How to manage your Imposter Syndrome
by Nick Gubb on 18 September 2023
Welcome to part two of this two-part series on Imposter Syndrome. In this final part, Nick Gubb writes about how you can manage your Imposter Syndrome.
Understanding more about the symptoms and impacts of Imposter Syndrome, I could recognise how the imposter cycle was unconsciously running itself in a constant loop for a fair chunk of my day-to-day workload.
It all started to make sense.
When I had something to deliver, anxiety and self-doubt would kick in, leading to two options: procrastinate and defer it or go overboard with the preparation.
After finishing the task, I felt relieved that I had completed it and it hadn't gone pear-shaped.
Following this feeling was the realisation that I was only "successful" due to a streak of luck. Or the sense that the sheer amount of effort I had to put in was masking my lack of skills.
I would also discount the positive feedback provided and carry the anxiety into the next piece of work.
Once I recognised the symptoms and behaviour, I was relieved that I was (mostly) normal, but I still needed to stop or at least limit its effects. Dr Valerie Young categorised it into five groups, each with its tailored approach to dealing with the issues:
- The Perfectionist sets excessively high goal for themselves.
- The Superhero pushes to work harder and harder.
- The Natural Genius judges success based on their abilities instead of their efforts.
- The Rugged Individualist feels asking for help reveals their phoniness.
- The Expert feels like they tricked their employer into hiring them.
The following are the slides with a more detailed description for each group:
Having identified traits from each category that seemed to fit, I was worried that I had formed some Imposter Voltron or Captain Planet. On closer inspection, I leaned towards one type more than the others.
In conjunction with a better understanding of the Imposter loop, it was time to break the cycle.
For me, it was all about listening to the people that surrounded me. Being lucky enough to have a couple of high-quality friendships at work meant I already had an 'in' to reducing the isolation that Imposter Syndrome creates. After some honest conversations, I didn't feel entirely alone in dealing with secrets of incompetence.
I started by pinching some ideas from psychologists with a wealth of information gained through their studies of high-performing people and understanding how their self-efficacy might help me.
It's the stuff we all intuitively know we should be doing, such as:
- Setting high goals
- Welcoming and thriving on challenge
- Remaining self-motivated
- Putting sufficient effort into accomplishing our goals
- Persevering through obstacles
But how would I adapt that to the next task I had to deliver?
I started recording my successes. You are already achieving success in other parts of your life. Start taking note of them. It was as simple as having a folder in my email client to which I would move the 'thank you' or 'well done' emails.
Every so often, I would read through them, and it would help me to remember the stuff I've done that people enjoyed, found helpful, or were glad to have received. As an added benefit, it also prepared me for the annual performance review session, where I could discuss my achievements.
I learned from and observed others. Watching a few people I respected in navigating and achieving success was helpful. When they mess up, find out why. Ask what strategies they used to get back on their feet.
Surround yourself with awesome people. This is much easier if you have a good culture at work, but having a selection of colleagues who support and encourage you is a brilliant way to give that worried voice in your head some much-needed competition. The same people will often see why you succeeded at something you may have overlooked.
It's all about turning your inner critic into a coach. It's impossible to shut down your inner critic completely, but instead, I tried turning the internal criticism into something more constructive.
- Label the feelings and anxieties you have when they happen.
- Talk about them. This part isn't easy, but it's another important reason for having those great social connections at work. We all need someone who can listen when we're struggling.
- Figure out the root causes. Now that you know your feelings, it's time to figure out why. What situations, people, or challenges bring your inner critic out of the woodwork? What's the underlying pattern here?
- Have some self-compassion. Many people think they aren't cut out for their roles at some point or another in their careers. You aren't alone. Being too self-assured can be a liability of a different sort. Go easy on yourself and remember that with some practice and self-awareness, you can get past this, too.
People tend not to talk about their struggle with Imposter Syndrome because they believe they're the only ones experiencing it. Almost everyone who's ever confronted big challenges has felt that way. The more we communicate about our fears and anxieties, and the wiser we are about how they operate, the easier they'll be to shrug off the next time they pop up. It's a game of whack-a-mole that we can win.
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