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Don’t Let Impostor Syndrome Slow Down Your Career

My 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 [3], 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 [4] and Kate Winslet.

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

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 [5], 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 [6])