Imposter Syndrome (or IS) is often described as a feeling of professional self-doubt that can lead a competent employee to believe that he or she is not actually qualified to occupy a current position of skill, leadership, or responsibility. People who suffer from this form of cognitive bias often think of themselves themselves as frauds who are tricking the world into seeing them as qualified experts.
This syndrome takes root in certain professions more than others (coding and IT fields, for example)), and studies demonstrate that the bias impacts women and Americans of African descent more so.If you feel like IS might be playing a role in your working life, or even holding back the growth of your career, keep these considerations in mind. A few healthy reminders can mitigate the damage caused by misguided self-doubt.
Understand that it’s real
This is a well-documented condition; if you feel its effects, know that you’re not alone. Remember this the next time IS rears its snake-like head. Instead of saying to yourself “I don’t know what I’m talking about! I’m fooling everyone!” simply change the wording. Try “I suffer from Imposter Syndrome. It’s common. If others can push it aside and move on, I can too.”
Recognize that IS has a corollary
Cognitive bias is unpleasant and toxic, but it’s a part of human nature. It may help to recognize that IS has an opposing companion in the workplace known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. For every competent employee who suffers from a false sense of self-doubt, there’s a truly incompetent fool who believes he’s a star, simply because he doesn’t have the knowledge to assess what “competence” and “incompetence” look like. In fact, those who understand the differences are more likely to doubt themselves because they recognize both in many peers.
Ride it out
Sometimes fraudulent feelings don’t remain steady throughout the day (or week, or year). When they appear, they rise up in waves, pummel us for a short time, then fade back into the background. Let this happen, but remain mindful as the wave advances Don’t give in to a momentary urge to shout out your “failings,” quit your job, or run away from a presentation you’re about to make. Just breathe through it.
Instead of turning inward to look for the source of the problem—or engaging in a search for the broken part of you that can be “fixed”—look outward. Recognize IS as a symptom of perfectionism, especially among minorities in the workplace. If you feel like a fraud and you know that objective evidence doesn’t support this conclusion, push back. Understand what’s happening to you and why. Accept the cheerful, blustering incompetence taking place all around you. Forgive those who don’t measure up. Apply the same forgiveness to yourself, even when there’s nothing to forgive. We’re only human, and we’re all doing the best we can.
Be a mentor
Fighting back also means helping others to fight back. If you see coworkers suffering from this problem, especially colleagues younger than you, don’t watch them suffer in silence. Reach out and help them recognize and overcome this issue using the tools and reminders that work for you.
For more on how to survive the daily internal and external trials and tribulations of working life, explore the resources at MyPerfectResume.