4 Ways to Handle Imposter Syndrome at Work

Feeling like you're not qualified, totally incompetent, and an all-around fraud is a debilitating feeling. And though it's not diagnosable (at least not officially), it does have a name: Imposter syndrome.

When those self-doubting feelings seep into your everyday moods at work, they can not only be a downer – they can also stand in the way between you and success.

But here's the secret: Imposter syndrome doesn't have to win. There are a number of ways that you can fight back against it. Here are four that I’ve seen, in my practice working with working professionals, creative adults, and entrepreneurs, to be effective:  

1. Learn to focus on your strengths as much as you do your weaknesses

Sure, there are areas in which you can grow, but there’s also a lot that you’re already doing right. Honing in on those natural strengths can help you stand out for what you genuinely excel in.

Say, for example, you have an intense fear of public speaking – but you love communicating through writing.

Rather than spending the majority of your time improving your presentation skills (working with a speech coach, etc.), focus on how you can get even better at writing.

This will help you go from good to great in one area, and may even open opportunities down the line for something you genuinely enjoy.

That's not to say you can't improve in certain areas, but rather, not to neglect the areas you already shine in – and see how you can get even better at what you already rock at.

2. Forgive yourself your mistakes, and know that they don't just happen to you

Rather than berate yourself over "yet another mistake" at work, learn to recognize that errors are an overall part of anyone's life.

The next time you make a mistake – say, send an email before it's finished, or fumble on a deadline – remind yourself:

I am not the mistake, and the mistake does not define me or my career.

Also, remember that your colleagues and supervisors have messed up before, too! Whether you can see these mistakes or not, know that everyone around you is just as fallible as you are.

3. Know that your response to a mistake matters more than the mistake itself

I firmly believe in the words of the philosopher Epictetus, who said, "It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters."

Think of it this way. Once a mistake is made, you can't change it. But the next move is always within your control.

You can:

The bravery of coming forward reflects far more positively on your character than berating yourself a simple slip up.

4. Strive for your best – not for perfection

When you pressure yourself to be perfect, you feel anxious and tend to make more mistakes.

As paradoxical as it sounds, accepting that mistakes happen means that you’ll likely be more relaxed and actually make fewer of them.

Expecting perfection is unrealistic, and it doesn’t allow you the flexibility to develop course-correcting skills for when mistakes do happen

Related: 7 Ways To Push Back Against Imposter Syndrome

Consider therapy to help you work through imposter syndrome  

The above are just starting points for helping you overcome your imposter syndrome; if you want more insight and counsel to help you conquer it once and for all, consider seeing a therapist.

Many types of therapy can be helpful for imposter syndrome; in my work, for example, I primarily practice cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with clients experiencing imposter syndrome.

It all boils down to finding the right fit for you. Here's how to get started:

Look for a therapist you'd feel comfortable opening up to

Since styles and techniques vary widely among therapists, remember that the most important factor for success is trust and feeling comfortable with your therapist.

Here are a few steps you can take to ensure a great fit between you and your therapist:

  1. Read bios and watch therapist videos. These resources can help you get a sense of a therapist’s interpersonal style and personality.
  2. Take advantage of free consultations. A brief phone conversation with a therapist can be a great way to see if you click.
  3. Ask questions! You’ll want to get a sense of the following before scheduling your first appointment:

By finding a therapist who’s a genuinely good fit for you, you’ll be more likely to form a strong bond and make progress overcoming your challenges with imposter syndrome.