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Imposter syndrome

Updated: Sep 23, 2022

Imposter syndrome is the chronic feeling of inadequacy and incompetence, despite success. It is something that can affect anyone, it isn’t restricted by age, gender, background, or race. Anyone can be susceptible to it, whether you’re a recent graduate, or a well-accomplished CEO.

The term “imposter syndrome” was first created in 1978 by Dr Pauline Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes, where it was first observed in an interview with 150 high achieving women, who displayed patterns of inadequacy. In the workplace, over 70% of people can experience the syndrome at some stage in their careers. It is controlled by self-doubt, fueled by the feeling of insufficiency, resulting in a detrimental impact on one’s relationship with their work.

I believe the best way to describe imposter syndrome is that it feels like you’re taking up a space that doesn’t quite “belong” to you and having the belief that you’re not accomplished enough to occupy that space. It’s the belief that you’ve accomplished all your goals by mere “luck” or “chance”. It’s the fear that your skills and qualities aren’t as substantial as you previously deemed them to be.

How does imposter syndrome manifest? A major contributor to this feeling can be comparison. Once we begin to compare ourselves to others, comparing our skills, strengths, and weaknesses, we may begin to question ourselves. Without noticing, we may compare ourselves with others almost every day. We may feel disheartened when people are achieving greater things, being promoted, or succeeding with ease, while you feel like you’re struggling. At work, we may compare ourselves with our co-workers. We may compare how well we’re performing at work with our colleagues, feeling insufficient when others are climbing higher and faster up the ladder of success, while you feel like you haven’t even placed your foot on the first wrung. Subsequently, the pressure to thrive begins to pile up, causing one to push harder with the fear of buckling under the weight. That’s when over-working begins.

That’s why one can argue that imposter syndrome and feeling the need to overachieve go hand in hand. If you feel inadequate or unworthy of a position at work/ achievement, the natural thing that a lot of us do is begin to overachieve in order to compensate for that feeling of inadequacy. Having this distorted self-perception can have a negative impact – from being reluctant to trying new opportunities to downplaying achievements. This in turn can lead to burnout, as you may begin to weigh yourself down with the burden of overworking, constantly trying to validate your position, your achievements, and accomplishments. All of this, coupled with the fear of mediocrity, makes it increasingly difficult for many people to relieve pressure off themselves.

Imposter syndrome is something that can affect the best of us. It can cloud our judgement and makes us paint a less appealing picture of ourselves, and a lot of times, this can happen without us realizing.

There are studies that show that getting support from your workplace, friends, family etc., can help to conquer this syndrome. One such study is – “An examination of coping with perceived impostorism and the role of social support” [1], which illustrated the importance behind having a support system and the different strategies people can employ to tackle imposter syndrome. From the twenty high-achieving students interviewed in this study, it was found that having social support (from friends, colleagues, family), gave the students a renewed sense of belonging, allowing them to feel more validated and content with their work. Here, social support was proven to be a great coping mechanism against the symptoms of imposter syndrome.

Having support and people who recognize hard work can go a really long way. Changing your narrative, giving yourself the space to acknowledge your achievements, while celebrating your success, can help to manage imposter syndrome, and will eventually help to overcome it.

It is easier said than done, but allow yourself to reframe your thinking, allow yourself to remove all self-doubt from your thoughts, allow yourself to feel adequate. Celebrate your accomplishments from time to time, and don’t assume that your achievements are from pure luck.

It is also important for companies to encourage their employees to acknowledge their progress, while validating their achievements. Having a safe and encouraging space at work will make employees comfortable in recognizing their accomplishments, providing them with the confidence to strive further as they progress in their careers.


About the Author

Sophie is a Bioprocess Technician at Pfizer with a BSc in Chemical & Pharmaceutical Science. She enjoys reading and has a love for writing. With her personal blog “The Sophiesticated Blog”, she loves to write stories and poems in her free time.


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