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How to Defeat ‘Impostor Syndrome’ and Boost Your Career

Confidence, Work Place Strategies, Imposter Syndrome...

While we don’t like to acknowledge it, sometimes the greatest obstacle we have in terms of working toward the career, salary and culture we want, isn’t a lack of skill or opportunity; it is self-sabotage.  In professional life, believing in your skills and abilities is central to your motivation to grow, stretch in new directions and succeed.

Dynamic organizations work hard to find someone with the right skills, experience and attitude to win.  Individuals who struggle with impostor syndrome remain high-functioning in their role, despite the fact that they can experience increased stress and emotional turmoil.   Why is it a concern then? Because over time and unaddressed, this can lead to a burn out for some of your businesses most valuable, and key contributing staff.

What Is Impostor Syndrome?

The first person to coin the term was Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes in 1978. The two were clinical psychologists who examined the emotions of high-achieving women, where the subjects had difficulty accepting credit for their accomplishments in a variety of different ways.  Today in many work and social environments, being a “Type-A” personality is something of a negative, or somewhat antisocial stereotype.

Women (and men) who experience impostor syndrome, or fraud syndrome believe that:

  • Their business or personal success is related to luck, or “being in the right place at the right time” versus demonstrated talent or hard work.
  • They are deceiving others by presenting to be more intelligent than they are.
  • They will lose their success when others discover they are less skilled.
  • They do not deserve the income or reputation they have earned.

Impostor syndrome is not just a series of emotions, but a documented mental health condition that is documented in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).  While the condition is more common by admission in women (including celebrities, business executives and creative talents), it has also been openly discussed by high-achieving males, including best-selling writer Neil Gaiman.

Because high-performing staff are fueled by a negative inner dialogue, they tend to be harder working and more driven to advance within organizations.  Unaddressed however, the problem can lead to excellent performance at the cost of the personal wellness of the employee, or damage to a positive and collaborative business culture; one that values exceptional performance and balance.

How Does It Manifest in Daily Work Environments?

Is impostor syndrome a contributing factor to toxicity in the workplace?  It can be, because individuals who are high-achieving can intimidate other members of the team, and even disassociate themselves from the team, in the drive to prove themselves as “good enough”.   The problem in that scenario, is that the employee is competing against themselves, whereas it can be perceived as competing maliciously against other employees, which can create a problem.

While self-doubt and problems with assertive behavior in the workplace can be a problem for both male and female professionals, the topic has been consistent recently, with influential female executives like Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook) commenting on it, as it pertains to women and their careers:

“Women systematically underestimate their capabilities,” she says. “If you ask a man why he did a good job, he’ll say, ‘I’m awesome.’ A woman will say, ‘I’m lucky I got someone good to help me.’ ” When offered their first job after university, 57 per cent of men negotiate for themselves. Only 7 per cent of women do. “Women don’t feel they deserve their success,” she argues. “They don’t even understand it.”

Source: Web July 2016 The Globe and Mail

Our recruiters meet industry leading professionals at every level, who share that mastering or disciplining the self-doubt regarding their career was the hardest, and most beneficial skill they mastered.   And once you retrain that habit into an encouraging, supportive inner dialogue, you will be able to advance in your job, knowing that you have earned experience and skills that make you very valuable to your employer.

There are a number of workbooks and resources available to help employees to train a more supportive inner dialogue.