Tips for Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

Many high achieving individuals get used to objective measures like exam marks to prove their diligence, capability and self worth.  But what happens in the work environment when success is harder to define and guaranteed, regular feedback is suddenly in short supply?  Often, we can begin to question our capability, which in turn leads us to questioning our own self worth - the outcome can be an increase in the hours we spend working...and anxiety.

This tendency has been shown in research to be especially prevalent in any person who feels that they are in the minority - either by race, gender, sexual orientation, age or other discernible factor.  

Here are some ways that may help if you feel like you don’t measure up or don’t have what it takes:

Talk to a trusted leader or mentor

Be reassured that you are not alone in these feelings, it’s worth finding a trusted mentor who understands these feelings and will help you to put a framework in place to overcome this unhelpful thinking pattern.  Find someone who is able to provide you with supportive, encouraging supervision and understands that these feelings are both normal and irrational.

Action: Reach out to a trusted leader and ask if they can help you, or help you to find someone who can provide you with rational, empathetic coaching.

Write down your strengths and areas of expertise

Self praise is often something that we find difficult as we are often our own biggest critics.  So, challenge that internal voice by sitting down and thinking about your achievements and the experience that have led you to this point in your career.  

Action: Make a list and refer back to it.  If you’re stuck then ask a friend to help you.

Embrace the strengths of imperfection

Nobody is perfect - in fact, being perfect is an imperfect trait.  Perfectionism leads us away from embracing really important aspects of ourselves and our behaviours.  People learn through their mistakes.  Leaders, innovators and artists are people that have made many failures before they land on success.  Our mistakes, vulnerabilities and human flaws provide us with greater capacity for  COURAGE, COMPASSION and CONNECTION.

Action: Read Brene Brown’s, The Gift of Imperfection, or check out her ted talk.

Embrace the “Good Enough” approach to working whenever you can

This is hard for a perfectionist to hear and even harder to understand.  However, aiming for perfection is a fallacy - no-one is perfect.  More than that, striving for perfection is known to have some downsides.  These include negatively impacting your productivity, efficiency and not to mention being bad for your own health and wellbeing.   It’s helpful to understand the fear that is driving your need for perfectionism and to seek out the opportunities for personal growth. For example, do you need to learn how to receive constructive criticism? Are you yet to embrace failure as a necessary part of learning and is this evasion driving your anxiety?

Action: Set time limits to some of your tasks.  Aim to get the work to 80-90% complete in a reasonable timeframe.  Ask someone to peer review it.  See if you can increase your efficiency and effectiveness without reaching your usual levels of perfection.

Talk to someone who can help

Many people who experience Impostor Syndrome and Perfectionism really benefit from seeing a trained therapist.  There can be benefits to understanding some of the background to this pattern of thinking and also coaching in how to break the cycle.

Action: Consider booking in a session with a local counsellor or psychologist to talk this through in more detail.