What Imposter Syndrome Is And How to Overcome It (With Video)

March 4, 2019

Learn what imposter syndrome is and how to overcome it.

There’s a thief going around robbing the world of untapped potential.

This thief tends to strike the most capable, ironically, above all others. It also tends to hit women more, but it’s hardly a gender issue – 70 percent of professionals have dealt with this miscreant at one point in time.

The thief’s name is imposter syndrome. And it even effects LinkedIn Learning Instructor, business school professor and holder of multiple advanced degrees Carolyn Goerner – which is precisely why she’s dedicated to stopping it.

Kelley School of Business Professor Dr. Carolyn Goerner explains what imposter syndrome is and how to overcome it in her LinkedIn Learning course.

What Imposter Syndrome Is: A Belief That You Aren’t Worthy

So, what is imposter syndrome, exactly?

As the name suggests, imposter syndrome is when you feel like you are an imposter and don’t deserve what you have in life. It's the belief that, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, you aren’t good enough.

According to Goerner, some signs of imposter syndrome are:

  • You have difficulty accepting praise.
  • You believe you are not qualified, not intelligent or not capable.
  • You feel incompetent and fear others will soon realize it.

“Imposter syndrome makes you believe your success has just been due to luck,” Goerner said.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome: 5 Tips for Beating It

Why is imposter syndrome bad? Many reasons, one being that it limits your potential.

“It keeps you from trying new things and can take away your confidence to learn and grow,” Goerner added. “It can also keep you from going after a promotion or taking charge of a team.”

That’s not good, for either you or the world. In her course, Goerner gave five tips for combatting imposter syndrome.

They are:

1. Recognize insecure thoughts.

“Not every insecure feeling is a problem,” Goerner said. She gave the example of learning a new computer program – it's normal to be overwhelmed at first.

It crosses the line when you begin to take that struggle as a reflection on yourself. As in, thinking the reason you are struggling with a new software program is because you are stupid or unworthy (not true – you are just learning something new).

Don’t ignore these thoughts! They’ll just get louder. Instead, the first step is to recognize them.

2. Talk about those thoughts.

I admit – writing this right now, this would be the last thing I personally would want to do. If I felt less-than, I’d want to keep it to myself, not share it with others.

That’s why it’s important to have a trusted person – be it a mentor, friend, family member, whoever – you can open up to.

“When you tell a trusted friend or mentor what you're feeling, they can remind you of your talent and preparation,” Goerner said. “They help you see why you do deserve that award or promotion, and they can likely empathize. Remember, chances are, they've experienced imposter syndrome, too.”

Pro tip – the best way to build this type of relationship where you can share these thoughts openly with someone else is to be a good listener. If you listen and empathize with other people’s struggles, they’ll be much more likely to do the same for you.

3. Reframe your thoughts by stating the opposite.

Say you have a big presentation coming up and you have this belief that not only will you fail, you’ll finally be exposed as the fraud you think you are (which, of course, isn’t true).

Regardless of how you are feeling on the inside, say the opposite. Say to yourself you are going to do great at the presentation. That you are worthy. That this is your opportunity to shine.

Say these enough aloud and you’ll begin to believe it. “Imposter syndrome is like paralysis, and changing your thoughts gets you unstuck,” Goerner said.

4. Intentionally reflect on your successes.

People with imposter syndrome tend to forget all the successes they’ve had and focus only on their failures. They could do 20 good reports in a row, but instead focus on the one report that got the slightest bit of criticism.

Make a conscious effort to reverse this. Intentionally think about your positive experiences and the positive feedback you’ve received.

“I keep a file of thank-you notes from my favorite colleagues and clients,” Goerner said. “Reading them helps when imposter thoughts arise.”

5. If all else fails, don’t be afraid to consider professional help.

“If you're feelings are deep rooted and hard to manage, consider professional help” Goerner said. “While it's not a mental disorder itself, people with imposter syndrome may also have depression or anxiety. These illnesses can be managed with the right guidance.”

I know – it can be tough to make that leap. Myself personally, I think I’d rather get my hand caught in a car door than admit I have a problem that requires professional help (all credit to people who have/do).

Truth is, some issues can’t be overcome by ourselves. If all else fails, there’s no shame in seeking professional help – with it, you can learn how to overcome imposter syndrome.

Are you looking to boost your confidence? These LinkedIn Learning courses can help: