Imposter Syndrome is something many of us have experienced throughout our lives – nearly 70 percent, in fact, according to a review in the International Journal of Behavioral Science – both at and outside of work. It often manifests itself as feelings of doubt; individuals believe they are getting lucky or fooling people rather than reaping the rewards of hard work.
The good news is this: we don’t have to accept Imposter Syndrome as inevitable or permanent. There are research-based strategies to help us break this draining, unproductive internal cycle of doubt.
“Imposter syndrome is loosely defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud,” explain Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey in their influential 2021 Harvard Business Review article, Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome.
People experiencing Imposter Syndrome might fear being exposed as a fraud or continually doubt their value and downplay their achievements. Imposter Syndrome can be a response to change or uncertainty – such as a promotion at work or even joining a new gym – and can be impacted by individual mindset, cultural contexts, and family patterns.
Tulshyan and Burey continue, “It disproportionately affects high-achieving people, who find it difficult to accept their accomplishments. Many question whether they’re deserving of accolades. Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes developed the concept, originally termed ‘imposter phenomenon,’ in their 1978 founding study, which focused on high-achieving women.”
Imposter Syndrome comes at a high cost. It can prevent us from sharing our ideas or asking questions we want to ask. We might hesitate to try new things for fear of not being perfect or we might develop a tendency to over-prepare.
Tulshyan and Burey make the important point that Imposter Syndrome inherently blames the individual for these feelings of inadequacy or fraudulence, while systemic racism, classism, xenophobia, and other biases are in fact at the root of how what we call Imposter Syndrome manifests itself, particularly for women and women of color.
They write, “The answer to overcoming imposter syndrome is not to fix individuals but to create an environment that fosters a variety of leadership styles and in which diverse racial, ethnic, and gender identities are seen as just as professional as the current model, which [associate professor at Babson College Tina] Opie describes as usually ‘Eurocentric, masculine, and heteronormative'.”
And if you are a leader at your company, be sure to check out Tulshyan and Burey’s follow-up article, End Imposter Syndrome in Your Workplace, which is useful in terms of laying out steps companies can take to help reverse the systemic culture that breeds feelings of inadequacy and fraudulence, particularly in underrepresented employees
It is with respect for and acknowledgment of the validity of Tulshyan and Burey’s points that we feel it is important to offer advice to help combat feelings of Imposter Syndrome.
While it should not be, and is not, the responsibility of the individual to “fix” him-, her-, or themselves, we believe there are several strategies individuals can take to improve their confidence. Or, if you are a manager, there are things you can do to help, not only to affect your broader company culture, but encourage your team members to overcome their feelings of doubt.
Dr. Valerie Young, renowned expert on Impostor Syndrome and author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, identifies five types of imposters:
Which type resonates with you most? More than likely, you find yourself relating to elements of more than one type. Your external situation might also influence which type you relate to most. For instance, folks working at startups are often asked to play many roles, “wear many hats,” or in this context, be a Superhuman.
A big part of Imposter Syndrome is how we see ourselves. To begin disrupting the cycle of doubt, we must actively work to see ourselves differently. It is easier to control actions than emotions, so when we focus on our actions, we can feel our emotions shift. That’s where these strategies come in.
It is helpful to think in terms of disruption rather than elimination because the goal of eliminating Imposter Syndrome completely may feel too big or insurmountable. Instead, we simply want to disrupt the cycle as soon as possible. Maybe we start with an easier strategy and then work up to some that might be more of a reach. Below are seven strategies we recommend for starting that disruption.
Here again, one or more of these strategies could be applied to one or more types of Imposter. These are here simply as tools for you to begin to identify those feelings of doubt and put together a unique framework for disruption.
Highrise coaches can help you develop more strategies to combat Imposter Syndrome in your own life. Schedule a time to chat with us today.
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