“What am I doing here?”

“I’m not worthy of this position”

“I’m a total fraud, and sooner or later, everyone’s going to find out.”

If you’ve ever felt like an imposter at work, you’re not alone. A 2009 study on imposter syndrome suggested that over 9 to 82 percent of people who report having thoughts along these lines often experience this. Furthermore, some people experience this feeling when they have reached a certain milestone in their life, and they feel undeserving.

Early research exploring this phenomenon made it clear that imposter syndrome can affect anyone in any profession, from graduate students to top executives. What is Imposter Syndrome? It is perceived fraudulence involving feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence that persist despite your education, experience, and accomplishments.

What it feels like

Imposter feelings represent a conflict between your own self-perception and the way others perceive you. Even as others praise your talents, you write off your successes to timing and good luck. You don’t believe you earned them on your own merits, and you fear others will eventually realize the same thing. It leaves you with a feeling of not meriting your growth or accomplishment and consequently, you tend to pressure yourself to work harder, and you might feel better when you think you worked hard for it. Consequently, you pressure yourself to work harder to:

  • keep others from recognizing your shortcomings or failures
  • become worthy of roles you believe you don’t deserve
  • make up for what you consider your lack of intelligence
  • ease feelings of guilt over “tricking” people

In some cases, the impostor phenomenon can also catalyse growth. Acknowledging you don’t know everything can open you up to new learning opportunities. Experts say the impostor phenomenon may also affect a person’s performance, keeping them stuck with impostor feelings and decreasing your level of productivity. Why do people experience imposter syndrome? There is no adequate explanation for this as researchers say the reasons range from personal experiences to others. How then can this phenomenon be curbed?

One of the first steps to overcoming impostor feelings is to acknowledge the thoughts and put them in perspective. Simply observe your thoughts as opposed to engaging them. Also, endeavour to be more critical of these thoughts, analyse them and see how it helps you to become a better person. Furthermore, you can also reframe your thoughts. Remember that the only difference between someone who experiences impostor syndrome and someone who does not is how they respond to challenges.