For many people, acceptance to medical school represents the pinnacle of hard work, granted only to the highest achieving students. But a recent study from U.S. medical school Thomas Jefferson University found that 87 percent of its incoming class reported a high or very high degree of imposter syndrome—the nagging feeling that you’re a fraud and haven’t earned your successes, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Those medical students are not alone. An estimated 70 percent of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives, according to a review article in the “International Journal of Behavioral Science.” The problem is especially prevalent in the workplace, according to the American Psychological Association.
“Impostor syndrome tends to come up most acutely during times of career transition—new roles, promotions, or company transitions,” says Kathy Robinson, an executive career coach based in Boston, Massachusetts. “The message that people are telling themselves when they experience imposter syndrome is that the gap between what they think they know and are expected to know is too big.”
But Robinson sees imposter syndrome differently, saying it’s actually a positive sign that you’re leaving your comfort zone. Use these tips to move past your feelings of inadequacy and take control of your imposter syndrome.
1. Let go of perfectionism.
Are you comparing yourself to an unrealistic standard? Perfectionism feeds imposter syndrome. At the root of perfectionism are what meQ calls Iceberg Beliefs, or standards about ourselves that are nearly impossible to achieve and that live mostly in our subconscious. “I must always be perfect” is a big one.
But there are ways to move past your perfectionism. Let go gradually, for example, by choosing one task each day not to care about so intensely. Also, focus on your daily progress, not on what you didn’t complete.
2. Map out your trigger points.
Chances are you don’t feel like a phony all day, every day. But there might be certain times when you feel uneasy, such as giving presentations or managing employees. “Imposter syndrome is a giant flashing sign pointing to skills you need to learn or enhance,” Robinson says. “The only way you get experience is to lean into it.”
Think of imposter syndrome as a signpost toward growth, not a roadblock. Make a list of situations that trigger your sensations of inadequacy. Those are the skills you can work on developing.
3. See yourself as successful.
Acknowledge your accomplishments by keeping a weekly win list. Make sure to include how your actions led to the win—and resist the lure of imposter syndrome to attribute those wins to the efforts of others. When you begin to doubt yourself, use those wins to bolster your confidence.
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4. Create a network of role models.
Identify colleagues you admire and approach them as potential mentors. Most good leaders aren’t successful because they have all the answers, Robinson notes. Rather, they’re successful because they surround themselves with savvy advisors and aren’t afraid to ask for opinions. You might feel awkward, Robinson says, but there’s no shame in seeking guidance from trusted resources. “A lot of times, people don’t allow themselves that grace,” she says.
5. Get a cheering section.
When you’re on the brink of self-sabotage—about to pull out of a big job interview or pass up a massive opportunity—seek out objective friends or colleagues who understand your strengths. They can help you push back on baseless self-doubt. Odds are some of them experience imposter syndrome as well. Knowing that you’re not alone in these feelings also helps put them in better perspective.