Have you ever experienced success in the workplace, but felt like you didn’t deserve it? You’re not alone. That feeling has a name – it’s called imposter syndrome, although some psychologists prefer the term impostor experience. Impostor syndrome is the sense of psychological discomfort some people experience when acknowledging their role in their success. Initially, researchers studied imposter syndrome to explain why women in leadership positions were less likely to attribute their success to their own achievements. Instead, they credited luck, timing, or other external factors. We now understand that impostor syndrome is experienced by people of all genders. Imposter syndrome can make you feel as though you don’t deserve the success you’ve achieved, and this can be really unsettling.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? Have you ever felt like you got where you are at work by accident? Often, this feeling arises after an accomplishment: a promotion, an award, a raise. However, it can also crop up anytime you’re faced with promoting yourself (during a job interview, annual review, performance evaluation, or even a casual chat about progress with your boss). You may second guess your qualifications or feel like you’re only getting an interview or promotion out of obligation or as a favor. If you’ve noticed these feelings before, you were probably experiencing impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome is that nasty little voice in your head telling you that you’re not good enough.
Here are some more signs that you may be dealing with impostor syndrome:
Minor mistakes make you melt down
Humans make mistakes, and you’re no exception. If you’re making small mistakes here and there, that’s a part of life. Nothing in life is perfect and you can’t hold yourself to a standard of perfection for everything. It will just exhaust you and make you feel even more anxious that you’ll mess something up. It’s also okay to ask for support if you need it!
You work constantly
Do you feel like you have to work yourself to the bone to earn your place at work? Often impostor syndrome tells you that you didn’t do enough to earn your success so it can make you feel like you need to work harder to make up for it. Remember that impostor syndrome is not based on what’s really true – it’s just the story you’re telling yourself. Take a step back and remind yourself of the facts – you work hard, you have experience, you are teachable, you are personable, you know how to do the work!
You think you’re the only one struggling
That little voice in the back of your mind may also tell you that you’re the only one having a hard time. You might feel like everyone else has everything together and is handling it all perfectly all the time, but that’s next to impossible. The people around you might also feel like they’re not good enough. They might be struggling the same way that you are. The only way to know what’s going on in someone else’s head is to talk about it with them, so don’t struggle in silence. You’ll find that you’re not alone.
You feel like you’re not good enough for your role
Do you feel like you’re only in your position because of timing or good luck? Maybe you don’t feel qualified to lead a project and feel like you were only asked to do so because your schedule worked out or some other coincidence. When these feelings of inadequacy come up, remind yourself of the tangible success you’ve had in the past. Keep a file on your devices where you save screenshots of positive feedback + anything else that reminds you that you are capable of doing what you do, and doing it well.
You tend to define yourself by your work
Work can be an important part of our lives – after all, it’s what keeps a roof over most of our heads. However, it’s important to remember that your sole purpose in life is not to work. You are a person who deserves to have a balanced life outside of the office, and if you feel like work is sucking up all of your time and energy, it might be time to address that. If you feel like your role at work defines you, try to think of some other things that are important to you. What do you value? How can you work toward enacting those values outside of work? That might give you some ideas to start exploring.
You feel like your success was not earned
Another sign of impostor syndrome is repeated negative thoughts that you did not earn your success. Repeated negative thoughts like these can also be called cognitive distortions. A cognitive distortion is a habitual way of thinking that is often negative and not based on facts. If you have repeated negative thoughts that your success was not earned, these thoughts are probably not based on reality. After all, you know how hard you work. If you feel these negative thoughts coming up when you think about your role at work or in a leadership position, remind yourself that they’re not based on facts. Slow your thoughts down and compare them to what you actually know to be true, not what impostor syndrome is telling you.
Feeling like you don’t deserve your success is an awful feeling. When it comes up, remember to slow down, take a breath, and remind yourself of what’s true. Does your workplace need support in centering mental health and wellbeing? Is your team struggling to cope, but you’re not sure what to do or how to address it? We can help.