By Ira Gupta
“I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.” -Neil Armstrong
Surprising, isn’t it? How could someone like Neil Armstrong doubt his achievements? But this feeling is much more common than you would think. Imposter phenomenon or imposter syndrome was first coined in 1978 by Dr Suzanne Imes and Dr Pauline Rose Clance (Tulshyan and Burey, 2022). It includes fears about being found out as a “fraud”, dismissing what you have accomplished, and believing that people have overestimated your abilities (Eruteya, 2022). While imposter syndrome was initially thought to mostly affect women, we now know that it can affect anyone.
Tulshyan and Burey (2022) speculate that imposter syndrome places the blame on the person facing it. They show another way of looking at things. The work environment is biased against and unaccommodating to women and people from different types of backgrounds. This may prevent them from reaching their potential or even punish them for showing different leadership styles. It subsequently induces feelings of doubt and anxiety in people with impostor syndrome.
Imagine what life could be like if you no longer faced imposter syndrome. You would not doubt your abilities or your accomplishments. You would be able to take initiative and follow through on your plans. You would be confident, self-assured, and take more risks.
So, how can we deal with imposter syndrome? Smith and Johnson (2019) suggest different ways you can help someone suffering from imposter syndrome.
- You should help them realize that nobody is perfect. It’s normal to feel like an imposter sometimes, and that does not mean that you are less capable. This will help boost their confidence and allay self-doubt.
- When you hear them engage in negative self-talk, you should counter their statements and help them reflect on why they are not true. Checking in and rewiring the thinking pattern can help them gain more balanced self-awareness.
- Make sure to give your coworkers/colleagues credit where it’s due as well as appreciate and recognise their contributions when they’ve done a good job. An external and more public recognition becomes a reminder of success and potential that can help alleviate a tendency to undermine own achievements and competence.
Weir (2013) urges individuals to take the following steps to battle imposter syndrome.
- Acknowledge how far you have come and how much you have grown.
- Recognise the things you do well and try to find ways to improve at work.
- Be kinder to yourselves and accept that although nobody is perfect, we are all pretty good at some things.
Slowly and surely, one can reduce if not eliminate feeling like an imposter. By supporting each other, acknowledging each other’s strengths and achievements, reflecting on our growth and creating goals for the future, we can build a better work environment with self-assured employees.
- Eruteya, K. (2022, January 5). You’re not an imposter. you’re actually pretty amazing.Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2022/01/youre-not-an-imposter-youre-actually-pretty-amazing?ab=at_art_art_1x4_s03
- Gaiman, N. (n.d.). A quote by Neil Gaiman. Goodreads. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/10222177-some-years-ago-i-was-lucky-enough-invited-to-a
- Smith, D. G., & Johnson, W. B. (2019, February 22). Mentoring someone with imposter syndrome. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2019/02/mentoring-someone-with-imposter-syndrome?ab=at_art_art_1x4_s03
- Tulshyan, R., & Burey, J.-A. (2022, August 4). Stop telling women they have imposter syndrome. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2021/02/stop-telling-women-they-have-imposter-syndrome
- Weir, K. (2013). Feel like a fraud?. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud
Ira Gupta is a final-year student of Psychology and Applied Statistics at Fergusson College.