Have you ever felt like you don't deserve to be in the position you're in? Have you ever had that uncomfortable feeling that you haven’t earned your accomplishments? Perhaps you've experienced worrying that you might be being judged by those around you, that they could be thinking you aren't qualified to have the job that you do?
Well, trust us when we tell you that you are not alone. Studies show that up to 82% of people suffer from these feelings too. This dreaded concern of not being legitimately deserving of the reality you're in is often referred to as 'imposter syndrome', a term you will definitely have heard of. It’s arguably the single greatest threat to your career (and to you reaching your potential).
This post breaks down why imposter syndrome happens and covers a 3 step plan to overcome it. Let’s get started!
So, first of all, why does imposter syndrome happen? To answer this, we're going to look into a quirky cognitive bias called the 'Dunning-Kruger Effect'.
The 'Dunning-Kruger Effect' is the theory that novices experience overconfidence due to quick progression on the learning curve. While experts’ confidence drops because they realise what they don’t yet know. Paradoxically, the more you become an expert, the more you may feel like an imposter.
Understanding 'Dunning-Kruger Effect' is step #1 to beat imposter syndrome. You’ll see these negative feelings simply for what they are: bias. Feeling like an imposter may actually be a signal that you’re open minded and aware of all there is to learn, which shows emotional intelligence and makes you more likely to be able to learn more easily.
So, now we understand where this bias is coming from, here are 3 tips to beat imposter syndrome:
1. Realise you're not the only one
Remember that stat? Up to 82% of people are afflicted with imposter syndrome. It’s not a personal shortcoming. It’s a societal norm.
'Many psychologists believe that impostor syndrome is most common in high-achieving women and those who feel underrepresented or different from their colleagues such as people of colour, the LGBTQ community, etc.' Robert Glazer, Forbes
Why not discuss your feelings with others, especially those you hold in high regards, chances are that they've experienced it too.
When you realise that we're all doing what we can to push forward and make a positive difference, you start to see that any doubting of our capabilities or worthiness is pointless: it's not going to help us get where we want to go. So, if we can channel the energy we were going to spend on worrying into our progression instead then we'll be gain more experience and actually find the antidote we're looking for.
2. Hold your wins close
Our evolutionary wiring makes us focus more on negative stimuli than positive (for survival). Put simply: seeing threats in a jungle is more useful than seeing the beauty. As a result, we tend to overlook our own progress. Holding them close to us, especially when we're questioning our capabilities, will help us grow our confidence.
So, write down your wins—strong performance reviews, high grades, compliments, etc. Then regularly review them. See how far you’ve come and how seriously capable you are.
Another way of documenting your wins is to have a folder on your emails where you store positive feedback and an album on your phone of pictures of moments you felt proud of yourself for you to look back over when you need a reminder of your abilities.
3. Let go of perfectionism, aim for growth instead
The #1 factor that influences success in creative fields? The volume of work produced. 70-20-10 rule teaches:
- 70% of your work will not be great
- 20% will be average
- 10% will be amazing
If you’re avoiding failure, chances are that you’re avoiding success. Instead of aiming for perfection, focusing on a growth mindset - the belief that you can improve your abilities through dedication + hard work - will help you feel more confident in your position.