Impostor Syndrome

The other day I was reading about Impostor Syndrome.  In short, Impostor Syndrome is a psychological phenomenal where individuals cannot internalize their accomplishments.  They cannot credit their success to their talents and abilities, rather they see their success as being lucky or working harder than others.  The difficultly lies in the person assuming that at any moment, others will see through the facade and know they are not as talented and successful as others believe.  And while affecting many successful women, this phenomenon also afflicts men as well.

The danger in this syndrome is that one will unknowingly hurt their career progression.  When an executive praises your accomplishment, you may find yourself saying, “It was a team effort, I can’t take the credit” or “I was lucky that XYZ happened” or “Hey, even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while (laugh)”.  While you may see your response as being humble and sharing the credit (and some of this is good), if this is your typical response to praise you are inadvertently sending the message that you are not as talented as the other person believes you to be.

A few years back, the VP of my department paid me a compliment.  I responded sheepishly by saying, “It is no big deal, just doing my job.”  He stopped me and gave me some great advice – when someone compliments you, thank them and accept the compliment.  Besides showing good manners to the person extending the compliment, you also don’t want to undercut your professional image with the other person.

In a previous post, I championed trumpeting one’s accomplishments in order to ensure being noticed in the workplace.  If one is believes he is an “impostor”, this effort is difficult to do.  If you find that you are afflicted with impostor syndrome, take steps to deal with the condition before you unknowingly stall your career progression.  Recognize the negative thoughts you are having in order to avoid letting them overtake your success.  Accept accolades and acknowledge there is truth behind what others are saying about your work.

A professor at Notre Dame shared with me his philosophy about his course evaluations. He paid little attention to reviews that were in the top and bottom 10% of his ratings because he believes he is not as good as the top 10% give him credit for, nor as bad as the bottom 10% accuse him of being – the truth lies in the middle.  If you find yourself focusing on the negative and not believing the good comments, remember the truth is in the middle somewhere – and probably higher than you give yourself credit for.


About Kevin Monahan

I have 10+ years experience in coaching clients in their career management and career change efforts. Personal career consulting services combined with employer outreach to help find opportunities for both constituents.
This entry was posted in Career Management, Job Search, rejection and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Impostor Syndrome

  1. Imposter Syndrome was eye-opening when I first learned about it (in grad school) – while it reminds us to take credit for our accomplishments, as you stated, it also made me feel less alone in my feelings of being an imposter. Now when I’m about to do something and I think, “I’m such a fraud. Everyone will see right through me!” – even when I’m well-qualified to do it – I remind myself that many people feel this way. This knowledge has enabled me to push forward and do many things I wouldn’t have otherwise.

    I also like the Notre Dame professor’s perspective. I look at the average scores, but no longer read individual comments from students, unless I am looking for specific feedback about a new or problematic element of the course.

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