How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome 

Recently I was accused, by my husband, of having imposter syndrome, and I ended up discussing how to overcome imposter syndrome with a few of my clients and students. Some of them hadn’t heard of the term, but all absolutely understood what I meant by it.

Do you ever feel like you don’t deserve the credit for something that you’ve done?

Although you’ve worked really hard to achieve something you feel like, and often tell yourself, you’ve ended up achieving it because of a piece of luck, or because of some work that somebody else has done.

And you feel like you’re an imposter; you feel like you’re fake; you feel like you’re not worthy of the sort of plaudits that you get about your abilities and achievements. You think you’re going to be found out.

That’s what imposter syndrome feels like.

Where did the term ‘Imposter Syndrome’ come from?

The term was developed by psychologists, Dr Pauline R Clance and Dr Suzanne A Imes in their 1978 article, ‘The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention’.

They noticed a significant number of people who were real high achievers weren’t giving themselves proper credit for what they’d accomplished.

I think most of us at some stage in our lives and, sometimes fairly regularly, suffer from imposter syndrome.

In fact, if you talk to Chief Executives (male and female) and very accomplished people, in their honest moments, they’ll admit that they too suffer from imposter syndrome.

It happens at all levels, and all ages.

What Does Imposter Syndrome Feel Like?

People who have imposter syndrome, or have moments of feeling that they’re an imposter, are living in fear of being found.

They have, an often constant, fear of having people tell them that they’re not as good as they appear to be.

I was listening to a podcast recently where the interviewee described being worried when people ask to speak to him about ‘something’. He always thinks the ‘something’ will be bad. I know exactly what he means!

If you struggle to give yourself credit for the things that you’ve achieved, here are some tips to help you to overcome that imposter syndrome and take the credit for the things that you’ve done. As you should!

Tips for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

  • Don’t have a negative view of opportunities that you’ve been given. Don’t blame yourself for having those positive situations compared to other people. If you have things offered to you, even those things that look like they are absolutely out of the blue and a whole big piece of luck will have originally been built on the fact that you’ve worked hard and you deserve credit for the things that you’ve done.
  • One of my podcast guests suggested keeping a ‘yeh me’ file. He keeps anything that people send him telling him that he’s done a good job and that they’re impressed with him. He keeps that in a separate file and every time he’s feeling a bit down or feeling like he’s an imposter he takes out that file and reads the comments that people have made. He reminds himself that, actually, he’s good at what he does and is worthy of the praise that he’s been given. So, you can do that yourself – create your own file, write down all the successes, the testimonials from people, the email thank yous giving you really good feedback – make sure that all goes in there. And you can also add in the milestones and highlights of your career and your business to ensure that you remind yourself of the things that you actually have achieved and that have gone well.
  • Just be aware that imposter syndrome is a thing, and that you are feeling it. Sometimes just naming it, and being aware of it, can help to stop something like that getting in your way.
  • Remember that if you fail, if something doesn’t go well, that doesn’t make you a fake. It doesn’t make you somebody who is pretending to be something that they’re not. Failure is something that’s really common. It’s important. In many situations you can really only succeed by failing first. Many of the greatest achievements in the world have come from failures. There’s the famous one of the post it notes. A team at 3M were developing a glue that was supposed to stick really well. Something went wrong and they ended up with glue that didn’t stick very well at all. But then somebody decided to take that new invention (or rather that failure) and turn it into the glue that is now used on post it notes. Obviously they are designed to not stick that well, because they’re movable and reusable and so on. So, that was a potential failure that actually turned into a success in the end. And, you know, we have all those situations in our own businesses and our own lives where we make a mistake, and we learn from it and we move on and things improve as a result of it. Just because you’ve made a mistake you shouldn’t feel like you’re a fake or that, when things are better, that you’re taking credit for things that you’re not worthy of.
  • Remember that you have really important stuff to take out into the world. We’re all individual. We’ve all got our own strengths and advantages and knowledge, skills and abilities, and it’s really important that we share those things with the world. And sometimes when we feel like we’re an imposter, we stop doing things.  And that’s because we think that we’re not deserving of any success that we’re having and that we’re not good enough. And that just stops us getting out there and sharing our abilities with the world.
  • It’s been said that many people lying on their deathbed are still suffering from imposter syndrome. They can’t believe that they haven’t been found out yet and that they’ve got away with it throughout their lives. You don’t want to be on your deathbed regretting things that you didn’t do. You want to be there knowing that you’ve tried everything possible, that you’ve done the best that you could in the circumstances. That you’ve had the relevant success as well as the fact that, on occasions, you’ve had things that haven’t worked out so well. If you believe that you’re an imposter and you believe that you’re not worthy, then often that will hold you back from taking chances and trying things. And if you add that together with the fear of failure point from earlier, then that can really hold you back. And to the ‘giving something to the world’ point, the more that you hold yourself back, the less you’re giving to other people and the less that you’re helping people with the skills and knowledge and experience that you have.
  • And finally, just remember and enjoy the fact that nobody really knows what they’re doing. Even people who you see who seem to be really successful, whether that be financially or personally, or in business or whatever, are often just making it up as they go along. We’re all trying to get through life in the best way that we can, and most of us haven’t got a success blueprint to follow. We don’t know whether what we’re doing is the right thing. We just have to do it, try it, see what happens. If it doesn’t work so well, change and do something different next time and keep moving forwards. Everyone’s in that situation. It might seem at times that we’re not because people have all different levels of success. But, like I say, really successful looking people are quite often ‘winging it’ and worried that people are actually going to find them out because they’re suffering from their own version of imposter syndrome as much as the rest of us are.

Overcome Your Imposter Syndrome

So, look back over the seven points, and the ways to overcome impostor syndrome and think back to your own situation and about how you can apply the points to your life.

I’m almost certain I could put money on it that you will have had a situation where you were worrying about something happening. You were worrying about somebody’s view of you and you were thinking that you weren’t good enough and whatever you were doing wasn’t going to be good enough.

And then, as it turned out, they were absolutely ecstatic, they were really happy you did a really good job and they gave you loads of kudos.

And those two things just seemed to be so different – your expectation of what they were going to say – and the realities of what actually happened.

It’s in those moments that we know that imposter syndrome is just that, it’s a syndrome, it’s a thing, it’s a made up construct that we don’t have to listen to, believe in, or have in our lives.

If we follow some of these tips that I’ve given you, particularly the bit about understanding what it is, and being able to call yourself out on it, you will see improvements.

So, think back to when you’ve felt you’ve had imposter syndrome.

Think back to what really happened in the end, and what other people thought about you and acknowledge where your thoughts and the reality of the impact you had was quite often different!

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