Although now extended to cover everyone, the term ‘imposter syndrome’ initially referred to behaviour recognised in high-achieving women, both professionally and academically. In fact, for the sake of clarity, let’s state the definition as it is written in the original psychoanalytical study:
The term impostor phenomenon is used to designate an internal experience of intellectual phonies, which appears to be particularly prevalent and intense among a select sample of high achieving women.
When you search for imposter syndrome, two of the suggested searches are for ‘women’ and ‘at work’.
As part of the AGY47 Women in Marketing Month, we thought we’d take a look at imposter syndrome through its original lense: women in the workplace.
The term ‘imposter syndrome’ currently has an average monthly search volume of 42,000 in the UK alone. With 1,500 queries for ‘what is imposter syndrome’, we thought that would be a good place to start.
What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is the inability to accept that your success and achievements have been legitimately earned, and it is fuelled by the belief that your ideas aren’t worthy of attention. Those affected by imposter syndrome don’t believe they deserve the opportunities offered to them. No level of success achieved can alleviate these concerns, and it could even make them worse. To prove the point, even Michelle Obama struggles with imposter syndrome.
How do I identify imposter syndrome in myself?
Firstly, if you’re asking yourself that question, it’s likely to suffer from imposter syndrome to some degree. Here are some tell-tale signs to look out for in yourself at work:
You struggle to accept compliments
You’re worried you’re underqualified and you’ll get found out
You overwork until you burn out
You struggle to say ‘no’ to new tasks even if you’re overloaded
You’re overly hard on yourself if you don’t hit your goals
You focus on what you haven’t done, instead of what you have done
You put your successes down to luck, not that you earned them
You’re terrified of failure
Think you may be struggling with it? Then you’re probably asking…
How do I overcome it?
There are many techniques that people have turned to in order to overcome these feelings of inadequacy. Identifying that you struggle with imposter syndrome is the best place to start. After that, it’s about checking in with your mental health throughout your working day, and the thoughts you have about work when you’re not there.
Try integrating some of these small mental checks into your day:
Look at the facts of your work production, instead of how you feel
Celebrate all of your successes
Does your workplace recognise achievement enough? It’s important to identify whether or not your environment is worsening your imposter syndrome
Make a list of the things that qualify you for your role
Visualise your success in a project, presentation, interview, or anything you’ve got coming up at work
Be kind to yourself
The most important thing to remember about imposter syndrome is how common it is. The last thing you want to do once you’ve identified it is start being hard on yourself for suffering in the first place (which is exactly what someone with imposter syndrome may do). Instead, start changing the narrative in your head. Remember there’s no such thing as perfect. Tell yourself that. Then tell yourself again. You’re doing great. We all are.