What does impostor syndrome really mean?

Do you ever get the feeling you don’t belong? Are there times you feel you don’t deserve clients? Or worse, they will find out you are a fake or fraud?

Unfortunately, you are not alone in these feelings. The way you are feeling is called impostor syndrome, or impostor phenomenon. Roughly 70% of people will suffer this problem according to one study. 

Sadly, impostor syndrome affects almost everyone, no matter the profession or level of experience. Typically, it strikes people that have difficulty internalizing their own successes.

The definition of impostor syndrome is this: feeling like you have only succeeded through luck or circumstance, as opposed to your own skills or abilities.

The patterns that lead to impostor syndrome

Here are some major causes of this fear inducing effect:

• Perfectionism– A major cause certainly. If you succeed in 99% of your goals, would you say you were a success of failure? For some people, only missing 1% of their goals, or making a tiny mistake makes them question their skills and abilities.

Being an expert – For many people, unless they can answer every single question about a topic, they suddenly doubt their expert status. This can make many feel uncomfortable promoting themselves, become visible or even asking for more money from a client. Getting every certification and following every buzzword or trend can consume all their free time.

Trying to be a one person team – Despite the fact that multiple studies show in business, diversity leads to more financial success, people still insist on going it alone. When they  cannot go it alone, they feel like they haven’t succeeded. Just remember, even Steve Jobs was never a “soloist”. He had Steve Wozniak even from the very beginning. 

The superwoman (or man) – People will push harder and work longer, just to prove to everyone around them that they are not impostors. Being the best at work, in love, at home or even their hobbies (binge-watching anyone?) is critical to their own internal acknowledgement. To be real and successful means beating everyone around them at everything. And when that is impossible, they feel the stress as if they accomplished nothing. 

Signs that you might be suffering from impostor syndrome

Here are some thoughts, feelings, actions or emotions you might experience that can help identify impostor syndrome creeping into your life.

• An inability to recognize your own success, along with the fear of being “outed” as unqualified.

• That fear of being “outed”, keeps you from showing up as the professional you are.

• Thinking that at any moment, people will out you are fake.

• The unwillingness to take a compliment or be acknowledged for accomplishments.

Or Even:

• Equating all success (or even failure) to luck.

• Downplaying everything to keep yourself small and unknown.

• Comparing your accomplishments and abilities to others you internally rank as more intelligent or successful (We all can’t be Tony Robbins! Success doesn’t have to be a competition).

• Accentuating past failures and giving them more weight over accomplishments (In fact, failure is a part of the process).

• Hesitating to reach out to clients or potential business opportunities from fear of being seen (because being seen equals being vulnerable), known or heard by others. 

Overcoming impostor syndrome

First, recognition is huge when it comes to dealing with impostor syndrome. Simply observing and acknowledging the thought processes, instead of engaging with them will be helpful. Asking yourself, “Does this hinder me, or lead to success?”, can help reframe harmful thought patterns.

Second, remember that impostor syndrome can actually hamper your abilities and slow you down. Not asking for help or taking constructive criticism will do more harm than good in the long run. Practicing a skill, learning from someone else and asking for help are positive traits.

Third, share your feelings with a trusted mentor or friend. Talking about your feelings out loud can help with recognition and the reframing process.


Here are some other quick tips: 

• Recognize your expertise

• Acknowledge what you are good at

• Understand that no one is perfect

• Reframe and rethink negative though processes

Please remember, everyone experiences doubt. It would be abnormal to never experience doubt. The key is to not allow uncertainty and fear to cloud your mind and control your actions. Impostor syndrome may still occasionally strike. However, having the mentors, mental tools and ability to recognize and reframe allows you to quickly and insightfully move on. If you are suffering from impostor syndrome, there is another way to feel and live. Not feeling the constant strain and anxiety of being “found out” will improve your business, client seeking and quality of life.


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