Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

When I started the #AskJames Anything series, I wanted to provide a way for engineers to ask me anonymous questions about balancing their career and life. I find that my community asks great questions that relate to the lives of so many people. The entry below is one of the first. I hope you enjoy it, and submit one of your own!

Question: Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? How do you get over it?

Response: Yes, haven’t we all!  Yes, I have experienced imposter syndrome both in my professional and personal life.  There are times when I have questioned my ability as an engineer, a coach, a business owner, a father, and a husband.  There is this constant struggle between what I do, the results that I achieve and the results that I think I should be achieving. 

Before I go too far down a rabbit hole let’s provide a definition and some context for this conversation.

What is impostor Syndrome?

Merriam-Webster defines imposter syndrome as a psychological condition that is characterized by persistent doubt concerning one’s abilities or accomplishments accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of one’s ongoing success.

impostor syndrome can affect anyone at any age, profession, level of education, and background.  Around 25 to 30 percent of high achievers may suffer from imposter syndrome and over 70% of adults may have experienced this over their lifetime. 

Characteristics of impostor Syndrome

Some common characteristics of imposter syndrome include:

  • Attributing your success to external factors
  • Fear that you won’t live up to expectations
  • Overachieving! 
  • Sabotaging your own success
  • Self-doubt

What story are you telling yourself?

What has worked for me is understanding the power of the story that we tell ourselves.  The story you tell yourself is the most important story you’ll ever hear. It’s the one that determines how you see yourself, and how you see the world around you.

If your story is one of success, then you’re more likely to see opportunities instead of obstacles. As a result, you’re more likely to believe in your own abilities, and to take risks that lead to new levels of achievement.

On the other hand, if your story is one of failure, then you’re more likely to see yourself as a victim of circumstance. You’re less likely to take risks, and more likely to give up when things get tough. You are then more likely to ignore your actual accomplishments and focus on those things you “think” you “should” have accomplished.

Awareness is key

When you are aware of your internal narrative,  you can then engineer your story to focus on those things that will help you move forward.  The good news is that you have the power to choose your story. You can decide to see yourself as a success or a failure. It’s up to you.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to explore if you are dealing with imposter syndrome:

  • Do you agonize over even the smallest mistakes or flaws in your work?
  • Do you attribute your success to luck or outside factors?
  • Are you sensitive to even constructive criticism?
  • Do you feel like you will inevitably be found out as a fraud?
  • Do you downplay your own expertise, even in areas where you are genuinely more skilled than others?
  • Do you have the inability to receive a compliment?

As your work through engineering your story, I want you to know a few things:

You are good enough.

You are smart enough.

You belong at the table.

You belong in the room.

Remember: you’ve come a long way. Trust in your training and your ability to do the work you’re already doing. Believe in yourself, and surround yourself with people who believe in you as well. Getting over imposter syndrome does not happen overnight. In time and with a better, more encouraging internal narrative, you will enter every room with the belief that you belong there.

If you’re struggling with imposter syndrome, schedule your free session today! I’m happy to help!


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