How To Get Over Impostor Syndrome – For Real

Struggling wiath impostor syndrome? It happens to most of us! Click through for 7 confidence tips and feel better now >>

Dear Sarah,
I graduated from college three years ago and have a job in the field that I went to school for (public relations).  I’m working my way up the corporate ladder and receiving bigger and bigger accounts. 
The weird thing is, I feel like a total fraud.  Even though I went to school for this, I can’t shake the feeling that someday my bosses will wake up and yell “What are you doing here?!  Why did we give you that account?” 
My clients and supervisors are all happy with me but I constantly feel like I don’t know what I’m doing and that I’m a total fake. 
I feel like everybody else is on top of their game and that I’m just playing along. I am totally debilitated by the fear that I’m going to be “found out.” Am I being ridiculous?  How do I get over this?  Do I need to quit my job?
– Completely Fraudulent
Dear CF,
Oh, girl.  Honeybee, sweetheart.  I hear you.  Despite having a blog read by thousands of people, I frequently feel weird charging people to design social media or internet domination plans.  Why?  BECA– USE I DO NOT HAVE A MASTERS DEGREE IN THE INTERNET.  Such a thing does not exist, but that does not stop me from wanting one because then I’d feel like a real expert.

Though it probably won’t make you feel better, millions of people (incredibly accomplished, clever people) feel the same way. Look!  It’s even got a fancy name (impostor syndrome) and a wikipedia page!

How to get over impostor syndrome

Know that feeling this way doesn’t make you silly/weak/a useless pile of wet socks

It shows you’re considerate/conscientious/take your responsibilities seriously.  We all know plenty of a-holes that are over confident.  You are officially not one of those a-holes.

Take heart that most things worth doing have a high learning curve

We all mess up from time to time and just about everyone you know feels the same way when they’re starting something new.

Try to take note of when you’re feeling particularly fraudulent

and realize that it could just be impostor syndrome rearing its ugly head.  FEELING incompetent is not the same as ACTUALLY BEING incompetent. Click To Tweet  Repeat after me: “I’m good at this.  I’m good at this.  I’m good at this.”

Talk it out with (trusted!) friends and co-workers

There’s a good chance your co-workers will be able to put your fears in perspective. (“Dude!  You’re doing fine!  It took me 6 months to learn that software and you’ve only been at it for three weeks!”)

Stop downplaying your accomplishments

None of this “I was in the right place at the right time” or “I knew somebody inside the company.”  That serves no one and you’re discounting all your hard work.  How about “Thanks!” or “That’s so kind of you to say – I’ve been working really hard on it.”

When you’re feeling particularly self-doubt-y, remember all those accomplishments

What’s one missed deadline in the face of landing a $250,000 client or being valedictorian?

Know your limits

You’re probably not awesome at everything (I’m not!)  And that’s okay!  Be honest with yourself (and others) about those limits.  It’s an opportunity to openly learn from the masters.

Also: people love it when you ask them for help and advice!  There are probably people in your company who will fall all over themselves telling you how to format that website.

Attempt to get over your perfectionism

Anytime we learn new things, we’re going to make mistakes, yes?  I believe this is what they call “growth.”

Trust the people that hired you

If someone has been working in the industry for 15 years and thought you were the right candidate for the job?  They were probably right.  Trust that they knew what they were doing.

Have you ever felt like a fraud?  How did you get over it?

P.S. 13 ways to feel cuter + more confident

photo by cynthia magana // cc

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  1. Jen

    I constantly feel like this too. Despite having a BA in German and Spanish and having just completed an MA in education and having three years experience under my belt, I can't shake the feeling that I could be doing a better job. I now work in Germany teaching English and my observation from the headteacher went well and he wants to have my contract extended to stay there but I can never help feeling that my classes would do better under a different English teacher.

  2. Anonymous

    I agree with Jen – having a masters in the internet probably won't make that feeling go away!
    There is a name for this problem: imposter syndrome (see this NYT article)
    and it is most common amongst high achieving women (shocker, right?). I constantly have to tell my female students (most are mature, highly qualified and experienced professionals doing postgraduate courses) that the self-doubt about their ability to succeed in their studies is a result of negative socialisation. At this stage I point out that few-none of the men on our courses ever express such doubt (perhaps they feel it but don't express it, though the scientific studies indicate that they don't feel it at all or to the same extent). As someone with a BA, MSc and PhD, I constantly feel like a fraud. There is no educating that feeling away. Well, no formal qualifications can get rid of it but I think that you can train yourself to have more confidence in your abilities and we should all try that (as well as supporting our friends and colleagues to do the same).

  3. kathrynoh

    I used to feel like that but not so much any more. I've no advice on how to deal with it because I'm not really sure how I did myself. There's a book called Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office or something like that. It's got some great advice.

  4. Anonymous

    I do, often, and it feels worse because my job should be easy. There's just a lot of fear over making mistakes in general where I work, that people are constantly ridiculed and written up by their peers. So, I'm learning something new and It's not easy in the first place, and I'm going slow. I feel worse because my production is lower, by 3/4 s, than it should be. Everyday I feel like I'm going to be fired. That I'm a failure, not good enough, not like the rest.

    And if I get fired, I'm screwed. I have no degree or accomplishments. I'm not like the girls you praise here, so who else will take me of I am fired? Ya know? I SHOULD be able to do this. I HAVE to.

    I can only imagine what its like when you're higher up like this gal.

  5. chelle.

    oh goodness…i feel like this almost everyday at work.

    i work in juvenile corrections and i graduated from college with a degree in sociology. i feel like i was well educated and knew what i was getting into when i chose to work with juvenile delinquents.

    but at least twice or three times a week, when i am working with a family or counseling with a juvenile, there is a voice in the back of my head that says, "i can't believe they let you do this." and sometimes, i even look around at my co-workers (whom i adore and have the utmost respect for) and think, "i can't believe they left us in charge."

    i'm not sure if i feel that way because i don't feel grown-up enough to be doing this kind of work (even though i'm 34) or because i feel inadequate. i'm hoping it's just because i'm a kid at heart.

    it is refreshing to know that others feel this way. thanks for the post.

  6. Tornado Ali

    I completely understand this. Despite being told (frequently) how capable and awesome I am, I always believe its only a matter of time before I screw up or disappoint.

    I think part of it is that we are always told that modesty is so important (especially as a woman). To some extent this is probably true—cocky a-holes are no fun to be around. But confidence doesn't have to be obnoxious, and there's nothing wrong with taking an objective look at yourself and saying "Okay, there is always room for improvement, but what I have done so far is pretty great."

    I also think its important to remember that just because you didn't give 100% of yourself to something (in your opinion) doesn't mean it isn't good work.

  7. pistasje

    I know this feeling so well, I feel like this all the time! I have been working for about a year, and have a MA in social anthropology. It really doesn't matter how much praise I get, I still think that at some point, somebody is going to "blow my cover"! I get the feeling that I need this "extra-super-skill" to do what I am doing.

    I got this feeling while working on my MA also. When I finished with a great result, I first felt relief, then I thought "they must have missed something! I can't do this, can I?"

  8. iris

    As anonymous said, the formal term for this feeling is 'impostor syndrome.' It's a common reason for why women with 4.0 GPAs drop out of computer science programs. It's a real bummer.

  9. selina

    Thank you so much for this post! I can totally relate as well. While I have a PhD in Chemistry, I feel like I need to get a "certificate" or another advanced degree almost every day. (Until I actually look up how much more school that would require. nothankyouverymuch)Especially, when I am being questioned and put down by others. It's so important to remember what we are worth, rather than what others choose to stamp on us. 🙂

  10. Marcis Gasuns

    Selina, everyone can relate. And posts like these just help us to survive!

  11. cantaloupe

    I feel like a fraud all the time. I'm faking everything about myself, not just in my career. I'm not really this interesting or charming or attractive or anything positive anyone might ever think about me. The only way I ever got over it was to just distract myself until it passed, I think… and then eventually something would happen to boost my ego and make me feel like I was totally all the awesome things I'd previously denounced as fake.

  12. Camels & Chocolate

    OMG other people feel this way, too??? I often experience a similar train of thought when I get a really cool assignment or asked to go on an awesome trip, like why me? When are they going to figure out I'm really not that good at what I do? Glad I'm not alone in that =)

  13. Laurel Martinez

    Hear hear…I desperately needed to hear this.

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