getting out of the rut that imposter syndrome has led you into, and you can start believing in yourself and your own capabilities.