The Dangers of Imposter Syndrome (and 4 Tips for Overcoming It)


“I don’t deserve a seat at the table.”

“Sooner or later they’ll find out I’m not qualified.”

“I don’t know everything about my subject matter; that must mean I’m a fraud.”

“My work isn’t always perfect, so I must not be the right one for the job.”

“The only reason I’m here is because of luck.”

These phrases are examples of what a person wrestling with impostor syndrome might think when they’re feeling less than confident. Many of us—about 70% according to the International Journal of Behavioral Science—have had to deal with impostor syndrome at one point or another. It’s a mentality characterized by feeling underqualified or undeserving, even though evidence points to the contrary.

Everyone and anyone can suffer from impostor syndrome—CEOs of large corporations, graphic designers, university professors, auto mechanics. It’s a debilitating state of mind that can hold us back from taking action, prevent us from speaking up, stifle creativity, or stop us from seeking promotions. According to Megan Dalla-Camina, contributor to Psychology Today, impostor syndrome can potentially have serious negative consequences, including “stress, anxiety, low self confidence, shame, and in some cases, even depression.”

Impostor syndrome can manifest itself in many different forms. Some people feel like impostors because they consider any less-than-perfect performance a failure. Making a mistake or not knowing an answer feeds their internal “impostor beast.” Others suffer from a bout of impostor syndrome when they feel less qualified than others. They believe everyone else in the room is more deserving of a place at the table and an opinion. Still others feel the sting of impostor syndrome whenever they struggle with a specific aspect of their job. If a certain task or assignment doesn’t come easily, they must be impostors.

These impostor syndrome mentalities are flawed and potentially harmful. Even if a person occasionally fails, it doesn’t make her an impostor. Even if someone lacks knowledge in a certain area, it doesn’t make him a fraud. In both our personal and professional lives, we are constantly growing and evolving. We’re imperfect and we’re never going to know it all. That doesn’t make us impostors. It makes us human beings.

Of course, it’s easy to dismiss impostor syndrome as something “just in your head,” but far more difficult to actually banish it. Next time you’re struggling with feeling like a fraud, try one of these four tips for overcoming impostor syndrome:


Chronicle your successes.


When you’re feeling less-than-worthy, it’s a good idea to think about your past successes. What have you achieved that has helped you get to where you are today? Either make a list of those successes or pull up your CV and give it a look. Reminding yourself of what you’ve accomplished will help you realize that, yes, you are qualified and deserving of your position.


Talk to a trusted friend or mentor.


You don’t have to keep your feelings to yourself. It’s healthy to seek council from a coach or reliable friend when you’re feeling like a failure or thinking that you don’t belong in your current role. Sometimes, we are so self-critical that we have trouble acknowledging our own merits. Another’s perspective can help you realize that your feelings of being a fraud are unfounded.


Provide value.


It’s terrifying to think that any minute someone will tap on your shoulder and say, “Hey, you don’t deserve to be here.” Instead of fixating on your fear, focus on providing value. Whatever your current project or role, put your energy into doing it well. Thinking about failure will only hinder you, while focusing on action and improvement will help you deliver better results and, ultimately, feel less like an impostor. 


Be kind to yourself.


Everyone fails occasionally. Did NASA perfect the space craft of its first go? Did Leo Tolstoy nail War and Peace on his first draft? Of course not. Every misstep you take is merely a chance to start over and do things better the next time around; it doesn’t mean you’re a fraud. 

When you start chastising yourself for a mistake, take a step back and remind yourself that you are human and you are allowed to fail.

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