How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome at Work
Do you ever look around your office and think you're the least capable person there? Do you ever feel like you didn't earn your success?
Experiencing occasional doubts about your work abilities is completely normal, and if these thoughts are few and far between, there's likely no reason to worry about them. But if you find yourself frequently questioning your qualifications, you may be experiencing imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome can negatively affect your job performance and your life, so you'll want to tackle these doubts head-on and work to resolve them.
People who have imposter syndrome feel that they're "imposters" in their own lives. They may feel that they didn't deserve their promotions or that they're somehow fooling people around them into thinking they can do their jobs. If people don't address their imposter syndrome, it can have several detrimental effects on their work:
- People may be so distracted by fears about their inadequacy that they don't pay enough attention to the task at hand, causing their performance to suffer. Thus, imposter syndrome can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- They may be afraid to accept a new assignment or volunteer for a project because they assume they couldn't succeed. This may hold people back from reaching their full potential.
- People might assume that their coworkers always know better than they do and might be reluctant to challenge a coworker's ideas. When people don't feel comfortable pointing out flaws in a plan, their entire organization can suffer as half-baked ideas are implemented.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, imposter syndrome can be a drain on a person's mental health and well-being. That's not good for their work performance or their life in general.
If you believe you have a case of imposter syndrome, you'll want to address it before it causes problems. Here are some strategies to try as you work to bring unhelpful self-doubt under control.
1. Take stock of your accomplishments
Write a list of five things you've accomplished, even if they're small. For each item on your list, think of a positive quality you possess that helped you achieve that result. For example, your interpersonal skills might have helped you lead a phone call or meeting, or your creativity might have come into play when you brainstormed ideas for a marketing campaign. Ideally, this list will remind you that you have useful qualifications that you might sometimes overlook.
2. Dispute your fears
You don't have to accept every thought that occurs to you at face value. In fact, it's healthy to learn to dispute negative thoughts and to put them in perspective. If you make a mistake on a revenue projections report and think, "I'm so bad at business. I should never have become a manager," take a few minutes to question that assumption. Maybe you completed the three previous reports without a problem, and this time you were just distracted by another deadline. Or maybe reports aren't your strong suit, but you're still an asset at work because of your accounting expertise.
3. Make realistic comparisons
People tend to focus on their most successful peers, and they compare themselves to the top employees again and again. But if you're only watching the most successful people, you’re not making a realistic comparison. Try to think of a few people who are less qualified than you as well as a few who are more qualified. Chances are, you have coworkers with more impressive resumes than yours and some coworkers with less experience, too. Keep this in mind the next time you worry that you're out of place.
4. Think about your minimum job requirements
What are the basic tasks you complete on a daily basis? Think about activities like reporting to a superior, using a word processing or spreadsheet program, setting up banquets, and giving instructions to employees. You probably know how to do those things well enough to get the job done. Keep in mind that each of those tasks requires some skill and that you demonstrate your abilities each time you do them.
5. Consider that success is a mix of hard work and luck
Instead of thinking that you got to your position through luck, try to acknowledge that anyone's success is due to factors both in and out of their control. You might have benefited from an opportune job opening and you might have been lucky that a hiring manager took a chance on you. At the same time, you probably put in some effort to get to where you are now. Realize that success can result from a combination of factors, and that's okay.
6. Focus on growth
View your job as an opportunity to learn and develop your skills. If you find yourself questioning your qualifications, remember that having a lot to learn means you can benefit from the experience. Your career may gain more from a job you were underqualified for than from one where you didn't stretch yourself.
7. Talk to a mentor
Find a mentor, and discuss your self-doubt with that person. Your mentor may offer advice on coping with imposter syndrome; they may also be able to help you form a more balanced view of your strengths and weaknesses.
8. Set new goals
You can't change your experience up to this point, but you can take charge of your future. When you start worrying that you didn't earn your last promotion, shift your focus to things you want to achieve at work going forward. This will distract you from unproductive worries and focus your attention on what you can control.