Is Imposter Syndrome affecting your career?

Adam Jasnikowski

Imposter Syndrome (2)

​Have you heard of imposter syndrome?

It doesn’t sound like a real thing, I know; however imposter syndrome is in fact alive and thriving in today’s corporate world. This psychological phenomenon is said to affect up to 70% of people at some point during their life – a huge number – and can be found in people at literally any career level, from graduates to CEOs and beyond.

So, what is it?

Well, Harvard Business Review called it, “…a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.” Others have described imposter syndrome as the feeling of simply not deserving the position you’ve found yourself in; overall, it’s essentially a remnant of the “fake it ‘til you make it” attitude (despite now, likely having actually made it thanks to knowledge, hard work, skill or all of the above), coupled with a large dose of self-doubt and a generous helping of inadequacy.

Sounds like fun, huh.

We’ve all been there: the times where you’re not quite sure how, but you reached target; you were asked a complicated question and somehow gave a coherent, relevant and knowledgeable-sounding answer that you didn’t know you had in you; you got the promotion over colleagues who you were sure would be first in line. Imposter syndrome is essentially the sense of being undeserving, inadequate or incapable of performing the job we find ourselves in – despite doing so, handily and consistently – and no one really knows why it happens.

It’s not correlated with lack of self-confidence or low self-esteem; in fact, it’s more likely to occur in high-performing, overachieving individuals. Imposter syndrome sufferers are largely perfectionists; so, it’s not driven by actually being a bit crap at whatever it is you’re doing. It’s the opposite: you do well, yet despite seeing the results and fruits of your labour, are convinced that it’ll soon all come crashing down and everyone will be onto you.

It can be really, really tough to deal with.

People who suffer from imposter syndrome tend to attribute their successes to something other than themselves: I just got lucky; I got the job because no one else showed up to interview; I won because everyone else was off their game today. They’ll play down successes – “It’s really nothing, back to work I go,” – and oftentimes will spend time after the fact worrying over how things went well, what happened and – worse yet – how they’ll have to make up for it when things inevitably do come out in the wash – those ‘things’ being how you really don’t know what you’re doing, are a fake, and so on and so forth.

Self-destructive is the term we’re looking for, I do believe.

Imposter syndrome, unsurprisingly, can be extremely detrimental to your career. Many people simply won’t apply for that promotion, new job or pay rise, convinced that they don’t deserve or wouldn’t achieve it anyway; it can lead to missed opportunities for learning, development and progression, despite there being no real reason for thinking this way – in fact, usually, in spite of real results and achievements which say otherwise.

Imposter syndrome can affect decision making ability, leaving a person unable to pull the trigger on this or that, because you feel as though it’s destined to fail regardless.

Worst of all, it can leak out of your work life and into your personal life, causing havoc in its wake.

Imposter syndrome is no laughing matter.

So how can we mitigate it? What can we do to help ourselves out when those feelings of self-doubt and, “How in the world did I end up here?” start to creep in?

Well, experts say that having regular reviews with yourself help – not with work, a colleague or boss, just yourself. Go through your successes, the achievements you’ve made and how far you’ve come. When you feel the usual doubts and negative thoughts clouding your mind, acknowledge and then dissect them – is there any truth to them, at all? If so, what can you do to navigate and remove that doubt? Whether that be educating yourself further, asking for help or otherwise.

Most importantly, learn to celebrate the wins and give yourself some credit – you’d be accountable for your failures, so why isn’t the same to be said for the things that have gone well? Remember – you got here somehow, ahead of your peers, colleagues and competitors, and there’s something to be said for that.

Give yourself a pat on the back. You’re doing just fine.