Overcome Imposter Syndrome: 7 Sneaky Ways Self-Doubt Steals Your Power
By Melody Wilding
Picture it–you just finished an important presentation at work. By all accounts, you crushed it. Your clients were smiling and satisfied. And your boss even offered you glowing feedback afterward.
Nevertheless, you push away the praise and chalk the performance up to luck or good timing. You don’t think you really deserve the pat on the back, and worry that you couldn’t replicate your success in the future. Deep down, you fear that soon everyone will find out you’re not really as smart as you make yourself out to be.
Meet imposter syndrome, a phenomenon in which accomplished people discredit their achievements and fear being revealed as a fake or fraud.
Imposter syndrome is extremely common. Up to 70% of people say they struggle with it at some point in their career.
In my research and coaching programs, I have found that imposter syndrome is more common and felt more acutely by Sensitive Strivers–those who are both high-achieving and highly sensitive. Sensitive Strivers have a biological disposition to process their own thoughts and feelings more deeply, as well as the behavior of those around them. All of which leaves them more susceptible to self-doubt.
While it’s clear that imposter syndrome is not pleasant or fun to deal with, there are also tangible consequences to not addressing it:
- You may be passed up for new projects because you discount your work
- You may miss out on earning more money because you don’t ask for what you are worth, or
- You may avoid going for new opportunities because you don’t think you are qualified
On a broader level, the impact of imposter syndrome can be devastating. Burnout, which is the most common consequence of imposter syndrome, costs the economy upwards of $190 billion per year. That’s over $6000 a second.
There is good news within all of this. If you can recognize and catch yourself in imposter syndrome patterns, you can make changes to enjoy your success without so much stress.
Imposter Syndrome Definition & 5 Key Behaviors
Imposter syndrome is a collection of feelings of inadequacy. These thoughts and behaviors persist despite evidence that you are capable and competent (positive performance reviews, promotions, degrees, etc).
Imposter syndrome manifests slightly differently person-to-person. However, there are some predictable patterns. Once you identify these patterns and which are stopping you from taking action, you can then re-calibrate and regain your confidence.
1 – Perfectionism
The first pattern is perfectionism. People with imposter syndrome have unreasonably high expectations of themselves. Perfectionistic behaviors associated with imposter syndrome include:
- Putting pressure on yourself to “be the expert,” assuming you must know everything about your role, industry, or subject matter before you offer ideas, for example.
- Expecting yourself to get something right on the first try. If you make a mistake or fail, it leads to shame and a feeling of fraudulence – as if you’re not cut out to do your job.
- You refine, polish, and overthink things to an extreme. You may spend weeks, for instance, perfecting a deliverable out of fear that it won’t be “just right” (and thus prove you have no idea what you’re doing.)
2 – Procrastination
Another imposter syndrome pattern is procrastination. In other words, you avoid participating in or completing something because doing so may expose your incompetence. This can look like coping mechanisms that keep you out of action and out of the spotlight:
- Waiting to the last minute to finish a project, and then attributing any negative feedback to your lack of preparation.
- Diminishing yourself and rejecting praise. You may chalk up accomplishments to luck, timing, or connections.
- Lying low and avoiding new opportunities, challenges, or responsibilities because you think you’re not ready, not good enough, or wouldn’t be able to handle it.
3 – Comparison
Imposter syndrome keeps you glued to other people’s highlight reels. You imagine everyone else is more successful and put together than you are. Comparison also involves:
- Depressed entitlement, where you think you’re lower status and deserving or unworthy of success
- A fear or failure and rejection sensitivity, wherein you worry about the judgment of others
- Obsessing about your weaknesses, instead of appreciating your strengths
4 – Overcompensation
While feeling like an imposter can lead you to undermine yourself and hold back, it can go the other direction and cause you to overcompensate for your insecurities. As a result, you may:
- Pursue further training, degrees, or certifications because you don’t think you’re knowledgeable enough
- Take on more work than you can handle out of a desire to prove yourself
- Try to fix everyone’s problems in an effort to be useful and valuable
5 – People pleasing
The final imposter syndrome pattern is people-pleasing. In my book Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success, I explain people-pleasing as having a strong desire for approval from others and having low regard for yourself because you’re thinking and acting in ways that compromise your core values. This can look like:
- Passively agreeing with others, holding back, or changing your opinion to be likable and avoid being “exposed”
- Obsessing over external validation (praise, positive performance reviews, awards, your title, etc)
- Saying yes and never setting boundaries
Overcoming imposter syndrome is a journey. It starts by identifying which of these patterns you fall into the most. So use this opportunity to reflect on your personal tendencies. With heightened self-awareness, you’ll be in a better position to retrain your negative self-talk, internalize your accomplishment, and start experiencing the confidence you deserve.