Applied Psychology

Tips for Dealing with Imposter Syndrome

Apr 03, 2024 | By Jenna van Schoor
Multi-ethnic group of coworkers discussing in modern meeting room with female boss and laptop computer

Imposter syndrome affects some of the world’s most successful people. Why? It seems counterintuitive that the world’s most qualified and outwardly successful people might doubt themselves. Yet, judging by how often we discuss this term online, many people struggle with it. 

We must understand imposter syndrome to help transcend the limitations of feeling like an imposter. In this post, we’ll discuss the definition, the different types, and some tips on overcoming feelings of inadequacy. 

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that makes people feel inadequate, although they show evidence to the contrary. Underlying this is an intense fear that they will be “found out” and labelled as frauds.

Symptoms include anxiety and depression, as well as a lack of self-confidence. “Imposters” refuse to acknowledge their hard work and skills. Instead, they feel they have managed to get to where they are because of luck or good timing.

According to expert Clare Josa, who has studied this phenomenon in-depth, it’s not technically a syndrome, as it’s not clinically diagnosable. The misleading name doesn’t take away from its impact, though. If people are achieving and still feeling like they don’t measure up, this shows a gap in self-esteem we need to address.  

Ironically, imposter syndrome seems to plague primarily high-achieving people, who might feel pressure to live up to a certain standard or achieve their ultimate potential. Yet, at the same time, it can affect anyone, including those just starting their careers.

Imposter syndrome in the workplace

Debunking myths

Research suggests that imposter syndrome can indicate interpersonal insight and does not impact performance.

In an article by the Harvard Business Review called “Imposter Syndrome Has Its Advantages”, Basima A. Tewfik, an associate professor at MIT, shares her research findings. In two studies, she concluded that people with performance anxiety are more adept at relationships, which is very important when building a successful career.

She also concluded in her research samples that despite feelings of inadequacy, there was no indication in her samples that people with performance anxiety performed any worse. In other words, there’s no evidence that anxious thoughts affect your performance. 

This research aimed not to show that anxiety is okay but that the stigma around performance anxiety needs attention. We need to know why we feel so scared about our performance. This is so we can develop ways to support each other better, build environments that support growth, and actively discourage people from getting stuck in negative thought patterns.

Tips for dealing with imposter syndrome

In a digital world, where we are constantly bombarded with information, consolidating our knowledge and skills can take time and effort. Getting a handle on your value can also be challenging if you constantly compare yourself with others online.

Apart from debunking myths around the term and transcending negative narratives about having a “syndrome”, here are some other tips for dealing with this complex phenomenon:

1. Recognise your accomplishments

It can be difficult to define certain skill sets, especially if we have a broad knowledge base. To avoid imposter syndrome and the anxiety of being “found out”, we must consolidate our accomplishments and get a structured picture of our skill set instead.

You can create a career plan and assess your skills and what you want to achieve. This structured approach removes the anxiety of being “found out” by having a concrete plan to achieve your goals.

2. Build supportive networks

One way to eliminate performance anxiety in the workplace is to build effective teams and encourage strong leadership, transparency and constructive feedback. However, we might not always get the support and direction we need in a stressful work environment.

To get support when you feel out of your depth, we must build relationships with mentors who can guide you. We are all learning; even the most educated experts didn’t know anything about their chosen industry at some stage. In other words, everyone has probably felt like an imposter at some stage, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of! 

3. Consistently upskill

By committing to lifelong learning, you can also see the opportunities that come with not knowing everything. Although you don’t want to get stuck in “expert” mode, where you feel like you will never know enough, recognising gaps in your knowledge can be very valuable.

Once you have consolidated your skill set, you can take advantage of all the opportunities to upskill. There are countless ways to grow and learn, including taking a course, asking to join different projects at work, or finding mentors to support you. 

The growth of online learning means there are many accessible and affordable ways to develop new skills by completing accredited short courses online. 

Upskill online with SACAP Global

SACAP Global’s online courses and workshops are rooted in applied psychology. This means we’ve designed our short online courses to help you take psychological insight and use it effectively in your personal and professional life.

We offer courses in communication, business, leadership and self-development. If you’re interested in overcoming performance anxiety, Building Positive Self-Esteem or Developing a Growth Mindset can help improve your self-image and broaden your perspective on what is possible, which can further help combat imposter syndrome. 

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