How to deal with imposter syndrome

17 Mar 2021

How to deal with imposter syndrome

One of my clients told me that she got a promotion at work. She has got a role with higher responsibility and gets to head a team. She will be responsible for a challenging function, one that is critical for the organization.

She says that she is capable of executing the role and deliver, but she does not know if she is deserving. She also heard through grapevine that the members in her current team were wondering as how she got the role and if she deserved it. How was she considered for the position and will she fit the bill.  The discussion was that may be she had pulled some strings?

A few weeks into accepting the new role and only a few days prior to transitioning into it, my client is now wondering if she must decline.

What’s going on in the mind of this person?

Why do smart women underestimate themselves?

Why do smart women who are considered as fit for the job, and are given the opportunity, doubt themselves?

When others see them capable, why do they still believe they don’t deserve it.

This is due to what is called the “Imposter Syndrome”.

All women experience this, across industries, across experience levels, and even the most successful ones are not an exception.

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.

In psychological terms it means that people who suffer from imposter syndrome are people who are  unable to internalize their accomplishments.

It is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved. Individuals with impostorism incorrectly attribute their success to luck, or interpret it as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be. While early research focused on the prevalence among high-achieving women, impostor syndrome has been recognized to affect both men and women equally.

What does imposter syndrome look like in women. Here are some examples:

  • Waiting for others to give their opinion in a meeting before you speak up about something you’re working on
  • Not negotiating your salary because you are just grateful to have a job offer in the first place
  • Thinking the reason others are more ‘successful’ than you is because they are inherently smarter or more qualified
  • Playing it safe and being afraid to take risks in your professional life, like proposing a new project or strategy
  • Not asking for the support you need because you don’t want to appear incompetent or needy

I am sure you recognize that some of these scenarios are true for you.

If you recognize that you suffer from imposter syndrome, here are some tips or hacks to deal with it.

Self-awareness is key. Be honest with yourself. Acknowledge it if you experience it. Once you realize that you are dealing with the syndrome, reasoning out to yourself every time you feel low can become easy.  This also means that you will seek help.

Begin with your personal assessment. Know your strengths and weaknesses.  This can be done through a simple swot analysis where you can list down your domain expertise, skills, certifications, your work experience, your prospects, potential etc.  You can also list down your weaknesses or areas in which you need to improve. The swot important, as if there are really some areas in which you should improve or upskill, you need to include it in your development plan.

Celebrate your successes. We don’t do a good job at this. While we brood over failure, the happiness of a success vanishes in just a few hours. It’s important to know ones accomplishments and the reasons for it. At the same time, it is important to know your failures and the reasons for it. Acknowledge that your successes were due to your abilities and your failures are really a part of life and everyone deals with them. One can’t have it all. Treat success and failure as two sides of the same coin.

Identify the triggers. When you experience feelings of self-doubt, identify the triggers. What trigged the feeling. Was it a staff meeting when your team applauded you for your success, or was it an appreciation email that you received. Knowing what trigged it can help you deal with it.

Change your narrative. Visualize your success. Personal transformation begins with the right story in your head.  Break the cycle of limiting beliefs that lead of lack of action that leads to poor results. Poor results reinforce your limiting beliefs. Your entire life can change in a year. You have to love yourself enough to know your deserve more, be brave enough to demand more and be disciplined enough to actually work for more. Begin each day with positive affirmative that “Today you will be the best version of yourself and will do every thing in your power to live it with authenticity”.

Be in the company of positive people. Stay in the company of people who have a positive mindset and who will support you in your journey – be in professional or personal. Surround yourself with people that push you to do better, no drama or negativity, just higher goals and higher motivation. Your group or friends must bring out the absolute best in each other.

Have a support group at work. Be open about your symptoms with colleagues at work. You will realize that it may not be just you who deal with this kind of thinking.

Know that men and women are wired differently. It is important to be aware of psychological differences between men and women and how the two are wired differently. This will give you insights into how men and women think differently about their work, work performance and priorities in life in general. These have a huge impact on how they view themselves and also how they accept compliments, recognition, new roles and positions at work and how they demand for better pay and perks.

Know that there are biases that exist everywhere. It is important to be aware of the biases that exist in the society and specifically in the work place. You need to be aware that due to cultural conditioning, women’s work performance and men’s work performance and viewed differently and rewarded differently. Being aware of these factors, will make you take some positive steps to assert yourself at work.

As men progress in their careers, their feelings of self-doubt reduce with time. This happens because, as they perform their tasks well and achieve their targets, they are recognized in the organization. They are appropriately rewarded and are given higher positions. They have other men as role models who are like them – and their competence, contributions and leadership style are rarely questioned or challenged. Hence, their confidence and abilities are validated by the environment they are in.

In the case of women, it is the opposite. When women demonstrate strength, ambition and resilience, deal with the stressful situations and crises on a daily basis, they deal with the expectations and assumptions that are formed by stereotypes and gender racism. As a result, they often find themselves at the bottom of the leadership pipeline and are not appreciated as they should be. The feelings of imposter syndrome that women deal with are aggravated due to the work environment.

Apart from women taking responsibility for their careers, its also important to ensure that there are systemic and policy changes at work to ensure that bias against women at the work place is reduced.  Steps need to be taken to ensure that the work place becomes more conducive for advancement of women to higher levels at work.  Steps need to be taken to achieve this and I will talk about it in another blog.

About Author

Sandhya Reddy is a PCC Accredited Executive Coach and Leadership coach based in Bangalore, India. She is the Founder and Principal Coach at Chapter Two Coaching, a coaching consultancy that specializes in leadership development.  She has over 750+ hours of experience with coaching senior professionals. She has enabled personal transformation for over 1500+ individuals through coaching interventions, workshops, webinars and mentoring.

Chapter Two helps leaders in middle levels and senior levels engage better with their teams, peers and senior stakeholders. We help teams develop a growth and performance mindset, align better with the organizational culture and values and function more cohesively. We are also passionate about women’s leadership development and have developed a practice around it. We enable leadership development through 1:1 coaching interventions and through a set of curated leadership and personal transformational workshops.




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