Imposter syndrome can show up in any area of your life: relationships, leisure activities, career, and even things you do for fun, like hobbies. One of the areas my clients struggle most with is workplace imposter syndrome. We’ve all been taught that our productivity is linked to our worth, and many of my clients feel deep shame around their jobs. They assume someone else could do a better job, or that they can’t keep up with the demands, or that they simply shouldn’t have the position they have.
As a therapist for millennials with anxiety and neurodivergence, this topic comes up a lot in my sessions. Learning more about imposter syndrome at work can help you understand that you’re not alone in your feelings – and that you don’t have to stay stuck in that cycle forever.
I’ve talked before about how imposter syndrome stems from shame, perfectionism, and external sources. I’ve also written about ways to combat your imposter syndrome when you have ADHD. Workplace imposter syndrome is just as harmful as any other type of imposter syndrome. It seeps into your life and impacts nearly everything you do. Here are some ways imposter syndrome at work can show up:
When you’re constantly plagued by anxiety, worries, and self-doubt at work, it’s bound to impact your mental health. And ironically, it can also impact your job performance. This can be a hard cycle to break. One way to disentangle yourself from imposter syndrome at work is to challenge your own self-doubts.
Imposter syndrome is when you’re constantly worrying about underperforming, in spite of outward evidence to the contrary. Despite your fears, you might receive regular compliments, positive feedback, and accolades from your boss or coworkers. But when you’re surrounded by negative thoughts and self-doubt, you may dismiss any positive feedback and instead focus on your worries. After all, you assume you’re faking it, and that nobody else knows you’re a fraud.
If you’re struggling with imposter syndrome, trying to force yourself to focus on what you’re doing really well can be too much to manage. Instead, you can try to focus on the ways in which you’re doing enough. You can lower the bar, take off the pressure, and notice the ways you’re competent enough at your job. Taking away the pressure to be perfect is one of the most effective ways to combat imposter syndrome.
So how do you know if you’re doing enough? Think about it this way: if you’re competent at your job, it means you’re doing enough. Period. If you’re incompetent at your job, it probably means you’re undertrained or that there’s a better job match out there for you. Here are some questions to ask yourself to gauge whether job incompetence is part of the problem:
If the answer to these is “no”, then chances are you’re doing enough. And you certainly aren’t doing as poorly as you think. Changing your perspective to recognize that your work performance is objectively good enough can take the pressure off to be perfect – and take the power away from imposter syndrome.
This process doesn’t happen overnight. Learning to lean into being “good enough” can feel completely impossible for perfectionists at first. But with time, practice, and support, you can adopt a more relaxed way of working and living. And you can put all those fears about underperforming behind you for good.
The question, “should I tell my boss I have imposter syndrome at work?” comes up in sessions with clients a lot.
I can’t tell you what to do, but I can help you think of an answer for yourself. First, I’d encourage you to ask yourself where this question is coming from. A lot of my clients experience deep guilt and shame for having imposter syndrome. This shame builds up and feels like a heavy weight that feels impossible to shake. One thing that can feel helpful is to “confess” what you assume is your poor performance, so that it’s finally out in the open and you don’t have to hide it anymore.
Putting language and truth to your feelings can be exceptionally useful in dispelling shame and connecting with others. However, some supervisors may not have the skills or capacity to hear your underlying desire for support and validation when you bring this up. Before you choose to have a discussion about your imposter syndrome with your boss, ask yourself things like:
I am not trying to dissuade you from having a conversation that feels important or necessary to you. On the contrary, I think having conversations like these in the workplace strengthens bonds, makes employees feel more appreciated and understood, and can improve support systems. However, making sure you have the type of employee-boss relationship that feels grounded and trusting can help you feel fully seen and heard, rather than invalidated.
If you want support overcoming imposter syndrome at work, consider therapy. You deserve to step into the world feeling empowered and knowing your worth. I’m here to help you do that. Together, we’ll find ways to undo the pressure to be perfect, figure out how to have helpful discussions in your workplace, and feel less alone. We’ll work on challenging your negative thoughts and asking for the support you need in order to feel like the capable, intelligent human you are.
I’m ready if you are. Reach out today to schedule a complimentary consultation.
Danielle is an anxiety therapist. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.