What Is Imposter Syndrome and How Can You Overcome It?

Imposter syndrome is the monster under your bed: you know it’s there, you can sense its presence looming, and it always comes out at the worst possible moments, ready to ruin your day.

It’s safe to say that at one time or another, most people have experienced Imposter Syndrome in varying degrees (even if you didn’t know it by that name). From a fleeting second; to soul-crushing regularity. That rush of self-doubt that sits heavy on your heart, with an internal dialogue of “I’m not good enough”, “I haven’t earned a voice” “That success was just a fluke”… You know the ones right? (The irony does not escape me, that I had to battle Imposter Syndrome to even allow myself the worthiness of writing about Imposter Syndrome.)

They say that as women, we’re more prone to experiencing this kind of self-doubt. I guess in a world that is so majorly dominated by men, it’s no wonder that we’re left questioning our capabilities and our place, in business especially, leaving us second guessing ourselves at every turn. But, men and women alike, Imposter Syndrome has no place in our lives, and we need to find a way of sending it packing.

Harvard Business Review defines Imposter Syndrome as “…a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.”… It’s bizarre how we can see in front of us the physical evidence proving that we are in fact, good enough; accomplished and knowledgeable, yet in the very same moment pull ourselves down and judge ourselves harshly.

For me, much of my workplace self-doubt comes from being self-taught (my BSc is in Nursing- which has very little carry-over to Design/Communications…) and so my abilities often feel invalid, despite having years of experience and proven success in my field- not to mention happy clients who return! Would a piece of paper marked “Degree in Comms, Marketing, Design etc.” magically change my response to my success, making me feel worthy? I doubt it.

Imposter syndrome may be a silent and deadly predator (emotionally speaking), but it is not invincible. And it does not have to rule the roost. But, being able to spot it is half the battle to destroying it.

So how can we see it coming, and how can we push past it, allowing ourselves the peace of mind that we deserve?

I’d love to tell you that I hold in my hands a cure-all, and we can combat it instantly. I don’t and we can’t.

I’m forever learning: Learning to spot those voices that say “I am a fraud”. Learning to call them out for the lies that they are, and then taking a few simple steps to quieten and neutralise those voices. 

You can too.

Here are some practical ways to combat Imposter Syndrome:

1. Find your people, stay accountable- don’t do it alone!

There’s a huge difference between healthy humility and the devaluing nature of Imposter Syndrome. Telling the difference is crucial. A great way to test which-is-which is to have people around, who you can check-in with when the voices start shouting. I don’t mean the friends who pump your ego, being kind and sweet in all situations. I mean those who you know would be lovingly honest with you if you were being a fool. Speaking out-loud your fears and worries; speaking out lies that self-doubt declares over you, is an incredible neutraliser. You need a tribe who you can be vulnerable enough with, to say “I’m currently feeling… and I just need to speak it out to someone I trust.” Often before they even respond, it’s already helped the situation.

Support systems like Digital Women are invaluable. People in business, being a sounding board for each other, sharing ideas and sharing wisdom- this is the running-your-own-business equivalent of “colleagues”. Digital Women creates space to learn and develop skills through online resources and training, an online community and regular networking events, giving you an opportunity to meet other people and build relationships. Community is powerful!

2. Harness the power of the pen…

When you’re trying to learn to spot the lies, physically writing down the repeating narratives can help you notice if there are patterns of anxiety. Post-it-notes are your friend. Counter the regular negative phrases with truths about who you are and your abilities, stick them to your wall, and turn to them when the voices chime in- replace the lies with truths. Harness the power of the pen, and use it to your advantage in this battle. (There are some great “Positive self-talk” exercises out there, here is a quick 5 minute one to get you started!)


3. Be kind to yourself!

Throughout it all, be kind to yourself. Treat yourself the way you treat your best friend. Don’t chastise yourself for battling; celebrate yourself for the small wins on the bad days. When Imposter Syndrome calls out the negative, call out the positive. It’s ok to be a learning person, who sometimes gets things wrong and doesn’t always know the answers. You are perfectly, imperfect. Allow yourself to be human, allow yourself the grace to make mistakes, and DON’T allow Imposter Syndrome to hold you captive.

Imposter Syndrome and self-doubt are much more common than you think, but knowledge is power. Once you’re able to spot it, name it and put measures in place, you’re half way to managing every punch that it brings. Find the things that work for you, and then step into the truth that you are more than good enough.

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