Tackling the curse of imposter syndrome

I'm sure we've all had that fraudulent feeling...


The feeling you're going to be busted at any moment with your lack of ability laid bare for all to see.

For me, I encountered it early in my media career. I’d been desperate to work in TV and amongst the buzz of the industry, so you can imagine my excitement when I landed an amazing job that ticked all the boxes. It was a crying shame therefore, that my happiness did a sharp u-turn just weeks after starting my new position.

I’d joined on the same day as another fabulous young woman - and even better, we were doing the exact same job. I had an instant buddy. We became great friends, we came from the same part of the country and we knew some of the same people. Pretty soon, we spent every lunchtime together and headed out together most weekends.

So, imagine my dismay, when over a drink one evening, she dropped a bombshell that changed everything. She revealed that she’d accepted the position many weeks before I had and knew the person who’d turned the job down right before I accepted.

Even worse, but the person who turned that job down just happened to be my flatmate and former colleague. (I knew she’d interviewed at the same company, but she never mentioned it so I assumed it hadn't come to fruition.)

It dawned on me that I wasn’t even the second choice for my dream role. In fact, I felt like the poor consolation-prize; and I was convinced that everyone around me knew it too.

Here marked the start of my crippling imposter syndrome. 

At once, my perspective shifted. I felt constant pressure to prove myself, to show that I was worthy and equally as capable as my friend.

I felt part of an odd competition that she didn’t even realise she was part of. If she was commended for great work, it felt like direct criticism towards me. If I was praised, it felt hollow.

I convinced myself that my bosses thought my opinion was worthless. I was convinced I'd be ‘outed’ as a fraud each time I spoke out at work. I stopped asking questions, convinced that I should just ‘know’ how to do the job and then berating myself when I didn’t.

I poured my energy into working late to ’prove myself’, only to be humiliated when the director asked why I stayed late whilst my colleagues managed to do their work in their allotted hours. In short, I was mentally exhausted and emotionally drained.

Less than a year later - recession, and I immediately volunteered for redundancy.

In spite of having no financial security and no guarantee I’d be compensated given my short length of service, I did it to spare myself the 'inevitable' humiliation of being pushed - of having my inadequacies again laid bare before my entire organisation and everyone who knew me.

The truth is, imposter syndrome can be crippling. It steals our self-worth, it gnaws at us from the inside and it drives us to make poor decisions. However, recognising when you’re caught in the midst of it can be tough.

It wasn’t until a decade later when I started my NLP and coaching journey that I realised I had been so badly affected.

We all feel like imposters sometimes, usually driven by changing circumstances, feeling like we don’t fit in or are a self-perceived ‘failure’ (of which any coach will tell you, there is no such thing).

Recognising the symptoms of imposter syndrome and putting it in its place are crucial to fighting those fraudulent feelings.

What can you do if you're suffering?

Ten tips for tackling impostor syndrome

1. Recognise your achievements

Accept that you’ve played a pivotal role in your own achievements. They are no fluke! Impostor syndrome can often present in those of us with a strong sense of fairness. We can assume we were ‘gifted’ opportunities that others weren’t – but sustaining opportunities is not the work of someone who deserves their success!

2. List your achievements

Take time to list out your achievements and all of the good things people say about you. It’s all too easy to forget, but it’s important to remember, record and to contextualise our achievements, especially when we're feeling low in self-worth.

3. Be aware of triggers

Recognise that certain situations will make you uncomfortable or trigger the imposter syndrome. It's normal to feel out of our depth in certain situations, around people with more experience or when we stand out for some reason but that doesn’t mean we don't deserve our place.

4. There's no such thing as perfection

Understand that there is no such thing as perfection or failure. It's impossible to be perfect, and we should not expect it from ourselves, or others. We learn by doing things wrong then doing them differently. That doesn't equate to fraudulence, it equates to growth and resilience, which is a wholly positive thing (especially in the workplace).

5. Ask for help

Asking for help is no weakness. If you don’t know an answer, ask people and listen to their responses. We like to feel needed and we enjoy having our egos flattered, so most of us are happy to be asked for advice. By offering a platform for people to share their knowledge you buy time to think whilst you absorb their answer.

6. Seek out feedback

The British culture is not a feedback culture! What if we say the wrong thing? What if we offend someone? The truth is that resourceful and well-delivered feedback is a gift that helps us learn and improve. And we rarely ask for it! If imposter syndrome hits, it can be worth asking for feedback. You can frame it to get exactly what you need such as asking for the one thing you do well and the one thing that could help you become better. Either way, ask for positives and write them down so you can commit them to memory more easily.

7. So what if you don't know the answers?!

Nobody can know all the answers, but most of us know how to find out. Learning is a constant process and if you are aware of your knowledge gaps you can fill them whenever you choose.

8. Try to work with yourself

If you typically leave things to the last minute, it may be that you are subconsciously motivated by tight deadlines or that you react well under pressure. Re-frame your uniqueness as strengths not flaws.

9. Take the time to talk

When you talk about it, you'll be astounded at how many people feel or have felt the same way. Knowing you are not alone and borrowing techniques to overcome it from others can be hugely reassuring.

10. Go easy on yourself

Negative self-talk can kill confidence and fuel imposter syndrome. Those unhelpful thoughts and unresourceful ways of thinking can spiral our confidence downwards and makes the problem much bigger. Recognise when that negative self-talk strikes. Would you speak like this to a good friend or colleague? Would they speak like this to you? Consciously go on the counter-attack and ask yourself what a more resourceful inner voice would sound like. How would it encourage you and move you forwards?

If you’re struggling with the effects of imposter syndrome, don’t suffer in silence. 

There are countless coaches on Life Coach Directory who can help you work through it and find a more confident you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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