13 September 2016

Imposter Syndrome: Feeling Like a Fraud

Imposter Syndrome: Feeling Like a Fraud


Do you secretly fear that one of these days the people you work with will realize that you’re not really as good at what you do as they currently think you are?  Do you suspect that the people you work with already know that you’re not as effective as they once thought?  Do you worry that you’re in a higher-level job than you’re really capable of?  Does this type of concern sound familiar?

There are many highly effective people who suffer from some form of imposter syndrome. The key word here is “suffer.” If this is regularly causing you pain, stressing you out, or otherwise using up some of your bandwidth, I strongly recommend that you address it head on and get yourself some relief.

Every person’s fraud syndrome is unique, so there is no single one-size-fits-all solution for it. But here are some strategies that seem to apply broadly.

  1. It is the nature of high-level work that you do not always feel completely on top of it.  Whether it’s the sheer volume of work you’re managing, the weight of the responsibility, the complexity involved, or the massive replica of it that you keep in your head — if you are working to capacity, you will sometimes feel “in over your head.”  Learn to be OKAY with that feeling. It’s part of the landscape you now inhabit.
  2. Trust the sequence of events that led you to doing this work at this level. Think about all the people who believed in you along the way, maybe including teachers from your early years.  Think about the hard work you’ve done in your life so far,  the personal challenges you’ve come through, and the many things you have learned. It is no accident you are where you are.
  3. Take a look at what your imposter syndrome protects you from. What is the payoff for stressing about this? For some people, it is a distraction from something else that’s going on. I experienced it at full throttle when I was a systems analyst. Stressing about my competence was actually more bearable than the underlying truth I eventually had to confront: I didn’t want to do technical systems work any more — and I had no idea what else I would do. Feeling overwhelmed by all the new software I had to learn was unpleasant, but facing my unknown future was absolutely terrifying.  Eventually, I mustered the courage to make a career change.  What’s your imposter syndrome protecting you from?
  4. Do you have anxiety about your work performance?  If so, ask yourself if that anxiety comes from a dawning realization that you need to learn some new skill or develop expertise in a new area.  If so, just bite the bullet and learn the new thing: take a course, get mentored by an expert, muscle through it on your own if that’s your style.  Whatever it takes, just do it.  Your stress level will decline and you will experience enormous relief.  Your imposter syndrome may even disappear for a while!
  5. Remember that you always, always, always have choice. If the stress of being in this field at this level is not sustainable for you at this time in your life, figure out what needs to change, and change it. Take a job at another level, renegotiate your workload, or change fields. I don’t mean to be casual about these kinds of changes — they are huge, difficult, life-changing transitions. But isn’t that perhaps just what is called for? And if you don’t want to leave the field, commit to learning how to do the work in a more sustainable way. You may need help to do this, but trust me, it is much easier to learn how to do your work sustainably than it was to learn how to do your work.
  6. Be sure you have other things in your life to counterbalance the stressors.  Find ways to keep your batteries charged.
  7. Get help if you need it.  Many people have blind spots in this area, and getting help from a coach, therapist, or mentor can expedite your process enormously.

If you’d like to explore working with me on this, contact me for an initial consult at no charge.  During the consult, you can get your questions answered, get a sense of what it would be like to work with me, and we can see if we are a good fit to work together.  You will get no pressure from me — you have enough pressure elsewhere in your life.