Although Imposter Syndrome can stop you from truly enjoying your work and hold you back in your career, fortunately there are many strategies and tools that can help you take control and feel much better.
Imposter Syndrome can be described as a secret feeling that you do not really belong.
Objectively, you have the necessary qualifications and achievements for your role, but you still think your success is actually due to fluke or just working very hard – in fact any reason you can think of except your own ability and talent.
This is accompanied by a fear that, at any moment, someone will discover that you have been fooling everyone all along.
(Note: If you are experiencing acute levels of anxiety, stress and/or depression, you should seek specialist therapeutic support.)
Below are a few examples of how you can gain more control over your experience of Imposter Syndrome.
1. Speak up
Regularly not speaking up could be reinforcing your imposter feelings.
For example, you might stop yourself from making suggestions in meetings or asking questions at conferences because you are scared you might reveal a fatal gap in knowledge.
You assume that, had you not stopped yourself, you would have been exposed as an imposter, thereby actually strengthening your conviction that you should not really be there.
It is essential to proactively break this cycle by asking those questions and making those comments. It will show you that you can be authentic in your role and, with time, this can help to ease your imposter feelings.
How to do it
If this sounds like you, do not worry if you feel uncomfortable speaking up at first. It should get easier.
Start with safe situations, such as small meetings. Try shifting your mindset to one of curiosity and be interested to see what happens if you gently push through your self-protection mechanism. Once you feel more comfortable, challenge yourself to speak up in more public situations.
Give yourself real praise for doing so and note that, contrary to your fears, presumably nothing went drastically wrong.
2. Give up perfection
If you are experiencing Imposter Syndrome you may be stressed trying to do things perfectly all of the time. You worry that anything less will confirm that you are really out of your depth.
However, as we all know, striving for constant perfection is simply not possible. So stop setting yourself up for a fall by chasing the impossible and then giving yourself a hard time for not being able to sustain it.
Contrary to what you might assume, you can do something exceptionally well without doing it perfectly and without changing the fact that you are a highly skilled and intelligent individual.
How to do it
To help you become more comfortable doing things ‘well enough’, without the added pressure of doing them flawlessly, practice it.
There are many scenarios at work where doing something outstandingly just does not matter on a practical level, so start with these.
For example, do not meticulously prepare for a routine internal meeting where a small amount of preparation would be adequate, or do not get stressed writing a complex email if a short call would do the trick. This is about getting smarter with where you spend your perfectionist energy (and stress).
When you do these tests, ask yourself if anything went terribly wrong as a result. It was probably fine. Now consider where else you can ease up on being perfect.
3. Have faith in yourself
When you notice yourself seizing up and experiencing self-doubt at work, do not panic. Instead, have faith in yourself.
How to do it
There are four steps you can follow to help you actively have more faith in yourself in a stressful work situation. For example, when you are asked to present on a difficult topic and do not think you can do it.
The first thing to do is breathe. Take long, deep breaths until you relax.
The second step is to remind yourself that you are perfectly capable. Remember past achievements, such as occasions when you have previously presented well. This is factual, hard evidence and a great basis to learn to trust yourself.
Next, think of the worst case scenario should things not go brilliantly with the presentation. Perhaps you would fail to impress a client, or lose out on a valuable opportunity. Decide how likely it really is to happen.
Now, accept the risk and carry on anyway. Having faith in yourself means choosing to go ahead even when there are no guarantees, as scary as that seems.
However, it also means that any positives that come from it will feel more like genuine wins because you have consciously chosen to move forward. Acting less frequently out of sheer fear in this way should gradually help unravel some of your imposter feelings.
We could all do with more happiness at work – truly enjoying what we do and our accomplishments. By taking seemingly small actions regularly, like those above, you can start to overcome Imposter Syndrome, take back control, and revel in your talents more often.
Nazish Bhaiwala, Founder and Career coach at Red Arbre, is a former employment lawyer who coaches lawyers and other professionals on being happier at work.
In 2018 Nazish carried out a series of interviews of female international human rights lawyers from all over the world about their experiences of Imposter Syndrome. Combining this global scale learning with her own coaching experience means she has an in-depth and unique understanding of Imposter Syndrome and the coaching tools and strategies that can help to overcome it.
As well as career coaching, Red Arbre holds evening seminars in London. Details of the next seminars, ‘Women in Law: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome’, are here: 2 April 2019 and 9 April 2019.