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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Kerry Thompson
Don’t worry though, you're not broken, you're not strange, and you're definitely not in the minority.

Before we talk about overcoming Imposter Syndrome, let's first address what it actually is. Do any of these statements resonate?

  • "I don't belong here."
  • "I got lucky."
  • "I'm not good enough to be here."
  • "I'm a fraud, and it's just a matter of time before everyone finds out."
  • "I'm not as good as *insert name*."
  • "I'm not achieving what people expect of me."

If so, you could be experiencing imposter syndrome. Don’t worry though, you're not broken, you're not strange, and you're definitely not in the minority. According to a report by Access Commercial Finance, 62% of people at work are affected by imposter syndrome. The survey of over 3000 adults in the UK shows over two-thirds of women (66%) have suffered from imposter syndrome, compared to over half of men (56%) within the last 12 months. Other studies suggest the figure could be more like 70%.

'Imposter' Types

Imposter syndrome presents itself in many different ways. Here are some examples:

  • Supermen” or “superwomen” push themselves to work harder than those around them to prove that they’re not imposters. They feel the need to succeed in all aspects of life; at work, as parents, as partners, as friends. They may feel stressed when they are not accomplishing something. They may always have a to-do list on the go!
  • "Perfectionists” set extremely high expectations for themselves. Even if they meet 99% of their goals, they’re going to feel like failures. Any minor mistake will make them question their own competence.
  • Experts” feel the need to know every piece of information before they start a project or a piece of work. They may constantly look for new certifications or training courses to improve their skills. They won’t apply for a job unless they meet every criteria (and more!). They may be more introverted and hesitate to ask a question in a meeting or workshop for fear of 'looking stupid' or saying something silly.  
  • When the “natural genius” has to struggle or work hard to accomplish something, it can feel as though they aren’t good enough. They were perhaps top of the class at school or university, and are used to knowledge and skills coming easily, so when they have to put additional effort in, their brain tells them it's because they're not good enough; they're an imposter.
  • Soloists” feel they have to accomplish tasks on their own, and if they need to ask for help, they think that means they are a failure or a fraud. They may procrastinate rather than ask for help.

So, the big question is how to overcome imposter syndrome.

I'll let you into a secret….

….there's no magic trick….

….there's no quick win….

….but there are some techniques and tips you can practice.

And how do I know these work?

Because I experience imposter syndrome (note the present tense, not the past tense!), and when I hear those voices of self-doubt, I use these exact techniques to silence the voices.

It works, trust me!

Before I launch into the tips though, let me start with this:

"The only way to stop feeling like an impostor is to stop thinking like an impostor."

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome 

  1. Know the signs

It's easy to overlook the signs in our day-to-day lives. A good first step is to recognise the signs. Pay attention to the language you use when you talk about other people and also yourself.

2. Know you're not alone

Some of the most successful people in the world have experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their careers. Here's a very famous example:

"I have written eleven books, but each time I think, 'uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'"

- Author, Poet & Civil Rights Activist Maya Angelou

And a great quotation on how to deal with it:

"The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.”

Actress, Writer & Producer Tina Fey, from her book 'Bossypants'

3. Let go of your inner perfectionist

The key here is to strive for excellence when it matters most, but don't over-engineer or overdo routine tasks. Often, when you feel like a fraud, it's not because you’re comparing yourself to something (or someone!), tangible; you're comparing yourself to an impossible and unrealistic 'perfect' outcome you've defined for yourself, that you'd never define for someone else.

4. Accept you’ll make mistakes and even fail

Develop a healthy response to failure and making mistakes. Henry Ford once said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” Embrace mistakes as a learning experience and consider what you might do differently next time.

5. Visualize success

Do what professional athletes do and spend time picturing yourself making a successful presentation, or calmly posing your question in a meeting. If you picture positivity, it comes more naturally, rather than focusing on impending doom!

6. Break the silence - it’s good to talk! 

It's true what they say, it's good to talk, especially when you're struggling. People can feel shame from expressing their fears and showing their vulnerabilities, but they shouldn’t. Sharing your thoughts and experiences will make you better equipped to deal with your imposter syndrome.

Family and friends are great, but for something like imposter syndrome, their natural need to care for you emotionally can end up unintentionally fuelling your fear. Instead, it’s ideal to talk with someone who can be more impartial.

You may choose to talk to your Manager or a work colleague. Some may find this uncomfortable as they are fearful of being so open and honest about something they see as a flaw. It can very much depend on the relationship you have with your manager or colleagues.

This is where a Mentor can be the ideal source. A Mentor can help you to talk more candidly about your struggles in a safe, confidential environment, without judgement. The best Mentor will share the struggles and mistakes they've made in their own careers, and you will find they have helpful stories and advice about how to overcome the specific feelings you are having. As well as supporting you to manage your imposter syndrome, a good Mentor will also equip you with techniques for communicating with your Manager in a positive and productive way.

7. Embrace the feeling, and use it

It's really hard to get rid of imposter syndrome completely, especially if you've experienced it for a long time. You need to learn new habits that, after a while, will become second nature. You may never get rid of it completely; the trick is to not let it stop you from hindering your success.

8. Reward yourself

Break the cycle of continually seeking, but then dismissing, validation by learning to pat yourself on the back. When you get a compliment, accept it graciously. When you have a positive meeting, smile and be energised for the rest of the day.

9. Separate feelings from fact

There are times you’ll feel inferior. It happens to everyone at some point. Understand that just because you feel inferior, it doesn’t mean you are. Look at a situation factually and objectively, not emotionally.

These are just a few of the techniques that I use myself and encourage my clients to use. To find out more, or discuss any of these further, please feel free to get in touch. I offer a free discovery session for this exact purpose:

And as an additional offer, get in touch using the same link above if you would like a free worksheet on overcoming imposter syndrome, called "Adventure to Awesomeness".

And before I go, here's some trivia for you about the spelling of the word imposter; or should that be impostor?!

Did you know that both spellings of imposter/impostor are correct and used interchangeably between the UK and the USA (where there are often differences in the spelling of words; colour/color, tyre/tire etc). I came across this interesting article that explains it further;    

I'm a fan of "imposter" (not sure why!).

Good luck with the tips and let me know how you get on!

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