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How to overcome imposter syndrome

“Soon, they’ll find out I’m a phony.”

“Closing that deal was sheer luck!”

“I didn’t do anything to deserve that promotion.”

“They only hired me because there weren’t enough qualified applications.”

“If somebody notices this mistake, they’ll fire me.”

Do these thoughts sound familiar? Self-doubt is human, but up to 70% of all people will suffer from imposter syndrome at least once in their life according to a paper published in The International Journal of Behavioral Science. For some, it will turn into a permanent condition.


What is imposter syndrome?

First defined in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, the term imposter syndrome describes a state in which people suffer from intense doubts regarding their capabilities. They feel like “frauds” who are one step away from being found out. People from all walks of life can suffer from imposter syndrome and it can affect more than just your job. The syndrome’s extent and symptoms vary depending on age, gender, ethnicity and cultural background.

Negative experiences in previous jobs, such as being fired, or even a generally bad economic situation, can heighten insecurities that come with imposter syndrome.

The impacts of imposter syndrome

Now that you know the definition of imposter syndrome, you might think it’s unavoidable, almost a “side effect” of life. However, and especially if it’s reoccurring, it can have a severe impact on your overall life quality.

Overwork

People who feel like they are never good enough tend to work long hours and obsess over the smallest details. When they do well, it seems to them that the only reason for their success is their disproportionate work – a vicious circle that can soon lead to burnout.

Procrastination

If you believe you don’t have what it takes to perform a task successfully, you might postpone it until you end up short of time or even miss deadlines. That way, the imposter syndrome can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Being fake

The fear of being “found out” could lead to constant attempts of pleasing managers and colleagues instead of being frank with their genuine opinion, which only reinforces their feeling of being “fake”.

Low self-esteem

A pronounced lack of self-esteem is the consequence of thoughts like “I faked my way into this job.” This can have direct implications for your work. In some fields, such as sales, it is often crucial to radiate self-confidence when you communicate with (potential) customers. Otherwise, you might lack persuasiveness. “Fake it till you make it” might help you for some time, but will exhaust you in the long run. Finally, constant self-doubts can prevent you from taking on new challenges and developing professionally.

Overcoming imposter syndrome

The bad news: If you are suffering from a severe case of imposter syndrome, it just might be part of your life. The good news: you can learn to recognize it, react accordingly and, ultimately, reduce its effects significantly.

What causes your fears?

The next time you recognize a thought like “I am not qualified to do this” try creating a distance between yourself and these thoughts. Not everything you’re thinking is true! Don’t get carried away by a flood of negative thoughts. Instead, tell yourself: “Alright, this is an interesting/strange/weird thought! Where does it come from?” By practicing this form of mindful distancing, you will be more capable of getting to the root of your worries.

Be aware of what you’ve achieved

It is easy to forget about previous successes, which is why you should keep them in mind. The best way to do this is to write your successes down in a notebook, on your phone or wherever is most convenient for you. Checking your CRM might help as well. How many deals have you closed during the last months? How many prospects have you turned into new customers? How much money have you made for your company? If you are working with Pipedrive's Goals feature, it should be easy to check where you stand in relation to your goals. Try to plan a regular check-in with yourself to “celebrate” your achievements.

Talk to friends

Turn to some of your more empathic friends and voice your concerns. Often enough, verbalizing your fears is enough to put them into perspective and a good little rant can help you let off some of the pressure. Maybe your friends have even had similar experiences and can share some of their strategies with you.

Talk to your manager

This next piece of advice depends on how close you feel to your manager. If you’ve worked with your manager for a while, you can probably assess how they will react to this topic. If you have a good relationship, try talking to them about your concern openly. If you prefer not to, it might be helpful to ask for (regular) feedback.

During the feedback sessions if you receive praise try to accept and internalize it. Don’t push it aside thinking “They were just nice”. Furthermore, if you receive constructive criticism, try to see it as an opportunity to grow, not as proof of your perceived incompetence.

Trust

Keep in mind that the people who hired you are professional in their field and know what skills are needed to perform your job. Wouldn’t it be unfair to doubt their competence by assuming you were able to cheat your way into the company?

Mindful language

Do you often start sentences with “I feel like...” or “Maybe it’s just me, but…”? Believe it or not, but doing so directly impacts your self-esteem. Use language that reflects confidence and you will soon see how it is affecting you.

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