Training and Development

What is Imposter Syndrome and How You Can Overcome it

imposter syndrome
January 29, 2024


Even if you’re the most competent and accomplished professional in your industry, there are times when you might have doubted your abilities or feared being exposed as a fraud. This is a psychological phenomenon known as “imposter syndrome,” and it’s a common experience, even among highly successful and accomplished individuals.

To understand more about imposter syndrome and how to overcome it, we spoke with Jermaine L. (The JobFather) Murray, Career Coach and Founder of Jupiter HR, who led a workshop for learners and alumni at The Chang School last fall. Jermaine shares his personal journey from discovering that he was suffering from imposter syndrome and what he did to address the root causes.

While imposter syndrome can happen at any point in your career, for many people, like Jermaine, it often creeps up mid-career.

“Towards the middle of our careers, we might have to get a new job or prove ourselves in order to qualify for a promotion to get to the next stage in our careers,” he says. “Sometimes, it’s not as hard as overcoming the initial barrier of doing so as it was early in our careers, so we might think that it was too easy.”

As an example, Jermaine recalls a time when he got a new job and asked for a salary that he thought was “absurd” and got it without question. Once he started that job for a technology incubator, he remembers noticing that seemingly everyone around them had their PhD and he didn’t, making him feel unqualified for the job.

“They hired me as a recruiter because I was charismatic and I had a genuine interest in technology, but everybody around me had a PhD and I have a media degree,” he says.

While Jermaine didn’t need a PhD in a technology field to succeed in his role as a recruiter at this company, he, like many people with imposter syndrome, felt unqualified without one despite his skills and experience, which would say otherwise. Many people experiencing imposter syndrome mistakenly attribute their success to luck or external factors rather than acknowledging their skills and hard work.

“Imposter syndrome affects your perception and when your perception is affected, it changes what you see and how you react to the things around you,” says Jermaine. “You’ll perceive anything that validates that feeling of insecurity that you don’t belong and, in some cases, you’ll overthink things or make things up and see things that aren’t there initially.”

Character Traits of People Affected by Imposter Syndrome

Ironically, imposter syndrome is often reported by high-achieving individuals, creating a paradox where the more successful a person becomes, like in Jermaine’s case, the higher likelihood they may experience imposter feelings. This contradiction highlights the psychological and emotional aspects of self-perception.

Another common trait of people who are more likely to experience imposter syndrome are those who are perfectionists, setting unrealistically high standards for themselves, and even when they achieve success, they may feel it’s not enough.

Blurring the Lines Between Perception and Reality

While perception can be something that stays in your mind, Jermaine says it can easily slip into reality and affect your work. Imposter syndrome can create a disparity between one’s actual competence and their confidence level to the point where they may lack confidence in their abilities due to imposter feelings.

“If you’re not careful, that perception will affect your real life ability, which will affect your performance and eventually lead to a situation where those demons become reality,” he says.

Strategies to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

In order to counteract this phenomenon, people need to acknowledge and challenge their negative thoughts, reframe their successes as a result of their efforts and skills, seek support from mentors or peers, and set realistic goals.

Recognizing and addressing cultural and societal factors that may contribute to imposter syndrome can help a person better understand imposter syndrome in a wider context. These factors include gender roles, racial or ethnic background, and societal expectations.

Seeking therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help individuals identify and challenge distorted thought patterns to create a more realistic self-perception.

“Overcoming imposter syndrome led to me seeking therapy, which I always advocate for people to do,” says Jermaine. “Imposter syndrome is often tied to deep-rooted issues stemming from childhood that went unresolved.”

He adds that you can’t put a price on investing in your mental health when it comes to the success of your career. Even if you don’t have access to therapy, Jermaine recommends journaling and writing about your feelings, like what causes you anxiety, so you can start to identify where you might be feeling inadequate in your career and personal life.

Jermaine also is a big advocate of working on your physical health to keep your mind healthy.

There’s no easy way to “fix” a complex psychological phenomenon like imposter syndrome. But it is common in society and affects people across various fields and levels of access. By recognizing it, understanding where it comes from, and putting in place strategies to overcome it, people who are affected by imposter syndrome can learn to have a healthier self-perception and a more fulfilling professional and personal life.

And it’s not something that’s one and done once you’ve overcome it – it’s an ongoing battle, as Jermaine points out.

“I constantly remind myself to quiet the negative thoughts as much as possible to take care of your mental health so you’re in a better place.”

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