What is imposter syndrome and how can you overcome it?


With students returning or just starting at University it got me thinking about embarking on a new chapter and the doubts and fears that can come with stepping into the unknown. Sometimes that self-doubt can manifest itself into something else. Feeling like you’re not good enough, that your achievements are not valid and that any minute you are going to get found out and ‘called-out’ because you’re a fraud! This is what imposter syndrome looks like.

Effects of imposter syndrome could include; dismissing your talents and experiences as pure luck (rather than down to hard work), not speaking up because you fear everyone else knows more, feeling like you need to continually prove yourself to convince others you’re not a fraud. You might feel like a failure when you ask for help.

If this sounds familiar firstly don’t panic, imposter syndrome is very common. It also tends to affect women and in particular women of colour more which could be linked to not seeing as many examples of representation that have come before to inspire and lead the way. It could also be linked to gender or societal stereotypes.

Imposter syndrome hit me recently. It felt like a thick fog that surrounded me. What kicked it off was that I had enrolled on a (transformational) coaching course. This is something I am hugely passionate about and had been thinking about for some time and decided to take the plunge and just do it.

In the months after enrolling I had been reading up and preparing to start. I was excited! I had started connecting with others on the course and they were all lovely and friendly and passionate too. These were like-minded people, and this was going to be great!

As it got closer to the first call, things started to change. I could feel that sneaky self-doubt creeping in. That little voice on my shoulder saying, “are you sure you can do this?” “what if everyone else is smarter, better, more qualified to do this…” all that silly business that our tricksy mind can play! I got on the call and BAM! Full-blown imposter syndrome had kicked in! But I didn’t see it for that at the time. I believed that I was not good enough to be there and any minute someone would ask me a question and will discover I was a fraud.

But guess what, none of that happened! Because what I was thinking was not actually true. The reality was that we were all feeling nervous. None of us were qualified, which is why we were there, to train and develop and become qualified! When I started talking to others and listening to what others were saying I realised that we all felt the same. That started to breakdown the self-doubt and the fears and replace it with gratitude and excitement and even, dare I say, a little confidence!

So, what changed for me, and what steps can you take to tackle this imposter syndrome business?

1. Let it go! Let go of the pressure of expectations on yourself. Just show up, that is enough to start. Especially when you are starting something new, be kind to yourself and don’t feel pressure to be perfect.


2. Practice gratitude Gratitude is the antithesis to fear. When you focus on what you feel grateful for, it not only focuses on the positive aspects of your life and circumstances, but it also actively pushes out doubt, fear and negative thoughts. Write about your gratitude and successes, either in a journal, your phone, a piece of paper. That way, when you have a wobble, you can come back and remind yourself of all the things you have achieved. Think of at least 1 thing you are grateful for each day.


3. Get to know your strengths and be proud of them we all have them! These are what make you as amazing as you are. Think about a time when you have pushed yourself out of your comfort zone and achieved something. If you’re struggling to think about your strengths, ask your family and friends what they would say your strengths are.


4. Challenge your negative self-talk If you’re feeling like you can’t do something or you’re not good enough, ask yourself if that is actually true. Is there evidence to say you can’t do something or evidence to support you are not good enough. The chances are there is no solid evidence, it is a feeling. That feeling of doubt or fear might feel yucky, but it does not have to stop you chasing your dream. And it certainly does not mean you can’t do something.


5. Read and learn about the success stories of others You’ll soon realise that nobody is immune to doubt, fear or this feeling of imposter syndrome. It does not make you weak or mean you need to fix something. Often being aware of it and labelling it is the first step to overcoming it. Check out this Ted talk from Mike Cannon-Brookes talking about imposter syndrome. In case you don’t know him, he is an Australian billionaire!  


6. Talk The best thing I did was talk. I talked to people on my course, my friends, my family. Talking to people on my course helped me realise that we all have doubts, but that we are all good enough to be there! And talking to my family and friends just gave them a chance to lift me up with praise and encouragement and tell me to keep going.

So how do I feel now? The self-doubt still pops up every now and again. But that’s normal and that’s good, it means I care about it and it’s important to me. But I’m trying to change the way I look at this process and me in it, and for now I’m just not letting it consume me and I’m going to let go and enjoy it…or at least try to!

“When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.”

Wayne Dyer, The Power of Intention