Imposter Syndrome: What It Is and How to Work Through It
Sarah Brodsky / NOVEMBER 09 2020

Do you ever find yourself thinking that you’re less qualified than everyone around you, or that you’ve tricked your boss into believing you can do your job well? Do you feel like you’re acting the part of a successful employee and that deep down, you don’t deserve your position?

If that sounds familiar, you could be dealing with imposter syndrome, a psychological phenomenon in which people doubt themselves and their abilities. People who experience this feel like they’re impersonating someone who’s much more capable than they are.

But unless you’re a secret agent on assignment, chances are you’re not actually an imposter and those thoughts stem purely from anxiety. Of course, recognizing that reality is easier said than done. But there are several tactics you can use to confront feelings of inadequacy and keep imposter syndrome at bay. 

Record your achievements

Write a list, make a collage, or put together a slideshow of your achievements. These can be big things like earning a degree or seemingly small things like being complimented by a guest for your friendly service. Being able to review all the things you’ve done well should help you remember that your experience and skills are real.

Remind yourself of your strengths

Regularly take out that record of what you’ve done right, and allow yourself to feel proud of your accomplishments. If necessary, put a recurring reminder on your calendar to spend a few minutes once every couple of weeks updating the list.

Make more realistic comparisons

You might feel unworthy of your role if you’re comparing yourself to your company’s superstars. The people who do an acceptable job but don’t stand out are easy to overlook, and you might not notice that you’re performing at least as well as they are. The next time you see someone else’s accomplishment and feel bad about your own work, ask yourself if that person is truly representative of everyone in your team or if you’re noticing them more because they’re exceptional. 

Aim for slow and steady progress

A possible reason for experiencing imposter syndrome is that you’ve moved up to a new position before you felt ready for it. If you pushed yourself to seek promotion because you thought it was the expected thing to do, or if a manager urged you to take on more responsibilities when you weren’t completely comfortable with the idea, the feelings of not belonging in your new role could be especially intense.

Everyone needs to move forward in their career at their own pace. If a new role is making you feel stressed and inadequate, consider taking a step back and returning to a previous position or another position that’s less demanding. This isn’t admitting defeat; it’s prioritizing your well-being.

Try to let go of arbitrary timelines or career deadlines you feel you ought to meet. You may decide you want your career to look like a slow, steady climb, not a meteoric rise to the top of the workplace hierarchy.

Reframe imposter syndrome as an opportunity

Think of a person who learns a language through immersion. On their first day learning the language, they’re surrounded by fluent speakers who know much more than they do. But they learn from everyone around them, and after several weeks or months of practice, they’re able to join in conversations with the people who have spoken the language their whole lives.

Even if your brain is telling you that all your coworkers are better at their jobs than you are, you can choose to view that (probably not entirely accurate) assessment as an opportunity to learn and grow. By observing how your coworkers expertly and confidently handle every situation that comes up, you can learn to tackle those same situations. Think of it as being immersed with people who are fluent in the workplace skills you want to gain. Spending time working with them could build your knowledge far more quickly than if you weren’t surrounded by amazing role models.

Accept doubts as normal

It’s possible that what’s bothering you most isn’t your doubts about your abilities but the way you’re thinking about those doubts. If every time you question your potential, you immediately think, “What’s wrong with me? Other people don’t worry about things like this. I must have really messed up!” then you may be compounding the negative feelings. 

Try to remember that doubting yourself is a normal part of life, something that almost everyone experiences at times. You don’t necessarily need to banish every negative thought. It’s okay to just sit with doubt, without trying to quash it, but also without letting it determine your self-worth. For many people, strategies like these can keep imposter syndrome in check. But if your feelings seem overwhelming or if nothing you’ve tried makes a difference, it may be a good idea to talk to a therapist or join a support group so you can get more personalized help.