Impostor Syndrome

May 19, 2020

Have you ever felt like you’re a fraud in your workplace? That you have no idea how you got to where you are, and that you just don’t belong? You are not alone. Many high achievers share the same secret: deep down they feel as though their accomplishments are the result of luck.

This phenomenon is known as impostor syndrome, the belief that you’re inadequate and incompetent despite clear evidence that you’re capable and skilled. It affects everyone, but especially women. It manifests itself in women as lack of confidence, feeling like they’re not the type of person who takes risks, feeling like they did not deserve to succeed despite being demonstrably skilled, to name a few.

The Five Types of Impostor Syndrome:

There are five types of “impostor” or to put it another way, five persona types that emerge from women who suffer from impostor syndrome. According to Dr. Valerie Young, the categories are the Perfectionist, the Superwoman, the Natural Genius, the Soloist, and the Expert.

  • The Perfectionist sets extremely high expectations for herself, and even if she meets 99% of her goals, she’ll still feel like a failure. Any mistake will make her question her own competence.
  • The Superwoman pushes herself to work harder than those around her to prove that she’s not an impostor. She feels the need to succeed in all aspects of life and may feel stressed when she’s not accomplishing something.
  • The Natural Genius bases her competence on the ease and speed of accomplishing a task. She judges herself based on getting things right on the first try and when she must put in effort, that’s proof to her brain that she’s an impostor.
  • The Soloist needs to accomplish everything on her own. For her, asking for help means failure.
  • The Expert wants to know everything there is to know before she starts a project. She won’t apply for a job if she doesn’t meet all the criteria, or she won’t ask questions or speak in meetings for fear of looking stupid.

Being able to identify the ways you feel incompetent will help you change the way you respond to those internal cues.

Impostor Syndrome does not have to bad thing: it’s an important gauge that motivates us to prepare, to question, and to delve deeper into our work. When you feel the onset of impostor syndrome, that should be a mental cue that you’ve reached the edge of your comfort zone. At that point, you’re faced with the decision to go headfirst towards challenge or to back away.

4 Ways to Change Our Response to Impostor Syndrome:

1) You feel like you want to say no to new opportunities… so say yes!

Impostor Syndrome makes it hard to say yes to new opportunities because it fills your head with variations of “I’m not ready/good/skilled enough to take this on.” Don’t let those excuses stop you from reaching your full potential.

2) You feel like you don’t know enough…continue to be curious and seek answers!

You want answers, but you’re too scared to ask the questions for fear of looking stupid. Listen to the voice that needs a question answered. Tell yourself it’s not doubt or lack of knowledge that wants answers, but curiosity.

3) If you’re feeling nervous…reframe that as excitement!

The physiological feelings associated with fear are almost identical to those we feel when we’re excited. Utilize this. Tell yourself you’re excited not nervous. Studies show that by relabeling stressful situations as ‘challenging’ as opposed to ‘terrifying’ dampens down the hormones that activate the part of your brain responsible for fear.

4) You don’t want anyone to know you feel a fraud…but don’t be afraid to share your insecurities!

Vulnerability is one of the most underrated values at work. It also comes hand in hand with Impostor Syndrome. But it’s no use unless you share it. Sharing fears not only bonds you with colleagues (‘See! We’re just the same!) but also it opens the dialogue for growth.

Be aware of your internal voice, and listen to what it's trying to tell you. In times of challenge and uncertainty, it's so easy to fall into the trap of your mind telling you you're not good enough. But if you work to reframe the way you respond to these cues, you can mitigate your Impostor Syndrome and give yourself to best chance to succeed professionally.