5 ways to tackle the Impostor syndrome at work: The fear of being ‘found out’

by | Jun 3, 2017 | Anxiety at work, General Anxiety, Social Anxiety

The Impostor Syndrome

The fear of being ‘found out’, or the Impostor syndrome, as it is known, is something so many of us struggle with. The workplace is a stressful environment at the best of times. The challenges of the job and constant deadlines can make for a tense atmosphere. Whatever we are dealing with, there will always be some levels of stress involved. So, why do we insist on making it harder than it already is?

Here’s how the Impostor syndrome works. Everything you have accomplished in your life, and every position you have held in your career can be explained away by sheer luck, good timing, the kindness of others, or the intervention of a divine power. Everyone else out there is so much better, more deserving, more accomplished, and more confident. The people that have hired you have been duped, taken in, the wool pulled over their eyes.

When you are finally, and inevitably, found out, not only will you be humiliated, but also there will be the guilt of having to look your boss in the eye, before you are escorted off the premises. “And to think I trusted and believed in you”, she might say, shaking her head disappointedly, as you are led away.

Ok, I’m going too far, but you get the picture. Ultimately, we feel fraudulent, and it is only a matter of time before we are exposed as exactly that. And what is worse than exposure, public humiliation and embarrassment in our minds? Well, possibly death, but beyond that, it’s one of our greatest fears as humans.

While all sorts of people are effected by the Impostor syndrome, it is particularly prominent with people who struggle with Social Anxiety or General Anxiety. If you are already a worrier, or are constantly struggling with what others think of you, this fear is likely to be part of your daily routine. So, here’s 5 tips to try and get your Impostor syndrome out of your mind, and under control.


1. Begin to normalise what you are feeling…you are not alone!

I feel like a fraud, therefore I AM HUMAN

First off, call it out…know that it is a ‘thing’ (a very common one at that). It’s something that most people struggle with, including many of the most successful people we know. Acknowledge that the Impostor syndrome is what you are feeling. It is not real, but it is a shared human experience. Normalise it for yourself.

It is always best to know what you are dealing with, so then you can begin to tackle it. Anxiety thrives on vagueness. Walking around with an anxious feeling in your stomach, or a vague sense of unease is the perfect environment for an anxious mind to go into overdrive.
Call it out… “ah, here’s the old Impostor Syndrome”.


2. Start looking at the evidence…but remove yourself from the picture

we are experts at dismissing the positive evidence about ourselves

It may be time to stick up for yourself against the thoughts in your head. After all, they are just words. They are not necessarily wise, truthful, threatening, or accurate. Start looking at the actual facts. But do it as if you were talking to a friend who was struggling with Impostor syndrome. We do this, because we are experts at dismissing the evidence about us.

How have you actually been doing over the last few months, or years? What have your managers said about you? How have appraisals gone? What have you been trusted with? How are you seen by your peers? What have you accomplished?

Try and do this objectively, and not through your “I’m rubbish” filter. Step back, look at the evidence, and talk about yourself in the third person, or use a different name… “Peter is actually doing pretty well”.

Keep finding things you do well, and reasons you may be valued (whether they are actually called out by others, or things you do that you would value in others). Keep a diary, if needed, or a weekly achievements sheet. Whatever you do, keep in mind point one above…I am struggling with feelings of fraudulence; therefore, I will always doubt my own abilities. If you are aware of that, you can expect to get in your own way on this one. Keep pushing through.


3. Are all the people who have hired you blind to your failings?

Maybe it’s not everyone else who is missing your glaring inadequacies, but you who is underestimating your own talents.

It’s only a matter of time before I’m found out. They will be on to me, etc, etc. Are you saying that it’s so obvious that you are fooling everyone, yet so many intelligent people have been hoodwinked? Are they fools? Are they blind to your ineptitude? After hiring such a fraud, how could they make the mistake of keeping you on?

Maybe, just maybe, you should trust the judgement of those above you on this one, and start doubting your own? Ever think of that? Ever think you could be the one whose judgement might be off?
Maybe, at this moment in time, YOU are the one who cannot be trusted when it comes to thoughts about YOU? Maybe it’s not everyone else who is missing your glaring inadequacies, but you who is underestimating your own talents.


4. Stop comparing yourself to others

I used this one in an article recently about social anxiety at work, but it’s equally as relevant here.

The ability to compare ourselves accurately with others is a good tool. It can show us our strengths, but also where we might need to improve. The problem, however, is that comparing ourselves accurately is often impossible. Our starting point is the belief that others are better, more intelligent, more competent. We underestimate our strengths and overplay the talents of others.

We usually pick the one talent that other people have that we do not, so we are judging ourselves against everyone else’s super-power. We are unable to be objective when we are in the Impostor Syndrome frame of mind, and it invariably goes bad for us.

Until you are able to acknowledge your own strengths and abilities, just stop the comparisons.


5. Allow yourself to be learning and making mistakes

We should always be living on the edge of our comfort-zone

I think what often feeds into the Impostor Syndrome, is our inability to see everything as a learning process. There are no jobs anymore where you learn to do something, and that’s you for the next 40 years (thankfully!). We start a job, and we are frantically trying to prove ourselves, and live up to whatever the hell we wrote on our CV. Then, as soon as we are comfortable, we are doing something else…and so it continues, if, of course, we are to have a full and varied career.

We should always be living on the edge of our comfort-zone. We are never experts. As soon as we approach the mark, we are challenged in some other way, a new role, or new job. This has to happen if we are to progress and grow. Unfortunately, this brings with it its own problems. We are often in a space where we are constantly learning. Because we don’t know everything, we feel we do not know enough, and we could be caught out. We do not allow ourselves the right to not know, and come back to someone later. And we certainly don’t allow ourselves mistakes.

If we can learn to be easier on ourselves, and acknowledge that we cannot know everything, then we may be able to ease that feeling of being found out.


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