February 07, 2020

Everyone has impostor syndrome, so maybe no one needs to have impostor syndrome

In 2019, the rate of employees using the phrase “impostor syndrome” in their Bravely sessions had quadrupled vs. 2018. While feeling like a fraud is isolating, it’s more common than you might think, and more people than ever are putting a name to it. 

It’s actually good for us (usually).

The gut-wrenching feeling that you don’t belong and will fail is totally good for you. Hear us out!

Impostor syndrome tells you aren’t able enough or informed enough to do something. Yes, this narrative is usually a dirty lie. But regardless of how ready you are now, feeling ill-prepared can motivate you to get better. Maybe you take a class or practice interviewing or ask a trusted friend for help. No matter what you choose, you’re challenging yourself to improve. You were always great—but now you’re amazing.

When we all feel like frauds 

Time for a self-doubt round-up. The vast majority of people suffer from impostor syndrome at some point in their careers. Here are some of the times to watch out for feeling like an impostor: 

First day (or week, or month) on the job. Cool, I got the job but I don’t know any of the lingo, or who does what, or where anything is. I’m just waiting for someone to realize I have no idea what I’m doing yet. 

They hired you because they believe you can do the work, but no one expects you to be at a full sprint on day one. But for many of us, we feel an urge to prove ourselves right out the gate. We’re stressing ourselves out about expectations no one else has for us. 

Read more: Getting used to your new normal at work

When asking for a raise or promotion. Should I be asking for this? Wouldn’t they have offered it already if they thought I deserved it? Am I being greedy or ungrateful? Will they hate me?

Employers want to see you raise your hand for a new role; it shows that you’re motivated and invested in the company. And they expect employees to ask for periodic raises. Seeing our own value and asking others to recognize it is not unreasonable or fraudulent. 

4x increase

in the rate of employees mentioning impostor syndrome in their coaching sessions, from 2018 to 2019

Taking on a new project. What if I fail? What if it’s harder than it looks? Maybe I shouldn’t raise my hand. I’m comfortable where I am. 

Change is scary, and while we want to prove ourselves, volunteering as tribute for a new project can be frightening. If you’re excited about the idea, it’s worth digging further and evaluating the pros and cons.

When it’s all the time 

Let’s pause and acknowledge impostor syndrome isn’t always just an internal narrative. Women, people of color, and LGBTQ people are most likely to be denied opportunities and devalued in their professional lives, which can have a pile-on effect. Highly accomplished and qualified members of under-represented groups are often made to feel like “diversity hires,” minimizing and invalidating their achievements.

At the heart of feeling like an impostor is feeling different, like an outsider. Discrimination (from microaggressions to explicit behavior) can fuel these feelings. While it’s common and normal to feel like you don’t fit in from time to time, it’s important to recognize that the complicated web of factors creating that feeling in yourself and in others.

What now? Do we “fake it till we make it?”

Sort of.

There’s a concept called self-monitoring that lies behind the tired “fake it till you make it” expression. Studies have shown that if you’re regularly reading the room and adapting your communication style to suit it, you’re more likely to succeed — and to succeed quickly. “Faking it” requires self-awareness and the ability to pick up on social cues and pivot in the moment. 

In other words, you’re not truly being fake. You’re putting your best foot forward while embracing feedback, change, and growth — all in the hopes of finding your groove more each day. It works. Unfortunately, “self-monitor till you make it” doesn’t rhyme. 

Impostor syndrome feels terrible, but we can learn to view it as a universal experience, a potential motivator for growth, and a barometer of whether our needs are being met at work.

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