The Impostor Syndrome Paradox

Not quite long ago, I was chatting with a dear friend who had mentioned an open leadership position at his workplace, but really did not want to put himself forward for the role despite being highly qualified for the role. When I probed further for the reasons for his hesitation, I realized he was worried about not measuring should he be selected for the role. Surprised by his hesitation, I reminded him of his litany of accomplishments and accolades he’s garnered over the years.

If you have felt like my friend did, you are not alone. It’s called imposter syndrome! Many high achieving professionals often struggle with self-doubt, constantly plagued with the crippling feeling of not being good at your job, despite all their accomplishments. The fear of being a failure or appearing like a fraud drives you to obsess about being perfect, making you work more than your average colleague and at risk of burnout. You are less likely to seek the limelight, preferring to stay in the background. You tend to, unconsciously, avoid any opportunity to be visible in your organization, preferring to let others take the spotlight. When you are praised among colleagues, you are less likely to accept accolades, preferring to attribute it to pure luck or help from others. Your fear of failure makes you pass up for opportunities for promotion or leadership roles while you passively hope and wait for opportunities to come to you. Consequently, your career growth has stalled despite all your accomplishments and previous successes. Unfortunately, bitterness is beginning to set in as you get passed over for promotions and bonuses even though you work more than others. Even though you argue your case during performance reviews, your supervisors just don’t see you rise above a certain level in the organization. You watch as colleagues, who you trained and mentored, get promoted and are now ahead of you in your organization, causing you to secretly resent them. You have changed jobs and organizations several times and you still cannot break past that glass/brick ceiling into the next level. That feeling of being stuck in a rut really sucks!


Does this description sound more like you? Have you been wondering how to get out of this rut? Here are some time-tested strategies that could be helpful.

✅   Stop the excuses.

Imposter syndrome is a slick adversary and can be easily explained away and be conflated with other things. Rather than own up to the limiting impact of this syndrome, it’s easier to attribute your lack of progress or career growth to other reasons, such as office politics, nepotism, racial discrimination, or incompetence. Admitting your struggle with imposter syndrome isn’t a sign of weakness, but the first step to confidence.


✅ Confront your fear and feelings with facts.

Self-doubt generally thrives on feelings and not facts. Overcoming this syndrome involves constantly confronting your fears and feelings with real facts. When that nagging feeling of not being good enough arises or fear of failure arises, always remind yourself of your numerous accomplishments, what others have said about your excellence and quality of your work and drawing strengths from your past accomplishments.


✅   Actively seek professional mentorship/coaching.

Another important way to combat imposter syndrome is to actively seek for mentorship or coaching from experience leaders in your organization or industry who could offer practice advice and support to over self-doubt. Such a mentor/coach should be someone you could share your feelings and struggles with. Alternatively, you could explore peer mentoring by taking time to study your colleagues and team members who other colleagues who exude confidence and are not afraid of the spotlight.


✅  Be intentional in celebrating your wins publicly and privately.

This point is particularly difficult for those who struggle with imposter syndrome. Otten times, we tend to get carried away with what’s next that we forget to celebrate our successes. Instead of viewing celebrations of wins as mere show-offs or wasteful, such celebrations can provide you with opportunities to reflect on your accomplishment and boost your confidence. If you use social media, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Your wins could inspire someone else, connect you with your others in your field, and boost your confidence.


In summary, imposter syndrome is a thief of confidence and destroyer of potentials. Remember that imposter syndrome feeds on your fears and feelings in your head, which may not always and are not always aligned with real facts about your excellence and competence at work. You are amazing than you really think!