Brooke McCord, Author at General Assembly Blog

Impostor Syndrome: What It Is & How to Overcome It

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We live in a world where our careers largely define us, where the average person experiences about 12 job changes in their lifetime. That translates to a job (or even full career) change — and possibly, a new identity — every few years. Many people are recently flocking to join the tech industry during a career pivot, as UX, data, and software roles are in high-demand, even within this competitive job market. 

Although we’ve established that job change is incredibly common and that change is new and exciting, impostor syndrome can still creep in. When transitioning roles or industries, you might feel like your experience isn’t relevant, you don’t know the lingo, or you’re the new, inexperienced kid on the block. Whatever impostor-like thoughts are sneaking into your brain, understand that this, too, is normal. 

Let’s talk about what impostor syndrome is, the different forms it may take, examples of impostor syndrome in action, and how to combat it. 

Impostor syndrome: what is it?

Impostor syndrome is when a person doubts their accomplishments, doesn’t feel good enough, and has a persistent internalized fear of being found out as a fraud. It feels like inadequacy, constant self-doubt, and like you don’t belong where you are. Impostor syndrome is overwhelming, isolating, and prevents you from being your best. This could look like being afraid to ask questions in a meeting, not seeking out mentorship, or not negotiating a salary you deserve, etc. Over 70% of people claim to experience impostor syndrome. So, if you experience any of these symptoms, you’re certainly not alone.

Now, let’s break down the different identities and behavior patterns of impostor syndrome, and how to overcome them.

The Super Person

A Super Person takes on too many tasks and feels like they have to execute every single one flawlessly — this person will always think that they could’ve done more. People exhibiting Super Person tendencies feel like their worth is attached to how they perform and not in who they are, so they push themselves harder and harder to exhaustion. 

This can look like raising your hand in a meeting to volunteer taking on yet another task in addition to the three other extra projects you’re managing, plus your regular workload. As a result, you’re overwhelmed by all the tasks you’ve taken on and all the time needed, so you end up working 70 hours versus your usual 50. 

While it’s great to work hard and perform well, it’s important to know that you are more than your output and performance. The Super Person is chasing an unhealthy, unsustainable “high” that will only wear them down and let them down. Take a deep breath, relax, grab coffee with a coworker, or take a walk. The world won’t come tumbling down if you decide to trust others, have faith in their capabilities, delegate tasks to them, or take much-needed time for yourself. It’s all about balance!

The Expert

Experts have a deep-seated belief that they are not as smart or as capable as others think they are. Their confidence can be validated not by what they know but by how much others perceive their apparent expertise. This type is often found in a first or junior-level role or when someone moves into a more senior role within a completely new company or industry.

This can look like prematurely taking the lead in a meeting and faking the answer to a question you don’t know the answer to rather than saying, “That’s a great question, I don’t know, but I’ll let you know by the end of the day.” By faking it rather than admitting your knowledge gap, you’re jeopardizing your reputation instead of strengthening it. 

It feels great to feel prepared and know all the answers to all the questions, but you don’t need to know everything — you just have to be smart enough to find people who can help. We easily forget that “I don’t know, but I’ll find out” is a great answer (while also showing a little humility)! You know more than you think you do, so give yourself a little grace. And remember, no successful person really got to where they are without others’ help and expertise. 

The Natural Genius

Natural Geniuses feel like they should know things without being taught and believe their coworker’s success comes so easily to them. If something isn’t effortless or requires minimal learning, they think it’s wrong, not meant for them, or that they’re a failure. Natural Genius is a form of impostor syndrome where people feel like they have to get things perfect on the first try – if they don’t, they feel shame and embarrassment. 

This can look like getting frustrated while exploring a new field, like digital marketing, at General Assembly. The course is difficult and takes a lot of work, but all you see is that everyone else seems to get it so easily. So, you quit and pick a different “easier” focus. Meanwhile, you wonder what digital marketing would have been like despite getting a new job or achieving other goals. 

Manifestations of Natural Genius impostor syndrome prevent people from trying new or difficult things and don’t allow them to learn from failure. Remember that success takes time and hard work; you might even fail the first couple of times before getting it right. Consider yourself in good company with Michael Jordan, who didn’t make the varsity basketball team in high school. You, too, can push through challenges and build resiliency. Don’t let your Natural Genius expectations get in the way of hard-won success.

The Soloist

A Soloist avoids help at all costs; they feel like working on a team diminishes their success. They feel like they have to do everything on their own to prove their competence. For them, asking for help is a terrible thing that would reveal their worst fears, that they are a fraud, not smart or good enough, and don’t deserve to be where they are. 

This can look like taking on a project that you have no capacity to take on — it’s due at the end of the week, and your coworkers ask if you need help, but you say no. You’re stressed, overwhelmed, your other tasks suffer, and to top it off, the project doesn’t turn out as well as you wanted it to.

Independence can be empowering, but it can also be isolating. You might miss out on collaboration, camaraderie, and learning new skills. Diversity of opinion doesn’t cheapen success; it makes your work better and more well-rounded. Invite people in, share your knowledge, and listen to others. Asking for help isn’t a weakness; it’s a strength.

The Perfectionist

Perfectionists simply feel like they have to be perfect and errorless, or everything will fall apart. It’s hard for them to believe others’ praise or their success. Perfectionism is a form of impostor syndrome that manifests as feeling like you have to be impeccable and present yourself and your work in a particular way. There is a sense of safety in having people see them in an ideal, faultless way, and when that safety is compromised, they think everything could fall apart. 

This can look like taking the lead on a project and delegating tasks to teammates, but then taking over because you don’t believe that their work will be good enough. You might micromanage people and drive them away. You may wonder why you don’t have close relationships at work.

While perfectionism gives a false sense of security, it holds people back, inhibits success, and strains relationships. Extend yourself some grace and kindness, and don’t focus on the little things or controlling others’ behavior. Sometimes “good enough” really is good enough!

Going into a new field is scary — no matter how much experience you have or how hard you’ve worked, self-doubt and impostor syndrome can take over. You may have found yourself nodding your head to one or more of these behaviors or identities. As previously stated, 70% of people suffer from imposter syndrome, so you don’t need to feel alone. Now that you have an awareness of the type(s) of impostor syndrome you may tend toward and tips on how to combat debilitating self-doubt, you’re in a better position for a smoother transition to a successful career in your new chosen field.

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Brooke McCord is a certified Career Coach at Ama La Vida. She enjoys working with people who are ready to take the next step in life and helps others work through the things that hold them back. Featured in publications like Chief Learning Officer and as a regular speaker on the topic, Brooke specializes in battling impostor syndrome. Whether it’s figuring out what people want next, helping them overcome impostor syndrome, or building up general confidence, Brooke helps her clients achieve their ultimate goals and get to where they want to go!