Why Self-Doubt May Be Sabotaging Your Career
November 11, 2019
Do you ever have that fear that you’ll be found out? That someone will discover you’re not actually as good at your job as people think you are—or even as you try to be? Do you worry people will realize that you don’t actually belong at your level or company?
This is classic “imposter syndrome”—the belief that you’re not as talented as you’ve led others to believe, despite evidence that proves you are in fact entirely capable. It’s normal and it happens to all of us, but it could be sabotaging your career.
You’ll be happy to know that imposter syndrome is especially common among high achievers who demand perfection from themselves. But persistent self-doubt about your intelligence or ability can be paralyzing.
It shows up as procrastination, over-preparation, or keeping silent. You may even avoid situations where you’ll be scrutinized, or pass up a big project for fear you're not good enough.
Once imposter syndrome has taken hold, it can be exceedingly difficult to release yourself from its grip. The trick is to get ahead of it: to understand the common triggers and make a few mental maneuvers to identify and embrace your strengths. So when you’re going into a situation that may trigger imposture syndrome, you have the tools to fight back.
That's exactly what Dr. Carolyn Goerner covers in her course Overcoming Imposter Syndrome.
Know Where Imposter Syndrome is Lurking
#1 When you’re trying something new
Imposter syndrome is often sparked by novelty, like when you’re joining a new group (maybe it’s a new role, team, or company) or you’re learning something new (newbie manager training nerves, anyone?)
Times like these can make you particularly vulnerable to feeling like someone made a mistake—that you don’t deserve to be there.
“If you find a new concept hard to grasp or a skill tough to learn,” said Dr. Goerner, “you may believe this is it, I’ve reached the end of my abilities.”
But again, this is not true. We’ll get to how to prove that to yourself in the next section.
#2 When you’re a minority in the group
Being a minority in the group can also be a trigger. When you’re the only woman, the only person of color, the only Boomer in the room, you may feel like you stand out—that you’re being scrutinized and even held to a different standard.
“This self-consciousness leads to self-doubt or wondering whether someone like you belongs there at all,” said Dr. Goerner.
Chances are that no one is thinking this, and if anything, the others in the group are happy you’re there to offer your unique perspective.
#3 When you’re put on the spot
Imposter syndrome is magnified whenever you’re in a situation where others may challenge your expertise or abilities—like giving a presentation, defending an idea, or even simply asking a clarifying question.
This will be the time they realize my ignorance, you think. Or maybe I’m not an expert on this topic.
Chances are you are an expert. After all, you were asked to represent the team and speak on that particular subject. But when you’re put on the spot, it’s incredibly common to feel “less than,” and those imposter feelings can affect your work for days or even weeks after the incident.
Conquer Imposter Syndrome in 3 Steps
Now that you know some external circumstances that can provoke the imposter syndrome monster, we can talk about ways to fight back—to prove to yourself, with data, that you are extremely capable and deserve the opportunities you’ve been given based on your ability to do them.
In other words, when imposter syndrome rears its head—when you feel like an idiot, that they picked the wrong person for the job, that you’ll never get to the next level in your career—do these three things.
#1 Identify your unique skills and abilities
Because friends and coworkers may have similar or overlapping job functions, it’s easy to think this organization doesn’t need me. Anyone can do this job. But chances are, your unique skills and abilities are much more rare than you think.
Don’t take my word for it. Prove it.
Make a list of the talents, skills, and even trainings that make you a unique asset to the team. Then investigate.
Do a search on Google or LinkedIn to find out what percentage of the world’s population, or even people in your region, have the same knowledge and skills.
As Dr. Goerner shares: “The things you do and the knowledge you have are not common in the world at large.”
#2 List your accomplishments
Sure, you lived it, you made it happen, but did you really internalize it? Probably not, or at the very least, you’re not accessing it if you’re experiencing imposter syndrome.
It sounds cheesy, but it helps.
Start with the obvious things like awards and promotions. Then dig deep and write down the more subtle accomplishments and ways you impact people outside of work, like:
Are there people whose lives you make better through volunteer work?
Have coworkers expressed appreciation for something you’ve done?
What innovative ideas have you come up with at work, or for fun outings with friends?
#3 Create a trove of positive evidence
Start collecting positive feedback: emails, texts, and notes of appreciation that you can easily turn to when you’re feeling out of place.
Create a folder (physical or digital or both) to store tangible evidence of your contributions. This could be in the Notes section of your phone, or go old school and store everything in your desk drawer.
This isn’t a one-and-done exercise. Keep adding to your collection and revisit it often to remind yourself of how unique, talented, and appreciated you really are.
Commit to the process and you’ll see just how powerful it can be to boost yourself up before a big moment or recover after imposter syndrome strikes.
Other LinkedIn Learning resources you may be interested in:
Executive Presence: Tips for Women with Selena Rezvani
Developing Executive Presence with John Ullmen
Communicating with Confidence with Jeff Ansell
Transitioning from Manager to Leader with Sara Canaday