How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome at Work

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is defined as the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills. You might feel it in any aspect of your life, but it’s particularly common when starting in a new role or when taking on new responsibilities. It can cause a lot of stress, so learning to deal with imposter syndrome is important for your mental health. 

In this blog, we’ll explore some things you can do to overcome imposter syndrome.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

1. Document Your Successes

There are many ways to help overcome imposter syndrome. One way that involves self-reflection and accountability is documenting your successes. Keep a success journal documenting your accomplishments and the challenges you have overcome. Don’t undermine your own accomplishments. If you don’t believe it is a big enough accomplishment, then talk to a trusted friend, coworker or mentor who can help you see it.   

Take time to reflect on your career development and achievements. What have you done to develop your career? Have you taken courses, seminars or been in coaching? All of these are major ways to develop your career and should be recognized. Make sure to remember all the reasons you were selected for the role. Many times, people quickly forget they went through a series of interviews designed to select the best candidate, and they wouldn’t be in the role if they weren’t truly qualified for it. List all of the skills and qualifications you have that helped you earn the role. 

2. Reframe Your Expectations

Define your success on your own terms, not by comparing yourself with others in your field. Imposter syndrome partially stems from self-doubt regarding whether you’ve succeeded or not in any given situation. Don’t expect perfection in everything you do. If perfection is your goal, you set yourself up for failure in your own mind. 

Look for facts as evidence to help reinforce that you are not an imposter.  Don’t hold back from opportunities because you don’t feel ready; this will only reinforce imposter syndrome. Even if you believe that you have made too many mistakes, or still think about a particular mistake, you can deserve a promotion. If you have consistently gotten positive feedback and encouragement from your coworkers and management, then you may be ready for a promotion. 

3. Frame Failure as a Learning Opportunity

Understand that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Failure can be a speed bump, but if you treat it as an opportunity to slow down and assess what went wrong, what you’re doing, and how you can improve for the future, you can grow and learn from that failure.  After all, if you don’t know that something doesn’t work then it can never be fixed. 

Another important reminder about failure is that if you fail, you are not a failure. Failure is a description of an event, not a person. Identify your strengths and find ways you can use them to excel. Take risks and learn from them when they fail or succeed.

4. Focus on Changing Your Internal Narrative

Identity is a huge factor in performance. If you are supposed to be a leader, but don’t identify yourself as one, it can feel unnatural to lead. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t, or that you’re bad at it. Instead you should focus on reducing negative self-talk. If you view yourself negatively, you’ll never see your positive qualities or your successes. Counseling yourself through failures with kindness and compassion is essential to gaining confidence and establishing your identity. The better you respond to your failures, the less they will hold you back from succeeding the next time around. 

Be aware of the stereotypes you face, and how those may be impacting your view of yourself. Don’t be afraid to utilize mantras or repeat affirmations to yourself. One that works well for others is to say what you are. For example, you might normally say you’re kind of a business professional or that you work in business. A way to make this a powerful mantra is to change the maybes, kind ofs, and half truths to a set statement. Telling yourself “I am a business professional” will improve your confidence and remind yourself of your title. List your qualifications and education to yourself when you feel that you’re an imposter in your field.

5. Avoid Comparing Yourself to Others Too Often

Recognizing your performance and how it compares to your peers can help ensure quality work, but may be misleading, especially when you are new to a role. If you are comparing yourself to someone who has been in the role for years, then your comparison won’t be accurate. It will make you feel like you aren’t doing your job, when in reality that person probably was at the same point early on in the same role. You may not have the full picture regarding what kind of help and resources a person had while producing their work. 

In a new role, you may be judging yourself unnecessarily harshly if you’re not yet familiar with expectations. Instead compare your performance to yourself. Your first month, a certain task might have taken two hours, but now a few months later it only takes one hour. These comparisons actually show progress and are more affirming from a mental health perspective. They are also helpful because you can track what helped you improve. Did you figure out a complex system, find a new way to organize tasks, or stop having to reference a guide for every step? That is trackable progress that will benefit your confidence in your role. Look to people who have been where you were, but don’t feel like you have to have the same skill set and progression as they did. Everybody has an area of specialty where they will thrive, but it is not the same for all people even in the same role. 

Your work doesn’t define who you are as a person. Separating the two in your mind so your self-esteem isn’t dependent on what happens at work is essential to both overcoming imposter syndrome and improving your overall mental health. Success does not require perfection so make sure you give yourself compassion and kindness.  

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