9 Tips for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome at Work
A person’s lack of confidence in their work performance and in their worthiness overall, are at the root of an insidious condition known as imposter syndrome. The American Psychological Association reports that more than 80 percent of employees or entrepreneurs will experience imposter syndrome at some point during their working lives, so this is not a small concern.
Over time feelings of not belonging, not doing enough, and not deserving praise or success can escalate from the occasional insecurity to a perpetual feeling of self-doubt. That’s a worst-case scenario, but it’s what can happen if you constantly question your abilities and repeatedly minimize the significance of your workplace successes.
Overcoming imposter syndrome can take time and effort. But if you’ve been plagued by the unpleasant and disquieting feelings it creates, you shouldn’t wait another day before taking your first step toward recovery.
What follows are nine tips that can make overcoming imposter syndrome an achievable goal. By implementing these strategies you can slowly but surely restore your decayed self-confidence, and once again start taking pride in what you’re able to accomplish on the job.
#1 Set realistic expectations for yourself
Overcoming imposter syndrome in part means altering your expectations. You shouldn’t go to work each day thinking you have to be the best at everything to earn your place or prove your merit. And you certainly shouldn’t be haunted by the fear that your employers or managers will think less of you if you make the occasional mistake.
Having realistic expectations means acknowledging your current limitations, and then devising strategies to overcome them. You should give yourself time to reach your long-term goals, focusing on incremental improvements that prove you have what it takes to learn and grow and progress. If you take this approach, your self-confidence will grow incrementally right along with your knowledge and skill set.
#2 Don’t compete with your co-workers, compete with yourself instead
Your imposter syndrome reveals a deep-seated lack of self-esteem. This deficit in the self-image department means that when you compare your performance to co-workers, you’ll almost inevitably overrate their accomplishments while underestimating yours. You’ll see yourself as the loser in that competition, regardless of whether you have any objective facts to back up that conclusion.
To slowly rebuild your fractured self-confidence, you must focus entirely on your own career progression. Competing against yourself means that any improvements or new accomplishments will be seen as important victories. After adopting this more constructive perspective, you’ll be able to congratulate your co-workers for their successes without worrying about how they reflect on you.
#3 Find a confidant (and maybe be one for someone else)
Feeling like you have to hide the terrible truth about yourself from co-workers and employers is exhausting. In the end it only reinforces your sense of being a misfit.
Your chances of overcoming imposter syndrome will increase if you can find a confidant at work who you can speak to about your recurrent self-doubt. You may be able to find such a person by bringing up the imposter syndrome concept as a hypothetical, to see if any of your work friends have heard of it or suffered from it. If someone admits to experiencing it, perhaps the two of you could explore the topic more in-depth during private conversations. You could be their confidant and they could be yours, providing each with an outlet for honest self-expression that could be emotionally and psychologically cleansing.
#4 Break the workaholic habit
Too often, people who have imposter syndrome try to overcompensate for their feelings of inadequacy by working harder. If I work harder, they think, I really will accomplish more, and perhaps just enough to prove to myself that I’m a winner.
This is a bad compensation strategy. It really won’t make you feel better; instead it will exhaust you mentally and physically. Your tension-filled state will make you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, headaches, chronic fatigue, and a whole host of other health issues, which will rob you of the resources you need to conquer your personal demons. To overcome imposter syndrome you must slow down rather than speed up, so you can finally begin to see that your work performance is not the problem.
#5 Celebrate all successes in the workplace, whether large or small
You should start looking for excuses to celebrate your work performance rather than belittling it. This change in orientation will put you in a much better frame of mind, and it may open your eyes to how much you’ve actually been accomplishing.
You can focus on objective markers of success, such as the completion of a project ahead of the deadline, or turning in work that receives praise from a client or co-worker, or a raise in salary or a promotion, to prove that you’ve been doing just fine all along. Or, you can acknowledge the private sense of satisfaction you feel immediately after you’ve completed a task that you know you’ve done well. Either way, you’ll be transforming your relationship to your workplace performance to prioritize the positive over the negative.
#6 Acknowledge your perfectionism and strive to reduce its influence in your life
It would be too simple to say that overcoming imposter syndrome is the same as overcoming perfectionism. But there is a clear overlap between the two, and you’ll struggle mightily to subdue your imposter syndrome if you don’t get your perfectionism under control first.
A little bit of perfectionism can contribute to a strong performance. But too much perfectionism leaves you feeling that nothing you do is ever quite good enough, and in the long-run it will undermine your resolve and your self-esteem. That’s why overcoming perfectionism is a prerequisite to overcoming imposter syndrome.
While having to answer to the stern taskmaster that perfectionism represents can be exhausting, you don’t have to let it hypnotize you into obedience. Once you recognize it as a tendency you don’t have to indulge, you can escape from its iron grip. As you push the perfectionism into the background, your tension and stress will lighten, and soon you’ll feel a lot less pressure to prove your worthiness to your employer (and yourself) over and over again.
#7 Find places to excel and build self-esteem outside the workplace
Most people don’t compartmentalize their sense of pride, or lack thereof. If they experience self-doubt in the workplace, those feelings will likely manifest in multiple contexts and prevent them from feeling good about much of anything they do.
The good news is that growing self-confidence will be reflected across a broad spectrum just like self-doubt. If you start adding to your list of achievements through newfound success in your hobbies, relationships, educational pursuits, or wellness programs, this can help you become more confident and self-assured in the workplace. Overcoming imposter syndrome is easier when you start reaching goals—any goals—that require hard work, diligence, courage, or any other virtue you’d feel proud to demonstrate.
#8 When bosses or co-workers tell you you’re doing well, believe them!
Men and women with imposter syndrome spend too much time listening to the voices in their heads, and not enough time listening to what people are saying around them. Since it's generally the high achievers that experience imposter syndrome, it’s likely that your employers, managers, and co-workers have given you a lot of positive feedback over the years. They may have praised you for your attitude, your creativity, your work ethic, your professionalism, your integrity, or a hundred other characteristics that allowed you to stand out.
Whatever it is they’ve singled out, you should go with it and assume they’re perceptive and know what they’re talking about. You should realize these were objective judgments and, therefore, excellent counterpoints to your inner doubts, which are entirely subjective.
#9 Keep a daily diary and write about your work experiences in a positive way
A diary can help you reformulate your interior dialogue, to take it in a more uplifting and constructive direction. In your diary you can practice building yourself up instead of tearing yourself down, knowing that if you keep doing that it will become a habit.
On days when your imposter syndrome symptoms are strong, you can write about what you felt in detail. You can then list reasons why your feelings aren’t a true reflection of reality, followed by descriptions of the positive contributions you made that prove you weren’t really struggling or failing. Conversely, on days when you know you performed well and are feeling good about it, you can confirm the legitimacy of those impressions. Your spin should always be positive, which will put you on the fast track to overcoming imposter syndrome.