5 Lies You Tell Yourself if You Have Imposter Syndrome (and How to Debunk Them)

Penelope Blackmore, B2B Business and Sales Strategy expert

If you are reading this, chances are you know what imposter syndrome is. It’s that nagging fear of being “found out,” of not being good enough, or not deserving your success or achievements. 

We’ve all experienced this. When I interviewed for a job as a careers coach with absolutely no experience, I sold myself to the boss by telling him I could empathize with the students I’d be helping. I told him that if he took a chance on me, that no-one would work harder to prove themselves than I would. And most of all, I promised that I had a genuine passion for helping people to find their way in work. I wanted to help. This was the truth.

To my great surprise, I got the job. But a period of sheer terror followed. I was terrified that the students would know that I was staying up all night, googling the best ways to approach interview questions. I was afraid that my boss would discover that I had paid a professional resume-writer $300 to fix my resume and give me some coaching around how to best position myself. And most of all, I was nervous that I’d make a fool of myself in front of my colleagues, who to me, seemed like they really knew what they were doing.

What I didn’t know was this. 

The google all-nighters = initiative and determination

The resumé consultant = self-awareness about my skills gaps

And my colleagues? Well, after a month on the job, I realized they were all just like me. Some had been teachers, some had worked selling cell phones at retail stores, some were former event managers, or personal trainers, or friends of the boss. No-one had it half as nailed down as I thought they did. 

I’m here to tell you that myself and many others have suffered the crippling fear of imposter syndrome so that you don’t have to. Here, I’ll bust five of the biggest lies I told myself when I was starting new jobs, new careers and new paths, and what you can do to overcome those feelings in yourself. 

Before we jump in, check out this video where myself and Brittni Bowering talk in-depth about how to beat imposter syndrome:

Lie 1: I am, in fact, an actual imposter!

For people making career changes, there’s a strong feeling that comes with reading or hearing about imposter syndrome. It goes like this:

“You might feel like an imposter, but I literally am an imposter! I used to be a nurse/barista/accountant and I really have no business pretending to be a UX designer.”

Hard fact: unless you’ve told outright lies to get an interview or job or promotion, you’re not an imposter. Here’s why. If you have 100% of the skills and experience they’re looking for then you are not qualified for the job. You’re overqualified. Heck, even if you have 70% of the skills and experience you need, you might still be overqualified. 

Hiring managers will tell you this, bosses will tell you this, and I’m telling you this. By hiring someone that ticks every single box, managers are creating a huge risk that this person will want a raise or promotion too quickly. 

Learning on the job has not only become acceptable, it’s become the norm. Remember that regardless of your background, if you know how to push yourself, ask for feedback, celebrate your victories, and learn, then you, my friend, are not an imposter.

A tech professional sitting on a couch, having a job interview

Lie 2: I’m new to this so I’ll need to start riiiiight at the bottom

Like we said before, if you have 100% of the skills and experience that an employer is looking for then you are actually overqualified. You might not realize it now, but someone who has loads of experience and expertise can sometimes be a pain in the butt to work with! They can be inflexible, stuck in their ways, and might not be open to new ways of thinking or doing things. 

We suggest reframing your skills and experience so that they are a benefit to you and the company. As someone who is new to your field, you’re a blank canvas, a sponge. You have the ability to become the team member that your company needs you to be, not the type of person that brings tired ideas from another organization. 

Now, that’s not to say that experience counts for nothing. But a long, specialized career doesn’t bring the same perspective that a more textured career does. So, you’ve worked in retail, in hotels, and tourism? Great! That gives you an amazing insight into the inner workings of these three industries, not to mention incredible intuition on customer experience and behavior. Keeping this frame of mind is essential to overcoming imposter syndrome.

Don’t be ashamed of what you’ve already got. It’s worth much more than you think. 

Lie 3: Everyone else knows exactly what they’re doing

Jo in accounts? Super organized and smart. Riley from the dev team? A genius problem solver. Sammie the CEO? A whip-smart, infallible, completely intimidating powerhouse. Every single one of these people is the scariest, most competent person you’ve ever met, right? That is, until you make two realizations:

  1. They’re insecure too. There’s not a person on this planet that doesn’t have their own insecurities. It doesn’t have be imposter syndrome exactly—whether it’s their work or their career direction, whether they are shy or think they talk too much, or whether they can’t sleep at night from stress; never assume that other people have their sh*t together. Humans are fallible, and we are all human!
  2. These people might simply be much more experienced than you. We promise you, back in the early days of our careers, we thought everyone was a master too. Then we realized what having experience actually means: it means you’ve seen these situations and challenges all before. There are no surprises! Remember that in a few years time you’ll be able to do things in your sleep that you couldn’t even imagine doing now. 

What to do about it: Talk to people around you. Ask them about how they came to be a designer, or a developer, or a CEO. Sure, some of them will have computer science degrees, and some of them will have the type of resumé you could only dream of. But some won’t! Either way, other people have nothing to do with you and your potential. 

Lie 4: People are saying that my work is good, but they’re wrong

You know that feeling when a boss or colleague or peer gives you a compliment about your work and your first thought is “I’ve tricked them, they fell for it”? Yep, so do we. It’s a weird feeling. You know you did a good enough job to show the work to them, so why are you surprised and suspicious now that it’s been classified as “good”?

This feeling is a classic symptom of imposter syndrome. It’s one of the toughest things to overcome, especially for women. The reason it’s so hard is that it demonstrates that you might have a perfectionist mindset, and while that seems like a great thing, it can be very damaging to your confidence and sense of worth. 

We want you to challenge yourself on this, starting right now. If you don’t genuinely think your work is good, then how are you supposed to advocate for yourself in the workplace? Asking for a raise, a promotion, or to be moved to another team is going to be impossible if you’re not totally convinced that what you’re doing is good enough. Let’s be real, none of us are performing heart surgery. If your work is decent, fits the challenge, and your bosses are happy, then good for you! You’ve done your job. Pat yourself on the back, and make sure you make a mental note: I did a good job today. 

Even if you want to do a great job, an incredible job, or a perfect job, 90% of the time, good is mostly good enough. 

A remote worker sitting in front of a laptop

Lie 5: There’s someone out there trying to expose you as a fraud

I often used to worry that if the person that hired me found out I’d dropped out of university, then they would fire me on the spot. But the truth is, companies not only want you to do well, they actually need you to do well….and succeed!

Here’s why: You are an investment. An investment of time, money, and energy. Getting a new hire up to speed is an expensive and exhausting process, full of risks and obstacles. This is all good news for you! It means that your employer has a vested interest in ensuring that you not only survive, but thrive.

Our advice for combating this symptom of imposter syndrome? Get ahead of these scary feelings by showing self-awareness. Try this:

  1. If you feel like you fudged a project, meeting, or presentation, then proactively approach your manager to ask for feedback. Your manager will appreciate you taking charge and give you the support you need. Plus, you might even find that they were happy with what you did!
  2. Keep a Smile File! Every time someone you respect or admire gives you a compliment, a pat on the back, or positive feedback, write it down or screenshot it. Keep it on the desktop of your computer so that any time you’re freaking out, you can click it open and remind yourself that your old boss once said something really encouraging.
  3. Stop focusing on the here and now and start thinking about your future. What is it that you want to achieve? What are your long-term goals, and how does this experience fit into that? What would your future self tell your current self about the fears you’re having now? You are on your own journey, don’t forget that, and all journeys involve moments of growth, fear, and discomfort. This is all a part of that.

“Busting imposter syndrome” exercise

Now that we’ve covered the 5 biggest lies you’ll tell yourself if you have imposter syndrome, let’s start putting what you’ve learned into practice!

Here are three super simple steps that will help you to re-frame your story so that you can stop thinking that you don’t belong. 

Step 1:

Write down the top three things that you’re really good at. These don’t have to relate to your career, but they do have to be proven. Perhaps a teacher has told you you’re a great communicator, or you are consistently praised for your problem solving skills, or your friends tell you you’re a great storyteller!

Step 2:

Now, think of a tangible way that each skill or ability could apply to your new role/position/career.

You might need to think outside the box with this. What’s at the core of that skill? 

Do people understand you clearly when you explain something? That means you’re a good communicator. Are you able to tackle complex situations and make sense of them? That means you have good problem solving skills. Are you always coming up with interesting solutions to old problems? That means you’re creative!

We often overlook the skills we have, not realizing that these are useful at work. (Hint: they often are!!)

Step 3:

Flip the script! Write down your three skills and how they apply to your new career on Post-its or paper. Put them somewhere that you will see them regularly. Make them the background on your computer, or put them up on your office bulletin board. Here are some examples of the kinds of things you might come up with:

  • I’ve been pulling things apart to see how they work since I was a kid, and I’ve always managed to figure out how something ticks. This means that I have strong problem solving skills, which is key to my work as a developer. 
  • People always tell me I’m friendly, and that I make them feel welcome. This is great because, as a UX designer, it’s my job to make users feel comfortable in the testing and research phases.
  • I always got great marks in maths in high school, and love the way data always tells a story. This means that as a data analyst, I have the passion and mindset to do great work.

You can see myself and Brittni talk more about the “Busting Impostor Syndrome” exercise, as well as answer questions about all things impostor syndrome in this video of the webinar we hosted:

Finally, and this is a big one: 

Go easy on yourself! We have a policy: we would never say something to ourselves that we wouldn’t say to our friends. Cut out the harsh language and judgements, and practice self-compassion. No-one is ever going to be as hard on you as you are on yourself, and frankly…no-one cares about what you do as much as you do! 

Focus on your own path, your own goals, and your own journey, and you’ll realize something important. 

No-one is an imposter in their own life.

And remember that sometimes imposter syndrome creeps in as a result of creative block. Here’s something to help with that: 9 ways for UX designers (and others!) to overcome creative block.

If you enjoyed this post, check out the following:

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