A Therapist Tells You Why Your Impostor Syndrome Is A Blessing In Disguise
A dose of self-doubt can be a game-changer when it comes to advancing in your career.
By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | November 14, 2022
Many people come to therapy questioning their own competence at work. They ask questions like:
- "Although my performance consistently indicates otherwise, I often feel I'm the least qualified member of my team. How can I stop feeling like a fraud?"
- "I take up the most basic projects because I fear I won't live up to my team's expectations on the more challenging ones. How can I develop more confidence in my abilities?"
- "Interviews scare me because I am not very good at convincing myself or others that I am good at what I do. This is stunting my professional growth. Why is it that I doubt myself so much?"
- "My boss expects too much of me. I worry so much about letting them down that I'm starting to lose sleep over it. What do I do about this?"
In a survey conducted in 2021, global online sampling technology firm InnovateMR found that imposter syndrome, or the unsubstantiated belief that you are not as good at your job as others think you are, affects 65% of the workforce today. According to the survey, women are more likely to be victims of this belief than men.
A more recent survey of the American workforce showed that imposter syndrome can affect personnel at all levels, with 41% of all VPs believing they were underqualified for their job.
In other words, there's no need to feel ashamed about your imposter syndrome – it is more common than you think.
While it may seem like a crippling affliction, imposter syndrome may actually help you on your journey to become the best version of yourself. All it takes is a bit of cognitive reframing.
Here are two ways to use your impostor syndrome to achieve great things at work.
#1. Under-promise and over-deliver
All too often, workplaces are filled with people who talk the talk but can't walk the walk. These overconfident types typically tend to end up delivering mediocre work. This hurts their credibility and career prospects.
The good news is that with your imposter syndrome, you are probably already on the right track. Unlike overconfident types, those who doubt themselves are more likely to pleasantly surprise themselves and their bosses with the quality of their work. They are natural-born under-promisers and over-deliverers.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found that the element of surprise had a great impact on rapport building between individuals. In this study, the waitstaff at a restaurant where it was customary to receive mints along with the check were asked to also give one or two chocolates to the customers in different ways.
It was found that the customers who received a second, unexpected piece of chocolate tipped the most, followed by those who did not expect a piece of chocolate but received it anyway.
Before you under-promise on a project, try to realistically evaluate your abilities relative to the work that is expected of you. Ask a trusted colleague to help you out with the evaluation if you want it to be more objective. Find out these three things:
- What you already know
- What you're confident you can learn and apply
- What you think you can learn and apply
Take up full responsibility for what you already know and don't under-promise with these aspects of your work. Under-promising your way through the next two aspects is totally fine, and may even be rewarding when you find that you are able to achieve more than what you set out to achieve.
#2. Capitalize on your strong interpersonal skills
Because of your imposter syndrome, you are likely to be other-oriented when it comes to the workplace. Let's look at this a little deeper.
In a study published in the Academy of Management Journal, psychologists found that feeling inadequate spurred people on when it came to being personable with colleagues and clients.
As an ambitious professional, it is not simply enough to excel at what you do. Building relationships with those you work with and report to is just as important if you want to advance in your career.
Discuss your own feelings with your colleagues if you find that they might be going through the same thing. Honest discussions about the things that are bothering you can lighten the weight of your own worries. As an added benefit, you could be helping someone who is going through the same thing.
Imposter syndrome, though prevalent, is not an openly discussed issue because there is some shame associated with feeling incompetent. However, understand that these negative beliefs are often unfounded and can affect anyone. Keep learning more about your abilities and never stop upskilling yourself. Arm yourself with the knowledge that many of your colleagues may also feel inadequate and support them in the way that you would like to be supported.