If you have ever experienced imposter syndrome, you know it could hit you at any time; whether you’ve just started a new job or career, are returning to work after treatment, or maybe you have a decade of experience at a company and the feeling has never gone away. Any way you feel it, imposter syndrome is common and perfectly normal. One-third of young people, and 70% of the population will experience it at some point in their lives.
Coined in the 70s by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, imposter syndrome can be tied to three attributes:
1. Thinking that people have an exaggerated view of your abilities.
2. The fear of being exposed as a fraud.
3. The continuous tendency to downplay your achievements.
Imposter syndrome can manifest itself in the form of self-doubt, anxiety and/or guilt. It can get in the way of work by making you second guess every decision you make, stifling creativity and strategic thinking. Others feel they need to work twice as hard to prove themselves. These feelings are only more vulnerable when you consider the anxiety and lowered self-esteem often felt by cancer patients and survivors in the workplace.
A recent article for the Harvard Business Review by Kess Eruteya lays out some helpful tips for managing the feeling of imposter syndrome:
- Keep a positive mindset. Think of this as a mindfulness practice. If you are given a project you don’t think you’re qualified for, take a deep breath. Try to stay in the present, instead of imagining disaster scenarios. Break down the project into smaller steps that you know you can accomplish, and take it one step at a time. Whenever it starts to feel overwhelming, take another deep breath and focus on the small steps that you know you can do. Every check on your to do list, is a sign that you’re doing something right, so set yourself up for lots of small victories throughout the process of getting to the big win of completing a whole project.
- Celebrate your wins. We often worry that it’s tacky to brag about our accomplishments. So many are taught that humility is something to be strived for. While it’s a balancing act (no one likes to be on a team with someone’s inflated ego) it’s good to brag from time to time. Let coworkers know about a difficult project that was completed. Celebrate a metric you’ve been aiming to hit. This could mean telling it to a single trusted co-worker or friend, or announcing it in a weekly team meeting. These celebrations will help remind you of your skills, accomplishments, and ability to learn and grow within this role… and future job opportunities.
- Use social media (mindfully). Social media is a great place to be reminded that you are not alone. Joining a patient/survivor support group online is a great way to connect with people going through similar experiences as you. Ask these virtual friends if they have experienced imposter syndrome, and see what they do to get over it. Sometimes the best way to get past a block is to talk through it with someone who understands what you are going through.
- Make a plan. Formalizing ways to counteract negative feelings can be as simple as creating a folder in your email Inbox where you save emails with nice things said about you. The next time your boss gives you a compliment, save it to that folder. Then, when you are feeling stuck in the future, open this folder to remind yourself of moments when you’ve succeeded. Sometimes it takes a past accomplishment to remind us that we are able to achieve something similar in the present.
It’s also important to note than many disagree with the use of the word “syndrome” – as this experience is not a chronic mental disorder or an unchangeable character trait. Experiencing imposter syndrome also isn’t exclusively tied to your own feelings of self-worth. There are complex cultural and societal reasons you may be feeling this way that are worth considering and looking into. For one in-depth take that deserves to speak for itself, be sure to read Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome by Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey, in the Harvard Business Review.