7 Strategies for Conquering Impostor Syndrome

If you’re a go-getter who thrives on challenge, there will be times in your career where you might feel a bit out of your league. Even if just for fleeting moments, as you take on greater responsibility and new risks, you may question your competence and ability to succeed in the new situation.

“Impostor Syndrome” is characterized by the feeling you are a “fraud” or somehow not qualified to perform the work you are doing. It can be stressful and create the irrational fear that someone may “find out” that you don’t belong in this role.  About 70% of people experience this at some point, and high performers who consistently seek out new challenges are more susceptible.

The unfortunate result of Impostor Syndrome is that it causes people to undermine their abilities and make excuses for their behavior, which sometimes leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For example, have you ever heard a Speaker start a presentation by saying his flight got in late? Lowering the expectations of the audience is a way to compensate in advance for a potentially poor performance.  It also can create the exact situation you’re trying to avoid: you are perceived as less competent.

Even worse, Impostor Syndrome can keep you “stuck”. You become afraid to take risks where you could potentially fail. Have you ever second-guessed applying for a much bigger role because you didn’t know if you could pull it off?

If so, you’re not alone. Here are 7 ideas for overcoming Impostor Syndrome:

  1. If you aren’t struggling a bit, you aren’t growing much.  High achievers know that being the smartest person in the room limits their growth, so they often put themselves into challenging situations.  When taking on a new venture, it’s normal to feel behind the curve. This doesn’t mean you’re a fraud or not cut out for the work. Don’t compare your start to someone else’s middle.
  2. Quiet that inner voice. If you were selected to be promoted or asked to speak, it’s because others recognized your expertise and potential.  We’re often our own worst critic and much harder on ourselves than anyone else will ever be.  If you’re new at something, have realistic expectations and give yourself a little latitude to learn.
  3. Remember that perfection is slow death.  Perfectionists tend to have an “all or nothing” view.  Even if you’re a seasoned expert, you’re human and not immune to bad days or learning curves. Mistakes may be an indication that you need to prioritize, delegate or take a break. Or they could just be mistakes. Don’t make more of it than it is.
  4. Honor your accomplishments.  We can have a sea of awards, achievements or recognition from past performances that we conveniently forget when we make a mistake or feel we’ve taken on more than we can chew.  While life isn’t about keeping a scorecard, be careful about giving more weight to slip-ups than accomplishments.
  5. Drop the “Yes, but…  Do you frequently deflect or write off compliments?  Perhaps you attribute your success to luck.  We are masters at believing negative feedback and shrugging off the positive.  Take time to listen to praise from others and own it.
  6. Plan for the WCS (Worst Case Scenario).  Which rarely happens. However, having an action plan should your WCS become reality will provide comfort that you’ll easily be able to handle lesser obstacles that more realistically might arise.
  7. Fake it ‘til you make it.  When you come across as self-assured, others sense that and it creates a positive spiral.  It doesn’t mean you have all the answers, but rather that you’re confident in your ability to use your resources to find solutions if problems arise.

Fear can take hold easily when contemplating unknown situations that are important to you. But fear is self-imposed, which means that you also have the power to overcome it.