How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome at Work

Do you ever feel uncertain about your qualifications to be in your position at work?

You may have many accomplishments and an impressive resume, yet still feel like you were hired on luck and that you don’t really deserve the position. If you’re feeling this way, you may be part of the more than 70% of Americans who deal with imposter syndrome.

The good news is that you can manage and overcome imposter syndrome. The bad news? If you don’t actively work on your feelings of self-doubt, they can affect your work, your health, and your personal life.

Understanding Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is a psychological term, not a recognized disorder. This term refers to people who repeatedly doubt their accomplishments and fear that they will be exposed as being a fraud. Psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes created the term in 1978 after discovering that people with imposter syndrome were convinced that they didn’t deserve their success, despite being highly accomplished in their fields.

It’s common to see imposter syndrome in many different fields, including when accomplished professionals are switching careers. For instance, transitioning from a registered nurse position to a nurse practitioner career can be an overwhelming career change and may prompt imposter syndrome. While these professionals may be highly accomplished, a promotion or a career change can leave them internally doubting their qualifications, no matter how strong those qualifications may actually be.

The Effects of Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome can have significant effects on your health and your work. The negative mental effects of imposter syndrome aren’t grounded in reality, yet they can lead to significant, ongoing stress. If you suffer from imposter syndrome, you may also begin to experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, and poor self-confidence. If you’re naturally a perfectionist, you’re at an increased risk of developing imposter syndrome.

Unfortunately, imposter syndrome can harm your work, becoming a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. People suffering from imposter syndrome think that they need to complete their work perfectly, so they’re reluctant to ask for help. The fear of not being able to perform the work correctly can cause a perfectionist to procrastinate doing the work or to spend excessive time over-preparing.

After procrastinating or over-preparing, the person is unlikely to see a positive outcome with their work, reinforcing their belief that they cannot succeed and contributing to the imposter syndrome.

If left unchecked, imposter syndrome can encroach on your health, your overall well-being, and even your personal relationships. Those feelings of low value can extend into burnout and low self-worth in all elements of your life. Imposter syndrome can cause you to prioritize your career over your relationships with your friends and family.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

You can overcome imposter syndrome, but it will be a long-term process. However, conquering these feelings is a necessary act if you want to continue to advance your career.

For instance, if you’re facing imposter syndrome after returning to work after long-term unemployment, you’ll need to work through your feelings of being inadequate for the jobs that you’re applying for. Once you find a job that deserves your skills, you can prove your worth to your employer.

To get over that initial challenge of finding a job, though, consider consulting with a recruiter or visiting your college’s career center to talk with a career counselor. Talking with a professional can help you to see your skills and experience as an employer would view — and value — them, reinforcing your qualifications and worth as an employee.

Mentoring also plays an important role in overcoming imposter syndrome. If you’re a member of a marginalized group, like a professional with a disability, you may have difficulty envisioning yourself in a leadership or supervisory professional role. Working with a mentor can help you identify and overcome the mental blocks that may be holding you back. A mentor who works in the same field as you can also provide you with valuable career advice and insights that can boost your confidence.

Whether you’re employed or starting your own business, setting and achieving goals can increase your feelings of accomplishment and self-worth. Set reasonable goals and track your progress toward each goal, including the specific steps that you’re taking to make that goal a reality. When that goal is achieved, celebrate and give yourself the credit that you’re due. Keep a journal or list of these goals and how you accomplished them and revisit that list when feelings of self-doubt set in.

Consider seeing a therapist, too. A therapist can provide you with customized, specific techniques to help you identify the cause of your imposter syndrome and to manage and overcome it. Whether you’re trying to stay motivated in a toxic work environment or are feeling unsure about your newest business venture, being able to talk through your emotions and struggles with a therapist can be a valuable tool.

Overcoming imposter syndrome is a long-term process, but remember that you’re not the only person who is dealing with self-doubt in their career. Managing and overcoming this self-doubt is just one valuable way to improve your happiness, and you may find that you’re more satisfied and confident in your career as a result.