Imposter Syndrome – Living in a false reality

You’ve done it! You got the job, you were the right candidate for the role, which is great, right?


Suddenly an overwhelming feeling of “Oh no, they are going to find me out, I’m a fraud” hits you, “Am I really the right person for the job, maybe they have made a mistake” Does this sound familiar?

It’s more common than you think, so that’s a relief, but why are you feeling this? You’ve got the right experience, you ticked all the right boxes for the role, so why the self-doubt? It’s a little thing called Imposter Syndrome and a lot of people around the globe have faced this problem. So you’re not alone.

What is imposter syndrome?

Well to put it simply Imposter syndrome, also called perceived fraudulence, involves feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence that persist despite your education, experience, and accomplishments.

You can be praised for your skills and talents, but deep down there is this niggling feeling you don’t believe you earned them on your own merits, and you fear others will eventually realise the same thing.

With all these negative fears and feelings rushing around your head, is there a way to diminish these feelings? Of course there is and here at Robertson Sumner we have engaged with many candidates who feel similarly too, so lets break down ways we can remove the mask of imposter syndrome.

Firstly, lets look at why we feel this way.  The only way to overcome this is to first find out why we experience this in the first place:

Although there is no definitive answer as to why some people experience imposter syndrome, there are some triggers to look out for. Some experts believe it has to do with an individual personality traits, such as anxiety or neuroticism developed during childhood.

Psychologist Audrey Ervin who has been researching the subject explains,

“Sometimes childhood memories, such as feeling that your grades were never good enough for your parents or that your siblings outshone you in certain areas, can leave a lasting impact. “People often internalise these ideas: that in order to be loved or be lovable, ‘I need to achieve,’ It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.”

Ervin also adds, “One of the first steps to overcoming impostor feelings is to acknowledge the thoughts and put them in perspective. “Simply observing that thought as opposed to engaging it can be helpful”
“We can help teach people to let go and more critically question those thoughts. I encourage clients to ask ‘Does that thought help or hinder me?’”

So if you think you are experiencing some form of imposter syndrome – what techniques can you use to try and overcome these?

Let’s break the silenceWhen you feel moments of shame this will keep many people from “opening up” about their fraudulent feelings. Knowing there’s a name for these feelings and that you are not alone can be tremendously freeing and lift a weight off your shoulders.

Understand feelings from realityThere are times you’ll feel stupid. It happens to everyone from time to time. Realise that just because you may feel stupid, doesn’t mean you are.  By asking  yourself this question, who told you that you are a fraud? No one? Then this is a good time to dismiss negative thoughts.

Bring in the positivity – Good news for you, being a perfectionist shows that that you care about the quality of the work you do and that’s great! The main thing to focus on is to continue to strive for excellence when it matters most, and most importantly forgive yourself when the inevitable mistake happens, after all you are human.

Develop a healthy method for failure The thought of messing up and failing something will make most people feel completely uneasy, no one wants to fail. Thomas A. Edison once said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” We tend to beat ourselves mentally for failing but next time you catch yourself doing this, do what players on the losing sports team do and glean the learning value from the loss and move on reminding yourself, “I’ll get ’em next time.”

You write the rules- Do you always think to yourself “I should always know the answer” or “I shouldn’t ask for help” Well, rest assured a lot of people do.
It’s common especially in management or higher positions to be expected to know the answer, no one has the answer for everything. Once you understand that you have just as much right as the next person to be wrong or to have an off day, so hey, its okay to ask if you’re not sure.

Reward yourself-  Instead of focusing on all the failures and wrong things you have done, be more productive with your thinking “Okay this didn’t go to well, but hey I did really well on this project which saw a lot of success” Dwelling on the negatives won’t get you anywhere and will leave you in this broken record mentality, instead of this, think about all the great things you have done give yourself some validation outside of yourself by learning to pat yourself on the back, because you’ve earnt it!

Rewrite your script- Something that is very important to recognise is becoming conscious when you are put in a situation that triggers these imposter thoughts and acknowledge the conversations that are buzzing around in your head. Instead of thinking, “What if they find out I have no idea what I’m doing,” change your script to something like “Everyone who starts something new feels off-base in the beginning. I may not know all the answers but I’m smart enough to find them out.

We have found some fantastic TED Talks on the subject on imposter syndrome that we think could REALLY benefit you and help you understand.

So next time you catch yourself thinking “oh no I’m no good”, tell yourself who told you that, just you? You’ll be surprised that the reality is much different to your internal thoughts!

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