Imposter Feelings

Fooled ‘em again.

If you’ve ever caught yourself worrying that any minute people are going to realise you’re not as good as they thought you were…that you’ve only got this far by luck rather than judgement…that you’re a fake who’s about to be found out…then you know exactly what imposter feelings feels like.

Kitten and lionYou’re not alone – nearly 70% of us will experience imposter episodes during our working lives.

So what exactly is it? It’s a faulty belief we have about ourselves. It’s when we feel irrationally insecure, worrying that we’re not as good as people think we are…even when there is plenty of evidence to the contrary which proves our ability and competence.

Imposter feelings can strike during times of transition and periods of change. Taking on new responsibilities or promotions; stepping into a new role; anytime you’re outside your normal comfort zone imposter feelings can strike.

Sometimes, outside of work, it hits us when we feel we’re failing with our work/life balance or not managing to be the mum/daughter/partner we’d like to be.


'Your playing small does not serve the world. Who are you not to be great?'

Often imposter feelings hit us when we feel we are the ‘odd one out’. If you work in an organisation where most other managers are not like you – maybe by gender, race, culture, language or socioeconomic background – then the chances of feeling moments of self-doubt are naturally higher. As humans, our sense of belonging can affect our self-confidence and if we feel we don’t belong, this can make us question whether we deserve to be there. Of course we do! We’re where we are because we deserve to be! But imposter moments make us doubt this…

Now don’t get me wrong – we all have feelings of uncertainty and self-doubt at times in our lives and it’s perfectly normal to be anxious when you’re in unchartered waters. But imposter-ism magnifies those feelings and makes us feel like they’re not normal.

It leads us into behaviour that is stressful and self-defeating.

Common traits include over-diligence and hard work. Not just the usual working hard that ambitious people do – this is super-hero levels of hard work, striving for perfectionism, coupled with a fear that others might be more capable than you and a tendency to approach every piece of work as if it was absolutely critical (which it rarely is). Other traits include maintaining a lower profile to stay inconspicuous, so that there’s less chance of being seen as a fake. Additionally, putting work tasks off until the last minute because you fear you’ll be found out…yet by doing this you knowingly risk the quality of your work and end up potentially self-sabotaging.

It’s a mixed up place to be.

A realistic aim should be to minimise the effects of imposter feelings and make them into ‘moments’ rather than a persistent long term state of mind. You may never actually shake off imposter feelings for good – but controlling them and learning to side line them is a great first step in getting to grips with those moments of self-doubt.

Of course, an alternative perspective is to consider your imposter feelings as your super-power. Those feelings may be strongest at the times you’re striving hardest, reaching farthest and stretching most out of your comfort zone. Not everyone is prepared to do this…you are! And that marks you out as a high achiever – embrace it!