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Understanding and Conquering Imposter Syndrome

Have you ever felt like everyone in the room is smarter than you? What about applying for an internal position, getting it and then thinking to yourself, “How long until everyone figures out I have no idea what I’m doing?” If either of these situations sound familiar to you, you’ve likely experienced imposter syndrome.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

The phenomenon was first described in the 1970s when clinical psychologists found that their research participants, despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments, were convinced that they didn’t deserve the success they had achieved. They were quick to attribute their impressive accolades to luck, chance or even timing.

According to some estimates, up to 70% of successful people have experienced imposter syndrome, and it doesn’t tend to go away with more experience. On the contrary, the more senior someone is, the more they are likely to suffer from it. Successful CEOs, authors and celebrities have all come forward with their stories. Even Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, bestselling author, admits that “there are days I wake up feeling like a fraud.”

Imposter syndrome can affect both women and men equally, however, it tends to be more common in environments where individuals feel like they are the “only one”: for example, women in tech, which still tends to be a largely male-dominated industry. We also tend to see differences in how each gender responds to it.

If you’ve felt this way, start off by recognizing that you are doing something right. Real frauds don’t suffer from imposter syndrome. It’s important to recognize your response to it and put strategies in place to overcome it.

Strategies to Overcome Imposter Syndrome


If you are falling victim to imposter syndrome, do something about it before it starts to impact your performance. For example, you finally get that promotion and think to yourself you need to prove to everyone that you are deserving. Instead of asking for feedback or support when you need it, you work several overtime hours just to prove your worth. Unfortunately, this ends up being counterproductive and results in burnout, which can damage your confidence and negatively affect your performance. All those late hours in the office aren’t doing you any good – so stop typing those emails and listen up!


One way to do this is by increasing your authentic confidence – that means believing people when they tell you how remarkable you are. Instead of attributing your success in getting that new promotion to chance or that huge client deal you brought in to it being a team effort, say thank you (and of course also give credit where credit is due). But really own it! Celebrate your accomplishments, and take the time to reflect on your hard work. Chances are when you sit down and think about everything that went into achieving those results, it was a big deal and you did it. Remember, you’re worthy and you deserve it. If you’re not good at this, seek out people who you see doing it well. Ask them out for coffee, ask them how they do it, learn from them and put it into practice.

Help others

Women are more likely to lack confidence in their own abilities. So how can we help female leaders turn that around? In an interview with Forbes, D2L’s COO Cheryl Ainoa suggests that women sometimes need a boost. Whether it’s for submitting a topic for a conference or considering that next promotion, a personal note of encouragement can go a long way toward making women feel more confident.

Inclusion is not limited only to women. Men can also experience imposter syndrome, and it’s important that we all act as champions, supporters and sponsors. The People & Culture function at your organization can also play a key role in providing connections to employees and giving them the opportunity to open up more. Reach out to the People & Culture Business Partner in your organization or someone you trust and ask for coaching and guidance. They can likely connect you to other mentors in the company that have been in your shoes.

Own it

Can you really do this? Yes! As Cleo Wade writes in her book Heart Talk, “Say yes to yourself and yes to the world. Celebrate your yes, it is a victory!”

To learn more about imposter syndrome and additional strategies on how to overcome it, join my colleague Dr. Chantal Thorn and me for our webinar on April 2 at 1 PM ET as we dive deeper into How to Conquer Imposter Syndrome.


Register now

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