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Do You Suffer from Imposter Syndrome at Work? Part One

Do you find it hard to believe in your own capabilities at work? You may be suffering from a legitimate condition called Imposter Syndrome.

One of the Marvel shows on Disney+ was one of their best. Set at Christmas it deals with Jeremy Renner’s Avenger’s character HAWKEYE. What makes this series so interesting is that it explores Clint Barton (The character’s real name) struggles with the fact that as he has no superpower as such, he’s a fake. He is suffering from what is known as Imposter Syndrome. The series explores his struggle with these feelings in a very relatable manner, despite being a Marvel action-adventure series.

So, what exactly is Imposter Syndrome? Imposter syndrome, also called Perceived Fraudulence, involves feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence that persist despite education, experience, and accomplishments. Imposter feelings represent a conflict between your own self-perception and the way others perceive you. Even when others praise your achievements or talents, you are quite easily capable of writing off your successes to timing or good luck. You simply don’t believe you earned them on your own merits, and you fear others will eventually realise the same thing and you will be found out. Consequently, you pressure yourself to work harder in order to:

  • Keep others from recognising your shortcomings or failures

  • Become worthy of roles you believe you don’t deserve

  • Make up for what you consider your lack of intelligence

  • Ease feelings of guilt over ‘fooling’ people

The work you put in will actually keep the cycle going. Your further accomplishments don’t reassure you - you consider them nothing more than the product of your efforts to maintain the ‘illusion’ of your success. Any recognition you earn? You call it sympathy or pity. And despite linking your accomplishments to chance, you take on all the blame for any mistakes you make. Even minor errors reinforce your belief in your lack of intelligence and ability. Over time, this can fuel a cycle of anxiety, depression, and guilt. Living in constant fear of discovery, you strive for perfection in everything you do. You might feel guilty or worthless when you can’t achieve it, not to mention burned out and overwhelmed by your continued efforts. This is precisely what happens to Clint Barton’s character in the series and it’s fascinating to watch, because we’re sitting there going “Oh but he’s so much better than he thinks he is”. But the fact is so many of us fall prey to exactly the same set of symptoms in our not-so superhero daily lives in the office.

So what are the triggers for these feelings and what can you do to mitigate them in a way that lets you see that your contributions are valid, your talents are real, and your value to the company is 100% the result of your very real efforts? Well, for a start, some of us have what is called an ’unsustainable definition of competence’. For some, the word ‘success’ may not even be on their radar because they feel they’re simply not smart enough to be good at what they’ve been hired to do. For others, this might mean that they only deem themselves successful if they’re constantly acknowledged for the work they do – a pat on the back here, a bonus there. For others still, they may only feel accomplished if they get ahead without any help at all.

Getting away from this kind of mentality requires a huge shift in beliefs. To do this, you have to keep reminding yourself that you’re never going to be perfect all the time - none of us are - and that, if you equate success with perfection or not failing, then you will prevent yourself from learning and growing from worthwhile failures. To start making this shift happen, start changing the tone of that inner voice that’s undermining you. When confronted with a challenge, if the dialogue you tend to run in your head is something like, “Oh my God, I’m in over my head! People are going to find out the truth about me,” flip the narrative try reminding you, “Wow – this is really an opportunity to learn some new skills – I could really learn a lot here.” It will take time, but fostering this kinder voice can do you wonders in the long run.

Imposter Syndrome often causes a reluctance to ask for help, creating a vicious cycle. You avoid seeking help so as not to seem clueless, but then you never learn, reinforcing your imposter identity. Here's the twist: admitting you don't know something or made a mistake makes you appear more confident and in control. Real experts don't need all the answers and are comfortable seeking advice. Emulate them, and you'll gain credibility.

Do you overthink everything, fearing mistakes, only to mess up anyway? This perpetuates the myth that your success is a fluke rather than your talent. Take a step back and gain perspective. It's like Van Gogh's sunflower painting—up close, it’s all chaotic brushstrokes, but from afar, it reveals true beauty. The same applies to our lives and careers.

We often undervalue our positive impact. Take an objective look at your overarching objectives and trust that you can achieve them; otherwise, you wouldn't have been given the task in the first place.

Consider putting your best foot forward, even if that inner voice calls you a fake. Present yourself confidently through body language. Research shows that "power posing" for just two minutes can boost hormones related to leadership and improve performance in high-stress situations. Your body language can actually make you more confident.

Imposter syndrome, like everything else, is a choice. If you choose to believe you're a fake when you have the talent, you're making a terrible decision. Focus on the good, and challenge negative thoughts to change your life. You're not an imposter, you're the real deal. Now go prove it.

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