Things You Can Learn From Your Imposter Syndrome

By now, you’ve probably heard about the imposter syndrome phenomenon. If you’re a woman and/or a minority, there’s a big chance you’ve experienced it. 

Imposter syndrome is the feeling that you are not deserving of your accomplishments or are incapable of certain tasks, although your skill level may prove otherwise. If you experience imposter syndrome, you usually fear that the quality of your work will reveal you as a fraud. To find out if you have imposter syndrome, check out an earlier GovFem article on the subject.

Imposter syndrome can affect your work performance and discourage you from seeking new job opportunities. As a result, you might look for ways to conquer it. We definitely encourage kicking your self-doubt to the curb, but there are a few valuable things you can learn about yourself along the way.

You Can Find and Expand Your Comfort Zone

As you work through your imposter syndrome, pay attention to when you feel the phenomenon the strongest. While the syndrome often hits hardest after high praise or a notable accomplishment, you may start to notice that your feelings of self-doubt are linked to specific tasks or subjects.

For instance, feeling imposter syndrome after completing a new and unfamiliar task is quite common, but do you notice it the most after speaking about a certain subtopic before a large crowd? Is there a specific skill on a job posting that triggered your self-doubt and discouraged you from applying? Being attentive to which circumstances cause your imposter syndrome to rear its head may help you establish the boundaries of your comfort zone as well as your perceived weaknesses.

If you realize that there are clear and obvious situations in which you feel unqualified or undeserving, confront them head on. Try to write down your fears and discuss your strengths and weaknesses openly with your supervisor so you both know where you have room to grow. Once you learn what your boundaries are, it will be easier to expand your comfort zone and quell some of that pesky imposter syndrome.

Pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone can be a sign of growth in the workplace, but if you feel like you are doubting your abilities constantly, you may be pushing yourself too far and too often.

You May Rely on Your Nerves to Succeed

Sometimes, a little self-doubt can actually push us to achieve. A study by psychologists John Dillingham Dodson and Robert M. Yerkes demonstrated that small levels of arousal in the form of anxiety, stress or motivation, actually improve an individual’s performance.

Correspondingly, you may not be quick to get rid of you imposter syndrome entirely because it may be one of the things that drives you to succeed in the office. For instance, if you constantly compare yourself to the new hire, the possibility that they could be more qualified for your position may push you to work harder to make up for a self-perceived absence of skill. If you are assigned an unfamiliar task and are afraid of being exposed as a fraud, you may overwork yourself to ensure that you execute the task perfectly.

Now you may be reading this and thinking “If it helps me perform better, then imposter syndrome can’t be that bad.” If you came to that conclusion, you’re not alone. In fact, the Dodson and Yerkes study is one of a few reasons some people believe imposter syndrome can benefit your career.

You may learn that small instances of imposter syndrome push you succeed for now, but downplaying your abilities and likening yourself to your colleagues probably won’t be productive in the long run. Instead of constantly comparing your credentials to those of everyone else in the office, view your differences in experience as incentive to learn from your colleagues - they’ll probably appreciate your willingness to learn! This way you can reconfigure your impulse to compete into motivation to grow.

Your Self Doubt May be a Sign of Something Bigger

Lately, imposter syndrome has become a generalized term for any feeling of incompetence at work ranging from feeling unqualified for a job to severe nervousness before an assignment. Although the phenomenon was identified by psychiatrists, imposter syndrome is not an official mental health condition.

While it is comforting to be able to identify with the numerous articles and tips on the web from people who’ve had similar experiences, it is important to take note of the frequency and severity of your anxious feelings. If your self-doubting thoughts are constant, severely affect your work and mood or lead to physical manifestations of uneasiness such as shaking or panic attacks, you may come to learn that you are showing symptoms of something more serious like an anxiety disorder.

If you don’t experience these symptoms but just can’t shake the negative thoughts, it may still be worth it to see a therapist or life coach and talk through what you’re feeling. It may be easier to attribute your negative thoughts to the phenomenon, but talking through it with an objective third party may help you uncover some subconscious fears and frustrations.

Generally, it is important to remember that your imposter syndrome is only based on your perception of reality. Unfortunately for many of us, the way we perceive ourselves and our accomplishments is often quite cynical. For tips on how to manage your imposter syndrome, check out this article and remember, you are definitely more capable than you think.

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Profile Photo Marçal Prats

Impressive article! I didn't knew about what impostor's syndrome is. It is curious how it can be contradictory to feel it every time you learn something new. So every new skill you learn, some new doubts are implied. It reminds me the Dunning–Kruger effect, where "wherein people of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is. [...] low-ability persons doesn't recognize their own ineptitude" [Wikipedia].

It's the Socratic paradox also known by the phrase ""I know that I know nothing".

Amazing topic!

Profile Photo Brad Rosen

As a grown man on the cusp of 30, I can say I often feel that way, but more out of feeling a lack of experience and knowledge. Some of the people younger or about my age have been in government longer than I have, and other “new hires” are seasoned individuals who took a government job as a second career. The way have begun to move forward is to think of myself as an entrepreneur who works with governments instead of a lonely cog in the machine.

Everyone should remember that you are only an “imposter” if you don’t believe in yourself and you abilities.

Confident African-American Male Executive

You lost me at "If you’re a woman and/or a minority." This was stereo typing and implying others who are not female or a minority don't have this issue or actually experience it more. This article feeds into the false perception that woman and minorities are less qualified. It is actually others who struggle with this more than we do. Reissue without the woman and minority reference.