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How To Stop Feeling Like An Impostor

A couple of weeks ago I facilitated a training session for leaders of an organisation who were twenty to thirty years my senior. Whilst delivering the session I started to think, “Did they make a mistake by selecting me to deliver this?”, “Am I too young and inexperienced for this?”, “What if they find out that I know nothing about this topic?” Shortly after, I received positive feedback that the facilitation went well and my immediate thought was, “Phew, I got lucky this time!” I knew I had the right skills, knowledge, training and experience. I tried to figure out was I feeling doubtful, like an "impostor." This wasn’t a foreign experience to me; in fact I’ve met many skilled and intelligent clients who shared similar thoughts and experiences. I soon found the name for what I was going through; the Impostor Syndrome (or Impostor Phenomenon).

Psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes first identified the Impostor Syndrome in the 1970’s. Defined as a feeling of doubt and insecurity about one’s success and accomplishments, an inability to internalise the success and a fear of being ‘exposed’ as an impostor in an area of work or activity. Whilst it is normal to feel like an ‘impostor’ when you are performing an activity or task for the first time such as taking on a new role or challenge. However, if the impostor feeling is a persistent experience it can lead to maladaptive perfectionism, depressive thoughts, anxiety, stress and even burnout. It can also be a hindrance to your career (i.e. career planning, career striving and motivation to lead) and mental health if it persists.

Some interesting facts about the Impostor Syndrome:

  • 70% of the population have experienced an episode of this

  • It’s not a personality trait or mental disorder

  • Both genders experience it

  • It is present in people from different occupations

  • Success does not necessarily reduce the impostor feelings

  • More common in high achievers

  • Higher prevalence in minorities or those different from peers

  • There is an Impostor Phenomenon Assessment you can take

Here are some pointers to help you better deal with the Impostor Syndrome:

1. Become aware of your thoughts as "just thoughts"

The "impostor" feeling can often lead to a vicious negative thought cycle if you let it spiral out of hand. It’s important to become aware of your thoughts as "just thoughts" and acknowledge your feelings without getting caught in a cycle.

What to do: Take a moment to observe the thoughts that come up and put them down on paper. Recognize them as “just thoughts” and not a true reflection you or your skills and abilities.

2. Recognize when you are a minority

If you are minority in a situation (e.g. ethnicity, age, gender, activity) these feelings could be heightened. Entrepreneurs or founders who defy norms can often find themselves experiencing this.

What to do: Recognize when you are going into a situation where you are a minority and pre-empt yourself for the impostor thoughts.

3. Share your feelings with someone close to you

The simple act of sharing your fears and vulnerabilities with someone close to you can reduce your anxieties and depressive thoughts . In fact you may even come to realise that many people around you feel the same way.

What to do: Find someone with whom you can share your thoughts and feelings.

4. Surround yourself with uplifting people

Keep yourself in the company of those who are holding the pom-poms for your success. They will support and "uplift" you. In a 2015 study, it was found that that workplace social support such as support from colleagues, career mentoring, and coaching reduced the negative impact of the impostor syndrome.

What to do: Make a list of people who support and encourage you. Arrange to spend some time with them every week.

5. Recognize and celebrate all your achievements

People who experience the impostor syndrome are usually quite hard on themselves and tend to brush off their achievements. Take a moment to remember all your achievements. This can give you a mental boost and remind you that you have done well.

What to do: Make a list of all your achievements in the last 2 years (they don’t have to be big ones).

Feeling like an impostor is common, even the famous and most successful people experience it. Maya Angelou once said, "I have written eleven books, but each time I think, 'Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'” Recognize that you are not alone in these feelings and try out some of the steps above.

*This article was first published in Forbes >> click here

Bhali Gill is a Psychologist (org), Coach, Trainer and Founder of Corporate Wellbeing. She coaches individuals and leaders to overcome the challenges they face at work and in life, to reach their personal and professional potential. Her work involves inner-transformation, and becoming more of who you are. She also works with organisations to improve their productivity through employee’s mental and emotional well-being, and self-empowerment programs. She can be contacted at

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