Overcoming Impostor Syndrome, Beating Self-Doubt, and Succeed in Life. Do you often feel like a fraud, struggling with persistent self-doubt and constantly comparing yourself to others? Learn from psychologists Lisa and Richard Orbé-Austin’s strategies for rewriting your inner narrative, discovering your authentic self-worth and banishing impostor syndrome for good. Begin the empowering process of shedding perfectionist tendencies pulling you back from your dreams.
Through illuminating stories and evidence-based exercises, the authors equip readers to overcome impostor syndrome by transforming limiting beliefs, embracing vulnerability and celebrating hard-won skills. We learn to define success based on internal fulfillment rather than external validation alone.
With compassion and insight, Orbé-Austin and Orbé-Austin guide us to stop discounting achievements and face challenges without crippling self-doubt. Their advice inspires the courage within to step into our greatness on our own terms.
This masterful work helps shed perfectionist masks to find freedom, confidence and connection through wholehearted self-acceptance. It empowers transformations in work, relationships and well-being.
Self-help, psychology, career guides, leadership, motivation, personal development, mental health, relationships, success, business management
Estimates say that 70% of the population struggles with an intense sense of self-doubt – impostor syndrome. Oscar winner Tom Hanks and former Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg say they are among that number, proof that even great success is not a guaranteed antidote. Psychologists Lisa and Richard Orbé-Austin present a straightforward program for confronting and overcoming impostor syndrome. They focus on replacing counterproductive coping mechanisms, building a support system and revising negative self-talk.
- Many successful people struggle with impostor syndrome.
- Embrace the “3 C’s Strategy” to escape impostor syndrome: “Clarify, Choose and Create.”
- Clarify the inner narrative that drives your impostor syndrome.
- Choose behaviors that support a revised narrative.
- Create and maintain new roles for yourself.
Many successful people struggle with impostor syndrome.
Many accomplished people regard themselves as unworthy of their success. They fear their advancement is a result of luck, and they are afraid of being exposed as a fraud. These feelings are manifestations of the impostor syndrome.Fully 70% of people experience this psychological condition, a misalignment between someone’s competence and his or her self-image.
“The journey to conquering impostor syndrome begins with your commitment to valuing yourself and choosing a different path for your life.”
Men who have impostor syndrome generally avoid challenging situations they fear could lead to exposure, and they stick with roles they can perform successfully. They compare their work with that of less skilled colleagues. These strategies reduce anxiety and fear, but they can hobble career advancement over time.
Women dive into the most challenging roles and subdue their impostor feelings by overworking. However, they may derive only scant satisfaction from performing well.
Impostor syndrome can be insidious for members of marginalized communities. They may encounter majority community people who believe they secured their positions through special treatment due to their minority status. A business can inadvertently reinforce this message with public relations messages trumpeting the diversity of its staff.
Embrace the “3 C’s Strategy” to escape impostor syndrome: “Clarify, Choose and Create.”
Impostor syndrome can trigger anxiety and depression. People who suffer from it may compensate for their self-assessed inadequacy with unsustainable or counterproductive behavior, such as overwork or perfectionism. Other behaviors associated with impostor syndrome include reluctance to negotiate, discomfort with networking, reticence about contending for promotions and lack of career-related ambition.
“While you can’t change your past, you can change your understanding of it, which is so much more important.”
If you struggle with impostor syndrome – or know someone you supervise, coach or mentor who does – overcome it by using the 3 C’s Strategy: Clarify, Choose and Create.
Clarify the inner narrative that drives your impostor syndrome.
Your impostor syndrome may stem from your upbringing. Perhaps your family identified one of your siblings as the smart one. You may well have been more successful at school than your sibling, but your family’s framing could lead you to credit your performance to your social skills instead of your intelligence.
Or perhaps you had a youthful reputation for intellectual precociousness and concluded you could handle any challenge. But, the first time you had to struggle with a task, you may have begun to question your positive self-image.
Identify the situations that trigger your feelings of being an impostor. These could include adjusting to novel circumstances, such as taking on a new supervisory role. You might tell yourself you lack the skills for the job, that the promotion was an error and that attempting to carry it out will expose your inadequacy.
“Knowing your history and really understanding the origins of a negative pattern can help you to pinpoint your triggers and finally and decisively end that pattern.”
Analyze these situations to identify their common features and pinpoint which elements acted as triggers. Examine the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that arise under such circumstances.
Therapists Michael White and David Epston pioneered the “narrative therapy” technique, which helps you “externalize” a problem to separate it from your identity. To use this strategy, reflect on the origins of important elements of your impostor syndrome. Outline how these components negatively affect your career and life. Then, create a “thickening narrative” to add context and nuance to your story. For example, perhaps your origin story casts your sister as the smart one. It seemed that learning came easily to her, while you had to put in extra work. Thicken this simple contrast by considering that you and your sister may have different learning styles. Perhaps she learns best through spoken communication rather than through cracking the books, so her learning appears effortless. You may be more comfortable learning from reading and writing, so your process is more visible and may appear to involve more work.
Choose behaviors that support a revised narrative.
Open up about your impostor syndrome anxieties to people you trust. Suffering in silence is one of the most painful aspects of this syndrome.
“Even if your loved ones, friends and colleagues don’t fully understand your experience, they will want to help you overcome the unhappiness and discomfort you are holding in.”
Learn to acknowledge your achievements. Overcome the reflex of disregarding compliments. Taking ownership of your achievements includes acknowledging smaller accomplishments, such as wrapping up an important project or earning a spot on a leadership committee.
Acknowledge your strengths. People with impostor syndrome feel they have few or no talents. They believe their interpersonal skills prevent others from discovering their incompetence. They overlook the fact that interpersonal skills are strengths. Avoid obsessing about skills you believe you lack. Focus on what you do well, such as staying cool in a crisis or reliably meeting deadlines.
“An accomplishment is anything you can be proud of.”
Quell your “Automatic Negative Thoughts” (ANTs). These arise unbidden when you encounter a syndrome trigger. They may manifest in three ways:
- Mind reading – You believe you know what other people think about you.
- Labeling – You reflexively apply negative descriptors, like “stupid,” to yourself.
- Catastrophizing – You worry your shortcomings will lead to losing your job or some other calamity.
“Rational responding” can defeat ANTs. Mentally reply to each negative thought with a realistic affirmative counterpoint. Put catastrophic worries in perspective by assessing the likelihood of any disastrous outcome. Practice replacing negative thoughts with more positive ones, so that positive responses eventually become automatic. Repeat positive statements or affirmations in front of your mirror each morning.
Practice self-care – “a necessity, not a luxury.” People with impostor syndrome are at risk of burnout because they engage in overwork and perfectionism. Symptoms of burnout include fatigue, anxiety and depression.
You may have difficulty with self-care because impostor syndrome inhibits your ability to set reasonable boundaries around your work life. Your business culture can contribute to this problem if it valorizes overwork and extreme dedication. Start your self-care program by examining the conditions surrounding your job. Identify elements – your supervisors, the culture, your responsibilities – that may exacerbate impostor feelings.
“Aspects of impostor syndrome, like overworking and perfectionism, are not badges of honor. Instead, they are blocks to fully appreciating all your skills and abilities.”
Set one reasonable boundary, such as the best time to start and end your workday. Clarify your job’s responsibilities and what constitutes good performance. Ideally, discuss this with your supervisor.
Take self-care seriously. Activities such as exercise and meditation – or simple pleasures such as getting a facial – help forestall burnout. Start a self-care regimen by adopting positive “micro-habits.” Embrace smaller commitments, such as going to the gym or yoga studio, and then expand your regimen.
Create and maintain new roles for yourself.
Perfectionism is a roadblock to keeping up self-care. To free yourself from this trait, avoid comparing yourself to others and contrast your current performance only with your previous performance. Set realistic criteria for judging the quality of your work. Get other people’s perspectives on what constitutes realistic criteria. View mistakes as opportunities for learning and growth.
“Perfection is unattainable and reaching for it makes you feel like a failure.”
Examine the roles you habitually assume. People with impostor syndrome often adopt roles that temporarily assuage their anxieties but ultimately exacerbate their syndrome. Such roles include:
- Helper – You solve problems for everyone who asks and avoid asking for help yourself.
- Failure avoider – You steer clear of risks such as taking on challenging projects, looking for a new job or asking for a raise. Sticking with sure things softens your anxiety, but it also limits your growth and advancement.
- Behind-the-scenes leader – You dodge taking visible action, such as speaking at meetings, in favor of contributing outside the spotlight. You may be highly effective, but you will not get the kind of recognition or credit that can boost your career.
Experiment with new roles. Experimenting doesn’t mean renouncing your roles as a helper or behind-the-scenes leader. Rather, it calls for mixing in specific activities you associate with a different role. Your new roles might be reverse images of your usual ones. Seek advice on a problem from a co-worker, family member or friend. Take on a project that stretches your abilities, even if it carries the potential for failure.
Assemble a supportive “Dream Team.” This may include professionals such as therapists, career coaches and people who back you in other ways. Your support team members’ roles include:
- Mentor – Reduce your feelings of isolation and gain valuable perspectives on the challenges you face by finding a successful, senior person in your field who is willing to mentor you.
- Cheerleader – This person offers encouragement. A cheerleader might not provide concrete suggestions or feedback, but his or her support can be an emotional lifeline.
- Grounder – This team member offers objective responses when various triggers set off your automatic negative thoughts.
- Action planner – When you encounter a triggering issue, the planner helps you assess your options. This should be someone with good interpersonal skills who is familiar with your situation.
- Big-picture person – This friend places events in their correct contexts by analyzing them within the overall framework of your life.
- Impostor expert – This person is knowledgeable about impostor-syndrome dynamics, including common triggers and defense mechanisms. He or she fortifies your resolve to maintain your recovery process. Sometimes a therapist can perform this role.
Create tools for carrying out your recovery. For example, write a set of “coping cards” that itemize the new skills you’re working on or have mastered.
“Sharing vulnerability, flaws, and insecurities with the right set of people can make you stronger than you ever imagined in a real, authentic and sustainable way.”
Use index cards for this purpose or keep digital versions on your phone. Create a card for each phase. For example, summarize the first phase by writing out the factors that led to your impostor syndrome, your significant triggers and your new coping mechanisms. Use other cards to catalog antidotes to automatic negative thoughts and replace them with positive affirmations about your capabilities.
About the Authors
Lisa Orbé-Austin, PhD the co-founder of Dynamic Transitions Psychological Consulting, is a licensed psychologist and executive coach. Richard Orbé-Austin, PhD is the founding director of NYU’s Graduate Student Career Development Center. He is a psychologist, executive coach and organizational consultant.