Beating Imposter Syndrome

By Angela Hayes, Associate Director of Alumni and Online Career Engagement

Imposter Syndrome is the psychological phenomenon in which you feel like you don’t deserve your accomplishments. You might feel like you don’t belong, don’t deserve your success, or are “out of place.” You might be constantly worried that others will expose you as a fraud. People with imposter syndrome are unable to internalize their success. They tend to think that awards and promotions were just luck or being in the right place at the right time, but that they will be found out as a fraud. It can affect anyone from students to professionals to highly accomplished and successful people.

Woman rubs temple as if she has a headache while working at a table on her laptopRecognize the Cycle

In 1978, psychologists first labeled the “Imposter Syndrome” phenomenon. They thought that it was the most common among high-achieving women. That’s who they were studying. Now, 40 years later, it’s found to affect about 70% of everyone, at some point in their lives.

The imposter syndrome cycle usually goes something like this:

–A new task, new job (or promotion opportunity) arises, causing feelings of self-doubt or anxiety

–Fear of being exposed as a fraud sets in

–In response you say no to an opportunity or accept it but either over-prepare or procrastinate. After the task is complete, you discount any positive feedback and focus intently on whatever you think did wrong or could have done better.

You’re Not Alone

If you sometimes feel like an imposter, you’re in good company. Here are a few examples of famous people who have expressed imposter syndrome thoughts:

“No matter what we’ve done, there comes a point where you think, ‘How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?’ ” –Tom Hanks

“You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?'” –Meryl Streep, most Academy Awards nominated person of all time.

Maya Angelou also talked a lot about how, with each book she published she just knew that this was the time she would be “found out” as an imposter who had no idea what she was doing. One of the ways she combatted these feelings also became her most famous quote: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”

What You Can Do

The important thing is not to avoid ever feeling like an imposter. It’s to utilize tools, insight and information to make sure that you have imposter moments, but not an imposter life. The main goal is to keep these kinds of thoughts from turning into the way you consistently think about yourself. This means keeping your nerves in check, silencing your inner critic and avoiding thinking traps that can lead to believing that you are less capable than you are. Feel free to contact me for further information on combatting imposter syndrome.

Angela Hayes, Associate Director of Alumni and Online Career Engagement

ANGELA HAYES serves as the Associate Director of Alumni and Online Career Engagement. Prior to coming to CSU, she worked as the Assistant Director of Alumni and Graduate Student Career Services at Kansas State University. She has a B.S. in psychology, an M.S. in industrial/organizational psychology and a Ph.D. in professional coaching and human development. She’s a nationally Board Certified Coach and a nationally Certified Health and Wellness Coach.

She has a passion for helping others to see their lives as full of possibilities and un-tapped potential. She views changes/transitions (both planned and unplanned) as opportunities for individuals to discover and plan out what they really want from their careers and lives.