You're the first one into the office every day, bring in the most new business, and command more praise from managers than any of your colleagues. So why do you feel this overwhelming fear of not being as smart, as talented or as deserving as co-workers think?
This nagging worry of being "found out" as a fraud is known as Impostor Syndrome, and you're far from alone in feeling its effects. Aside from narcissists and sociopaths, we all experience the type of self-doubt that feeds this impostor phenomenon. Unfortunately, though, it could be holding you back from achieving your career goals.
Here are some ways that it may be disrupting your career--plus some useful tips to help you flip the script.
1. You're Thinking: "I'm Not Qualified to Have This Position"
It happens when you're scouring the LinkedIn pages of our peers, noting all the accomplishments they have that you don't. The thought comes creeping in: "I don't measure up."
High achievers have a tendency to focus on what they haven't accomplished as opposed to what they have. You might cast doubt because you're younger, didn't go to the same school, work for a certain company, win this or that award, and a myriad of other trivial reasons.
Flip This: "I'm Qualified to Be Here Because I Beat Out Lots of Other Candidates to Land This Job"
All too often, people fall into the trap of comparing their internal weaknesses to the outward strengths of others (all the while ignoring their own talents). But instead of focusing on all the credentials your colleagues possess that you don't, flip the script and think about all your unique achievements.
One reason why you might not feel qualified for your job is because the standards that you're setting for yourself are unreasonably high. No one--no matter how stacked their resume--will perform every task of their job flawlessly.
So, take some of the pressure off yourself. Remember that no one's perfect and keep in mind that your company chose you out of a number of other qualified candidates because they saw you as the best fit for the position. Remember, fit doesn't always mean the most skilled, but the best fit. Perhaps they saw more potential in you over others and are willing to invest in you.
2. You're Thinking: "My Question Is So Dumb, I Bet Everyone Else Knows the Answer"
Sometimes it's as simple as not being able to hear your supervisor during a team meeting, but with Impostor Syndrome, every admission for help seems like another chance for your co-workers to discover that you really don't know your stuff. It can leave you feeling paralyzed, afraid to speak up.
When you feel like you're not in a safe place to learn or feel vulnerable, it puts you between a rock and hard place. On one hand, if you raise your hand, you risk sounding unintelligent. On the other, you can go on trying to figure everything out on your own--an impossible task that may hamper your professional growth and further exacerbate that feeling of being "outed" as a fraud.
Flip This: "I'm Qualified to Be Here, So That Means My Question Isn't Stupid, But Rather a Smart Way for Me to Learn More"
You might've convinced themselves that asking questions will out you as a fraud. From the outside, you can see this is clearly irrational and may actually stunt your professional growth. When I've been afraid to speak up or ask questions during my career, I later realized those were missed opportunities to become more efficient and comfortable in my role.
First, remind yourself that no one has all the answers (and those who seemingly do got there by asking questions) and be competitive enough to admit when you don't know so you can ask for help. Next, look to foster a support system by seeking out trusted colleagues who you feel comfortable bringing your questions to.
3. You're Thinking: "If I Screw This Up, I'll Definitely Be Fired"
It can come off as joke: "If I don't get this decision right, I'll be fired and never work in the business again." When you contemplate the idea of failure, you often exaggerate the outcomes to the extreme and convince yourself that the worst is bound to happen.
It's human nature to steer clear of danger, but when playing it safe becomes the crutch that prevents you from even trying at all--it limits your potential and leaves you coming up short of bigger career goals.
Flip This: "I'm Qualified and Therefore I'm Allowed to Make Mistakes"
You're never going to be perfect, but in order to move fast enough in the working world, you have to make judgment calls. No matter how much homework you've done, there is always going to be some lingering fear when making a major business decision, leading a big presentation, or sharing an important report.
Think positively! Someone trusts in your ability and put you in this position for a reason. Take a moment to visualize success, and then turn your focus to the steps needed to get there. Who knows, you may surprise yourself.
And when you do make a mistake, it's better to admit it rather than try to cover it up or redirect the blame. Openness about when you fall short helps keep you grounded while creating an open and welcoming environment for everyone--one in where making mistakes and learning is seen as a natural part of professional growth.
By focusing on positive thinking, you can flip the script on Impostor Syndrome and in the process, realize that the only "impostor" you should be concerned with is enabling self-doubt to let people think you are one.