Do you ever see the title on your business card and think, “How did I trick them into that?” Or feel shocked that you keep getting promoted?
If this feeling of inadequacy in the face of success sounds familiar, you could be suffering from impostor syndrome, a phenomenon that causes high achievers to attribute their success to luck or a mistake—instead of very real talent.
Want to know how feeling like a fraud can sabotage your career and how to combat them? Read on.
1. It Makes You a Workaholic
When you think you’re a fraud, you tend to work extra long and hard to protect yourself from being “found out,” says Valerie Young, EdD, researcher, and author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women. “It leads to a host of coping and protecting mechanisms, including workaholism,” says Dr. Young.
“Normalize those impostor feelings,” says Dr. Young. “Remind yourself that 70% of people have experienced feelings of fraudulence—many of them award-winning actors and authors, CEOs, and PhDs.” It doesn’t mean they are true just because you feel them—and that you don’t deserve a life outside the job to maintain your success.
2. It Makes You Superficial
If you think you got that gig just because you’re likeable (or pretty or funny), then you’re selling your intelligence and competence way too short, says Jessica Chivers, a life coach and author of Mothers Work! How to Get a Grip on Guit and Make a Smooth Return to Work.
“Stop and check yourself. What would you tell a friend who was saying the things about herself that you are telling yourself?” asks Chivers. Boost your ego with self-talk about how intelligent you sounded in that meeting, not how great your outfit looked.
3. It Makes You Extra Sensitive
People suffering from self-doubt take negative feedback too hard. “Those with impostor syndrome are hypersensitive to criticism and are often crushed when they get feedback because they view it as evidence of their inadequacy, despite the fact that they have plenty of evidence to prove success—like salary, promotions, degrees,” says Melody J. Wilding, LMSW, who specializes in helping professional women reach their potential.
“Go on the offense and actively seek out criticism,” says Wilding. “One of the best professional and personal development skills you can develop is learning how to elicit and receive constructive feedback. While getting unsolicited advice from out of the blue can hit us like a ton of bricks, when we ask for feedback we perceive it as being more helpful.”
4. It Makes You Think Too Small
When you don’t trust that your smarts can help you out of challenging moments, you tend to avoid new experiences that could reveal you as a “fraud.” This can hurt your career because you’ll tend to steer clear of taking risks that propel you forward.
When you’re gaining new skills or trying something new, recognize that it’s natural to make mistakes and to feel unsure. “What people with impostor syndrome want is to feel confident 24/7,” says Dr. Young. “But that’s not how confidence works.” Anticipate that these emotions are normal so you stop sidestepping uncharted territory.
5. It Makes You Procrastinate
The naysayer inside asks, Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow if you’re probably going to fail anyway? Then at least you can blame the time crunch for the mistakes you’re assuming you’ll make.
“These limiting beliefs that feed impostor syndrome can be unlearned,” says Wilding. First step: Look back at past successes with pride, not excuses. “Watch your words. Those with impostor syndrome commonly undermine themselves by using minimizing language like ‘Oh, it’s no big deal’ or ‘It was nothing,’” says Wilding. “Start throwing this junk language out of your vocabulary.” The new attitude will rev you up to get started on your next project.
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