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The Whole Human

Three ways to stop feeling like an impostor at work

Do you ever find yourself fending off a lingering feeling that a massive stroke of luck is the only reason why you landed this job? Or that you’re really not as talented as you seem, and that you’ll be plucked from your position when HR finds out about your so-called inadequacy?

The American Psychological Association reported in 2013 that in the 1970s, psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance first described the term “impostor phenomenon,” which has also been called “impostor syndrome.”  The two also provided an analysis of research on the topic in a 1988 paper. New York Magazine also reported in 2016 that this term hasn’t been listed as an “official” diagnosis in the DSM.

Gill Corkindale illustrates what this often looks like in a 2008 Harvard Business Review article.

“‘Impostors suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. They seem unable to internalize their accomplishments, however successful they are in their field. High achieving, highly successful people often suffer, so impostor syndrome doesn’t equate with low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence. In fact, some researchers have linked it with perfectionism, especially in women and among academics,” Corkindale writes.

Here’s how to get over impostor syndrome and see yourself as an employee who is fully capable and deserving of success.

Refresh your memory

Keep a list of your positive achievements to remind yourself what you can do.

Michael Grothaus featured advice from neuroscientist, leadership coach, doctor and author Dr. Tara Swart in a 2017 Fast Company article.

“Though it sounds simple, Swart says having a go-to set of positive statements that you can speak out loud or say in your head can “reprogram the neural pathways in the brain and prevent automatic shortcuts to negative thought patterns.” A few of her favorites that seem to work for most people are the simple phrases, “I am truly capable,” or, “I make great decisions.” She advises her clients to say these whenever negative self-talk or consistent doubts pop into their heads,” Grothaus writes.

These are statements you can use regularly whenever you need a boost.

Don’t hold yourself to impossible standards

Kirsten Weir features advice from Clance in the 2013 article for the American Psychological Association.

“Clance urges people with impostor feelings to stop focusing on perfection. ‘Do a task ‘well enough,’ she says. It’s also important to take time to appreciate the fruits of your hard work. ‘Develop and implement rewards for success — learn to celebrate,’” Weir writes.

Go forth and prosper

Margie Warrell, author of Stop Playing Safe, Find Your Courage and Brave, and more, writes about overcoming this feeling by taking chances in a 2014 Forbes article.

“It takes courage to take on challenges and pursue aspirations that leave you wide open to falling short, losing face and being ‘found out.’ But when you refuse to let your doubts dictate your choices, you open new doors of opportunity and discover just how much you can really do. Even if you never accomplish all you aspire toward, you will accomplish so much more than you otherwise would have. In the process you’ll come to realize that the only impostor you ever had to worry about is your fear of people thinking you are one,” Warrell writes.