Overcoming imposter syndrome completely is a mammoth task. So, is it possible to learn to live alongside it productively?
It can give us crippling self-doubt, sleepless nights, and anxiety at work. But, given that many of us live with imposter syndrome – three in five workers, according to job search site Indeed – is it time to work out how we can live with it, rather than expecting rapid change? Should we learn how to channel imposter syndrome usefully? And can it lead to greater diligence or more success in the workplace? If you accept that your imposter syndrome is part of your professional make-up, perhaps you can reframe it...
So, how do you start? With help from counsellor Jennifer Warwick, we’re exploring three steps.
1. Acknowledge and accept
It’s likely that your current imposter syndrome isn’t the first time you have experienced this feeling. Think back to your school days: did you fret over schoolwork or exams? Did you often expect bad marks?
“It is essential to remember that you’ve done hard things before,” says Jennifer. “Take a step back and look at everything you have accomplished. If imposter syndrome is something you’ve experienced throughout your life, remind yourself of a time you felt like this. Remind yourself how you did it, despite convincing yourself that you couldn’t, that you weren’t good enough, or that you would mess it up.”
According to Jennifer, acknowledging that you won’t be the only person feeling this way can also be helpful. “Remind yourself that imposter syndrome is more common than you might think, and is experienced by many high-achieving individuals,” she says. “Remind yourself not to let this imposter syndrome get in the way, and maybe use it as motivation. Tell yourself that you deserve to be there and are doing a good job, which will help you carry on.”
2. Pivot the four ‘P’s
In her book, Ditching Imposter Syndrome, author Clare Josa writes that the four ‘P’s of imposter syndrome are: perfectionism, paralysis, people-pleasing, and procrastination. Perhaps you recognise a couple of these traits in yourself, and they cause you to doubt yourself. But maybe these self-perceived ‘weaknesses’ can serve you well.
Often thought to be a fault, perfectionism can actually be rebranded as something useful. Instead of worrying over tiny details, see it as being thorough.
If it’s procrastination or paralysis you’re experiencing, then lean into it. Instead of berating yourself, tell yourself that you are planning or mulling over your next challenge, and not diving in feet-first. Perhaps this is just the way you approach your work.
People-pleasing can also be reframed. It doesn’t always need to be thought of as a negative quality. Perhaps you haven’t acknowledged this part of your skillset before. People-pleasers tend to be good communicators, empathetic, and diplomatic. Yes, you need to remember your own needs too, but in a work setting, wanting everyone to be satisfied is not a bad goal.
As with any personality trait, we do still need to try to ensure that facet of imposter syndrome doesn’t become destructive.
“Be aware and conscious of the potential for burnout,” Jennifer warns. “The best way of doing that is by setting boundaries, perhaps around your time. Think about spending a set amount of time on this particular job rather than doing it until it’s finished to perfection. Adding the time factor to the task at hand puts a nice boundary around it, and you’re less likely to head into burnout territory.”
3. Record your wins
If you experience some concerns about your professional performance (and, let’s face it, who doesn’t?) these feelings are valid, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t up to the job.
Jennifer says: “When you find yourself questioning your ability that’s when you can stop and go, ‘OK, hold on a minute, this is how I’m feeling.’ Recognise that you feel like this because this task or job is important to you, and you want to do your best.”
It’s very easy to cling to feelings of negativity, but remembering the positives is vital. “Noticing and recording positive feedback when you receive it helps you remember when you have been successful,” Jennifer recommends. Print out emails or keep a folder for when self-doubt creeps in.
Sometimes in life, we must learn to live alongside the challenges. Perhaps you never gelled with public speaking, or networking. You might be expected to carry out both professionally. It’s possible to look at imposter syndrome like this, too. It’s something you have to navigate, but it’s just a part of your day. And, ultimately, it doesn’t have to hold you back from great things.