Imposter syndrome is best described as strong feelings of self-doubt and low self-confidence that makes you unable to own your own successes. You may feel like you don’t belong or are going to be exposed as a fraud, or you may feel a sense that you don’t actually deserve your job or accomplishments, that you’ve only succeeded due to luck rather than any talent or hard work. You may believe things will come crashing down around you soon enough.
The crucial part is that you often feel these things despite external evidence saying that you are in fact doing alright – even excelling.
The resulting anxiety, stress and shame can have a negative impact on your mental health. In a work environment, this can in turn impact your performance and productivity. It also plays a key role in issues such as pay gaps, with self-doubt preventing women and other disadvantaged groups from asking for a raise.
Despite having “syndrome” in its name, imposter syndrome is not a diagnosable, medical condition.
“I prefer not to use the word syndrome because it kind of suggests you have it or you don't,” says Monica Chadha, an experienced non-executive director in the data sciences, media, higher education and non-profit sectors and director at Mocha 8. “I think of it as a phenomenon, and I think that it floats over people at different moments in your career.”
Experiencing imposter syndrome doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Plus, it is quite a common phenomenon. It’s commonly estimated that around 70% of people have experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their lives, while a more recent survey by The Hub Events found it to be 85%. Furthermore, a 2019 study found that half the respondents had experienced it “regularly” or “daily” in the past year. Monica has seen this in real life: “I have worked with some outstanding people over the course of my career – [but the] absolute point of similarity between all of those people is that there are moments that they feel like they are an imposter”.
Despite its prevalence, a The Hub Events found that only a quarter of people who experience imposter syndrome are aware of what it is. Read on to learn what imposter syndrome can look like, some of its causes, plus plenty of tips and resources to tackle it in yourself and your teams.
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