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Don’t Let Impostor Syndrome Slow Down Your Career

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MASK and bookMy husband is reluctant to apply for full-time professor jobs. One of the things holding him back is something that, as someone with a Ph.D. in Psychology, he is well aware of. It’s called Impostor Syndrome.

“I feel like I’m wearing a mask,” he says. “My students, and even many of my colleagues tell me I’m great, but I sometimes I feel like a fraud. What if I’m not as good as they say I am?”

What is Impostor Syndrome?

Even though Impostor Syndrome isn’t recognized as a disorder by the DSM-IV, it is still something that many in psychological circles talk about. Basically, it’s the idea that you don’t deserve your success.

When you have Impostor Syndrome, you have a hard time internalizing your good qualities, and seeing the reasons that others think that you are success, or find you competent.

“I know I have Impostor Syndrome,” my husband tells me. “But it doesn’t make it easier to deal with. I’m afraid that if I start applying for these full-time jobs, someone will discover that I’m not a legit teacher after all.”

So, instead of applying for jobs, he has worked as an adjunct for two years, and funding cuts are even now threatening that job. He’ll be forced to apply for positions soon, and he’ll have to really face his fears that he might be a fraud.

When you have Impostor Syndrome, even the evidence of your competence seems insufficient to convince you that you really do belong. Plenty of famous and successful people have had this problem, including Sheryl Sandberg and Kate Winslet.

Some of the indications that you might have Impostor Syndrome include:

  • A nagging fear that, at any moment, you’re going to be “found out.”
  • Feeling that your latest triumph is the result of luck, than your own ability.
  • Your success is marred by the worry that next time you won’t be so lucky, and they’ll finally see through you.
  • Your self-doubt keeps you from sharing your aspirations with others for fear of what people will think if you fail.
  • Worry that you’re a fake keeps you from applying for positions you really want, or attempting new projects.
  • Concern that you will fail, and that others will “learn the truth,” prevents you from speaking about your ideas. You’d rather be silent, and thought smart, than worry that your thoughts will “give you away.”

These feelings, and the actions that result, can hold you back in your career. Building a successful career requires a degree of confidence, as well as the ability to own your success, and step up as a leader.

It’s true that you don’t want to display overconfidence in your abilities, leading others to find you arrogant. However, you do need to be realistic, and accept that you probably are competent — especially since you’ve made it this far.

Realize that everyone fails at some point, and that it’s nothing to be afraid of. Even the greatest entrepreneurs and leaders have failures behind them. A few failures won’t lead others to think that you, as a person and a professional, are a complete failure.

What do you think? Do you worry that others will “see through you”? Do you feel like a fraud?

(Photo: jimmiehomeschoolmom)

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8 Responses to “Don’t Let Impostor Syndrome Slow Down Your Career”

  1. Is this supposed to be a real syndrome? I mean is it just a label that some people have put together to cover a set of worries or concerns. It seems like everyone feels like this on some level at some time…

  2. admiral58 says:

    Just try to be confident in your skills

  3. Shafi says:

    I hate psychiatrists. There are no mental negative syndromes among humans whatsoever. Shrinks are the worst. They are the ones who would put patients on prescription addictive drugs. To go to a shrink is the biggest waste of money.

  4. Those seem like feelings that many have at some point in their life.

  5. DMoney says:

    I think these are common human concerns/fears, but, It also seems like something that can only be overcome by doing it. So man up and face your fear of failure.

  6. Daniel Hilsden says:

    I think the feeling that we’re all fraudulent is actually less about us feeling as if we are deceiving those around us, and more about us being perfectionists.

    It’s a difficult thing to overcome though, we all crave success which is a natural part of life, but we also hate to come forward and boldly claim it as our own – especially over the internet!

    If we move towards a more realistic mode of thinking (thinking less about perfection) whereby we are critical of our work, but openly admit that we can improve upon it, will lead us all to feel a bit better about our imperfections.

    Hope that made some sense :)

  7. I think that everyone has this! One of my favourite books is The Presentation of Self by Erving Goffman, all about we present ourselves to the outside world and how it differs from what we feel is ‘the real us’.

    I think that everyone not only feels that they’re wearing a mask at times – we actually are! We must present ourselves in different ways to carry out different facets of our lives – eg our role as a parent (feigns interest in worms and cookie dough) is quite different from our role as an employee (feigns interest at times in certain issues).

    I’d say that they ability to present ourselves in different ways depending on the situation is an essential survival skill and that yes, at times it does feel as if we’re wearing a mask because we’re playing the role that the situation requires.

  8. Shirley says:

    Skint in the City: I agree with you 100%. Your examples made your point quite clear.

    However when it comes to meeting a new challenge in the workforce, I think some people meet it with a less than positive attitude about their already acquired skills, rather than a confidence in themselves about their ability to learn a new procedure. That can definitely lead to a feeling of being an ‘imposter’, a fear of failure and possibly deter them from exploring new options.


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