How To Combat Imposter Syndrome at Work

By Lisa Duryee, Faculty, Colangelo College of Business

Businesswoman looking out window

Go ahead, raise your hand if you’ve felt it: that dreaded feeling of incompetence when you feel like you just aren’t enough — despite all the hard work, experience, education, accolades and know-how you have deservedly earned. It doesn’t matter how long or short your career has been; everyone is susceptible, and we’ve all been there. That’s the funny, and probably surprising, thing about imposter syndrome at work — you aren’t alone.

Psychologists Dr. Pauline Rose Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes coined the term in their 1978 article, “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention (1978).”1 Sadly, the ruminations of “intellectual phoniness” they wrote about back in the ‘70s seems to occur more often in women, but that isn’t to say men are immune from feeling like frauds as well. Oddly, the more an individual achieves, the more likely they are to have these ideations of inadequacy. These feelings definitely do not do anyone’s career any favors.

Fighting Comparison

The urge to compare ourselves to our colleagues or others can be hard to resist. But before you allow your mind to go there, stop and think. Why? What benefit do I gain by allowing this negative thinking and needless comparison? The answer is none.

Imposter syndrome at work, while very real, is simply a time, energy and productivity suck. Conjuring up negativity and self-doubt takes time and effort. Why not give yourself a little well-deserved pep talk instead? You’re in your brain anyway, right? Rather than focus on the idea that you aren’t good enough, change the color of your mood ring and focus on all the reasons you are where you are today. Give yourself permission right here, right now to savor (yes, I said savor) all the things you worked so hard for, all the things that put you in your seat today. It’s okay; no one is looking.

Practice Makes Perfect

Let’s be real, though. Negative thoughts can be persistent and have a way of sticking around, especially at work where we are surrounded by amazing people we view as competent, industrious and successful. Sometimes it can be hard to remember that we are just as capable and amazing. So, what happens when you’re sitting at your desk getting ready for a big presentation and those negative little thoughts creep into your head and won’t go away? The bottom line is, they are your feelings and they are real. So, as difficult as it may be, when you can’t make them go away in the moment, you may just have to ride it out and let them sit for a bit.

The surprising beauty of riding it out is that, even when we’re feeling insecure or lacking confidence, no one needs to “see” it but us. I have a favorite saying I like to use, particularly when I find myself in front of an audience fearing that I don’t belong: “Never let ’em see you sweat.” For the foreseeable future, the ability to mind read seems to be a no go, so paint your own picture, write your own story, create the you that you want others to see and perceive. Practice makes perfect, right? You are your own narrative!

Seek Support and Professional Development

That being said, we of course shouldn’t keep it all in and suppress our feelings. As four guys from Liverpool famously sang, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” When you aren’t feeling up to being your own best cheerleader, surrounding yourself with positive people who value you for who you are works just as well.

Depending on the climate in your workplace, or given the fact that many of us now work from home and spend less time in the office, building support networks may be easier said than done these days. Even without physical proximity, making time for quick chats via videoconferencing platforms with friends, coworkers or supervisors who can—and do—tell you how amazing you are, can go a long way toward boosting your confidence when you need it most. Even better, seek out mentors with whom you can connect to set the groundwork for confidence-building opportunities. Mentorship should be a mutually beneficial relationship that serves to better both mentee and mentor in an intentional, supportive setting.

Keep Fighting

We know the sense of imposter syndrome at work isn’t going away without a fight. However, it is possible to reduce the persistence of feeling less than worthy. Whether it be engaging in a little self-care, keeping your cool and demonstrating confidence until you actually build it or forming supportive relationships with people who foster your sense of self-worth, just remember, there are tools out there to help you shift gears when that little voice in your head is whispering words of doubt louder than you’d like.

Grand Canyon University’s Colangelo College of Business offers a variety of business and management degree programs. Continue learning and building your professional confidence by starting your experience at GCU. Click on the Request Info button at the top of your screen for more information on the degree program right for your personal and career goals.

1Retrieved from: Semantic Scholar, The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention in March 2022.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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