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How to recognise and defeat imposter syndrome

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Up to 70% of us suffer from what’s known as imposter syndrome. Here are some tips on how to start overcoming feelings of self-doubt at work and celebrate your strengths instead.

Feel like a fraud in your own career? Fight back against imposter syndrome.

Ever get that nagging feeling that you’re not good enough? Do you sometimes worry that luck has got you to where you are? That your accomplishments aren't the result of your ability, talent and experience? Or even feel like you’re about to be discovered as a fraud at work?

If so, you’re not alone. It’s called imposter syndrome. Around 70% of us experience it at some point during our careers. It can affect everyone. In fact, even the most highly accomplished people can feel like they don’t deserve the success they’ve worked for. And research shows that women and people from minority groups (particularly women of colour) are most likely to experience this in their careers.

Leave imposter syndrome to fester and you risk not reaching the potential you know you can achieve. This is because feeling like a fraud can put you off taking on new challenges. And it can also be linked to anxiety, depression and burnout. So, it’s crucial to have some strategies to tackle it.

Dig into the root cause

As we know through talking to candidates at HR GO, people often experience imposter syndrome when they’ve had a career success. For instance, it's not uncommon when you’ve started a new job. Or even when you’ve just been promoted. In addition, you can experience it when you're put onto a new project or have become qualified in a certain field.

Others might treat you as you deserve to be treated - as someone whose experience, qualifications and knowledge makes them perfect for the job. But if you can’t recognise the fact you’ve made these successes happen you’ll still see yourself as undeserving.

It might help by starting to track and note down whenever you’re experiencing self-doubt or inadequacy at work. Try to dig into why you’re feeling like this.

Challenge the chatter

Feeling that you don’t deserve to be where you are, or everything you’ve achieved has been down to luck, can be exhausting.

Our advice is to try and challenge this chatter in your head. Ask yourself if this is a fact, or just a belief your brain is offering you. What evidence do you have to back up the feeling that you’re out of your depth?

Get outside perspective

Chances are, you’ll have suffered in silence while battling imposter syndrome. That makes sense. If you’re worried about not being up to the job, you’re probably less likely to broadcast your fears. But it really helps to talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. This can put things in context and give you a reality check.

It’s best to choose someone outside of your immediate team but who still understands your work environment. Perhaps a former colleague or work friend from another company. Your chats may well reveal that friends and colleagues also feel like imposters at work too.

Other strategies to break the habit of self-doubt

  • Look at the evidence. Keep screenshots or bookmarks of glowing emails and messages from managers or colleagues handy. Or start writing in a ‘success diary’ every few days. This will remind you of the hard work you’ve put in to get to where you are.
  • Treat self-doubt as temporary. Try to reframe how you’re feeling as something fleeting. For example, ‘Even though I feel inadequate at the moment, that doesn’t mean that I really am’.
  • Look for chances to teach others. Helping less experienced colleagues as a guide or by becoming a mentor can help you see how much knowledge and experience you really do have.

Re-training your brain

Most of us have questioned our performance at work. All of us occasionally have bad days. But if crippling self-doubt is a common feeling during your career, it’s vital to deal with what is probably imposter syndrome. You deserve to enjoy your work life, and it could just stop you in your tracks.

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