impostor syndrome: do you feel like a fraud?

This was originally published on August 29, 2012. (And thus ends my year-end vacation. We’ll be back to our regular schedule and content on Monday.)

A reader writes:

I’m about to start a full-time, permanent position with a small non-profit in a marketing role that’s a tangent from my background but which I think I’ll enjoy. I’m excited, but I also have a case of new-job nerves and impostor syndrome.

This is my first full-time role after completing a PhD (loads of part time customer service and admin work on the way) and a few related internships, and I’m worried about how to be the “expert” rather than the student/intern. I know, logically, that I wouldn’t have been hired if they didn’t think I could do the job, but do you have any practical tips on how to settle my nerves, address these doubts and get off to a solid start? What would you (or your readers) love a new marketing officer to do/ask in the first few weeks?

Oh, impostor syndrome! I think you’d be surprised by how many people have it. I had an awful case of it when this blog started taking off — it was one thing to write it when no one was reading it, but when it started getting an audience, I was constantly thinking, “Who am I to be presenting myself as an authority?” (Weirdly, no one has ever asked me that but me.)  For a while, it felt like a house of cards that might come tumbling down at any minute.

The same thing happened when I quit my job and started consulting. Having people pay me just to sit there and give my opinion?!  I felt like a complete fraud at first, like it was only a matter of time before I was found out.

Then I started talking to people who I admire and discovered they all knew that feeling too. It’s normal, apparently. And it’s especially true if you’re conscientious and an over-thinker. It’s just incredibly common, even among — maybe especially among — people you’d never imagine: Sheryl Sandberg has said she’s struggled with it! Tina Fey too!  Lots of other awesome people too. (In fact, research says that the higher the standards you tend to set for yourself and the more self-critical you are, the higher the likelihood that you’ll feel impostor syndrome at some point.)

Anyway. Three things help:

1. Fake it. Act like you feel confident. Not cocky or crazily smug, obviously. Just act like you imagine you’d act if you did in fact deserve your position. Eventually it will start becoming real.

2. Don’t be shy about admitting when you don’t know something or that you made a mistake. Here’s the counterintuitive thing about this:  It makes you look more confident and in control. If you can’t do this, you signal that you’re insecure and battling to protect your standing — because you don’t really trust it and feel it’s precarious. People who are truly confident in what they have to offer have no problem admitting they don’t know something or that they made a mistake. And it makes them a lot more credible.

Think about experts who you really respect. I bet they have no problem announcing when they don’t know something, or asking for other’s input. Real experts know they don’t need to have all the answers; people don’t expect them to. Model yourself after them.

3. Just stop thinking about it. Seriously, just push this feeling out of your mind and focus on your work. At some point, you’ll look around and the evidence will have piled up that you are in fact not a fraud, and that’ll make it easier to accept it.

Now, as for your question about what to do in your first few weeks as a new marketing officer: Tons of information gathering. I would be alarmed if a new marketing person came in and immediately had all the answers — they need to put in some serious time getting to know the organization and its challenges first. So an early priority should be to collect information — what’s been tried, what’s working, what isn’t working, what baselines are you working from, etc. And you also need to talk with your boss to get really clear on your goals — both for the near-term and the longer-term. Once you start diving into all that, your path is going to become pretty clear.

Anyway, who else feels like or has felt like an impostor?  I bet it’s a lot of people.

{ 64 comments… read them below }

  1. ThursdaysGeek

    I have 20+ years of experience and often question how good I am. I can tell that others think I do a good job, I know I am better than some co-workers I’ve had, but since so many programmers are so lousy, maybe I’m just where average should be?

    Add to that the Dunning-Kruger effect – if we are self-rating, I’ll rate myself lower than others, because I realize how much I still need to learn, so maybe their higher rating really does mean they know more and do better than me. Management often takes that self-rating at face value, so perhaps I should too.

    Sometimes, it really would help if we could compare ourselves to our co-workers. If I KNEW that management thought I was doing a better job, or at least as good of a job of my co-workers, then maybe I’d feel a bit more confident.

    1. Sunshine

      I’m always fascinated when my people turn in their self-evals each year. Invariably, the employees I’m most satisfied with mark themselves lower, with the “I have a lot time learn and there’s always room for improvement” mindset. The employees I find most… let’s say challenging, will give themselves top marks nearly across the board. My annual puzzle.

      1. MR

        Perfect example of Dunning-Kruger…especially with the ‘challenging’ employees. Look it up…it may help you better understand those people.

  2. a.n.o.n.

    I totally have imposter syndrome right now I my new job. I spent almost 20 years in one place and in the end I was #3 in the company. Then I got a job that was non-management, I didn’t like the job at all, and my boss was a micromanager. I had no say in anything and it felt like my past experience wasn’t really important or cared about. Now that I’m in a place that is much like the first job, I find I’m doubting myself a lot and always thinking, “It’s only a matter of time before they see I’m a fraud and that I don’t know anything of use.” I feel very useful to my direct reports, but feel like an imposter when it comes to my boss. Maybe because I’m now being exposed to a lot of things I’ve never seen before in the context of my career. My first company was very plain vanilla, where the new company has all sorts of products and customers. So, now I’m trying to learn new products and customers, plus new systems. Logically, I know they wouldn’t have hired me if they didn’t think I could do the job, but my mind sometimes dwells on my inexperience in certain areas.

  3. CaliCali

    I’ve always battled impostor syndrome in my work (and life, in general). One thing that has been helpful for me is to tacitly accept the premise: OK, I am an impostor. I’m not as good as they think I am. But man, if I’m this good at fooling everyone, I’m obviously doing something right, and I guess I’d better ride the wave while I can, right?

    Of course, the reality is that I’m not fooling anyone. I’m not pulling one over — the act of doing that would be a lot harder than just doing decently at my job. Or even excelling at it. But it’s the trick I use to relax my brain. And slowly, as I learn more and gain more confidence, I don’t need to use the trick anymore, because I’ve stayed long enough to relax about being accepted.

    1. Mimmy

      I feel almost exactly as you do sometimes…I always think I’m just over-selling myself. I may have to try that trick!

  4. JR

    If this is any help, I discussed this very thing with a therapist who told me that, while he can’t reveal names, he’s worked with some of the biggest people in tech and this is feeling of being a fraud is EXTREMELY common. His advice was similar to Alison’s–I could have saved $100 by reading this site first :)–fake it til you make it.

  5. Sans

    I’m a copywriter and I had it big time when I started. I thought I was a good writer. My teachers thought I was a good writer. But did that mean anything when it came to actually getting paid for it? Could I do it under pressure, day in and day out, when people would use my words to sell a product and it damn well better be good?

    Even after decades of experience, there’s a part of me that worries that I’ve been bullshitting it all along. Even though people in multiple companies — well-accomplished, well-respected — have given me great reviews, even though I’ve often been the person people request out of a whole department, there’s still a little annoying voice that says “That copy sucks. They’re going to find you out!” Maybe that’s what keeps my standards high, and keeps me from going stale. Maybe no fear would result in stagnation, who knows?

    1. K

      That fear is extremely common among visual artists. Some of the most amazing painters I’ve ever seen are the most critical when it comes to their own art. I think it does drive people to keep trying to be better, but there must be a balance. If you are too critical about your own work it can stop you from making anything in the first place.

      1. Sans

        I agree. I think that internal critical voice can cause writer’s block. Sometimes I have to tell that little voice to shut up, and I just write without editing. I make myself keep going without internal comment. I’ll look at it when I’m done, and fix what needs fixing. But it’s never as bad as I think it is.

      2. I'm a Little Teapot

        Exactly. That’s what happened to me. I tried to write fiction for years, from childhood through my mid-20s, then gave up because I thought my fiction was terrible and had no hope of publication, even though I’d only once ever tried to get anything published and that was a poem. (I rarely even finished stories, because I’d usually decide they were too bad to finish or just get stuck before reaching the end.) I didn’t write again until I was 32 – this year. I decided to try writing a story for a small publisher for the hell of it…and to my shock they accepted it. Then I wrote two more stories, also accepted and pending publication.

        Now I still have major impostor syndrome – but instead, I’m thinking “I’m not a REAL writer. I’m not published with one of the Big Six. My writing is in genres that a lot of people think are worthless and written/read by lazy/stupid/freakish people, and if anyone says anything bad about me or what I write or read it must be true. I don’t do enough research for my writing, but if I did as much as I should I’d never have time/energy to write. I don’t revise enough. My plots suck.” And so on.

        I just got back from a family gathering where my sister, whom I’ve always thought was vastly smarter and more accomplished than me, bragged to everyone about my writing, and I cringed and thought that if any of them actually read what I wrote, I’d be the laughingstock of the family. People kept asking me about my writing, and I was scared to actually say anything about it because they seemed to have this idea of me as some towering literary genius who’d be a fascinating conversation partner and I was afraid to disappoint them with what my writing is really like. It was painful.

        1. Sarkywoman

          Well done on your publications! I feel exactly the same as you describe in your first paragraph. After finally plucking up the courage to start a novel (I feel like writing is the only thing I can do tolerably well), I wrote the first chapter and hated it so much I cried. I’ve been thinking about the story ever since but I feel embarrassed to give it another shot because I know it will suck.

          1. I'm a Little Teapot

            *hugs*

            It can’t possibly be as bad as you think it is, because from what I’ve seen (judging from what editors say) people who are abysmal writers usually think they’re the Next Big Thing. It’s that old Dunning-Kruger effect again.

            Sometimes I reassure myself by looking at published fiction (or reviews of it) which is much worse than anything I could ever write. There was a review on the NPR website of a novel-within-a-novel both about Rugged, Manly Celebrity Novelists (*coughMartyStucough*), one with a perfect devoted 15-year-old secretary/mistress (squick) and this helped me finish my novella when I was despairing of it. I thought “Wow, this got enough publicity to be reviewed on NPR.” I also recommend the D and F reviews at SmartBitchesTrashyBooks.com (warning: frequently NSFW subject matter and a fair bit of swearing) – they’re hilarious and sometimes mind-boggling. Actually, SBTB’s low-graded reviews helped me *start* my novella.

            I also feel that writing is the only thing I can do tolerably well. I figured that I’ve never been very good at any of the other jobs I’ve ever had, so I might as well do what I wanted to do when I was a kid and write.

            I hope you go back to your novel, or maybe to a different novel or a short story if you can’t face this one. Maybe not now – maybe in a few weeks, months, or years. Sometimes time will strengthen you. That’s what I had to do; I just didn’t have the maturity, self-confidence, and discipline to finish and publish something (even something that wasn’t a full-length novel) until I was in my thirties. Some people get there when they’re younger, some people get there when they’re older. I wish you all the best.

        2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

          Writing makes me insane. I don’t know how you people do it.

          I was “supposed” to be a writer. I started writing when I was tiny. I wrote whole books in long hand when I was 8, 9, 10. By the time I was 15, I was writing a column for the local paper. I was supremely confident until my late teens when I realized, “I think I suck!”

          And……….I think I did. Maybe I did or maybe I didn’t, but whatever got into my head never got out. Writing became an emotional mess for me. Rewriting was even worse. Trying to rewrite made my work worse, not better.

          I go back to writing maybe once a decade and it’s never any different. I’m happy to write for maybe a day and then an insecure mess directly after that.

          Writers who write are my heroes.

          1. I'm a Little Teapot

            Wow – if you were writing a column for the local paper at 15, you can’t possibly be as bad as you think. That’s a really impressive achievement.

            I realized I sucked in my late teens. And, at the time, I generally did. I never finished a crappy novel that I worked on for years. Part of the problem was that I was too intent on making it perfect, making it my Great Statement About Life, putting everything I ever wanted in a a novel into it. It was too ambitious, which was part of what made it bad and most of what made me stuck. (Another part was that I was in my teens and just didn’t have a lot of life experience yet, and didn’t yet have the reading experience and academic knowledge I’d have later either.)

            1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

              Eh, I was always decent at “chatty chatty”. The column was more like blogging-bef0re-there-was-blogging, circa 1976. I was fearless about being published and I have no idea why. Adults thought I was charming because I wrote weekly about high school life and, looking back, that was a good hook.

              Fiction writing, that’s what I’m a disaster at and something I wanted to do very much. (But not enough to suffer through getting better, huh?)

              I’ve always said that my biggest problem is that I have a very, very good ear for the written word that my abilities to actually write can’t match. Or, maybe I have Imposter Syndrome but whatever the case, I have crazy admiration for people who do write.

              1. Lady Sybil

                WTL, I make a point to read your posts – I think they are really engaging and I’m interested in your take on things.

              2. Sans

                A lot of people can be very good at one kind of writing and not so great at another. I’ve made my living as an advertising copywriter. But there’s no way I could write a book. My mind just doesn’t work in that long of a form, or with dialogue, or with the kind of complex and interesting plots that make up a good book, or even a short story.

                But I’m very good at short, snappy writing, catchy headlines, etc. I can do white papers and newsletter articles and web copy as well. And I try not to say “I’m not a good writer” just because I can’t write well in every format.

  6. E.R.

    I had this big-time at my current job, when I started. It was the first job I had that felt like I had real responsibility, and a lot of people were depending on me to keep our small company afloat. I had a negative self-talk cycle that went something like “Anyone could be doing a better job than you / there are so many qualified people out there who could be doing this job better” and on and on… With some good advice, I stopped the cycle by a)writing down the negative thoughts, looking at how mean they were (I mean, would I ever say those things to a colleague or even someone I didn’t think much of? Never! So why am I saying them to myself?) and shutting them down immediately when they popped up and then b) if they came up anyways, which happened less and less as I practiced this, I would tell myself, “Even if that’s true, you’re the one who has the job now, so you’re in the best position, right now, to figure this out”.

  7. Confuzzled

    I’m getting a promotion at my job for a totally new position (implementing a new database and the related tasks have never been done before at my institution) that my Dean felt I was perfect for it. Imposter syndrome is consuming me because I won’t have anything to compare my success to, as no one has ever done this job before. And the person I’ll be reporting to is totally new to our institution. So the fact that we’re learning together (although we have similar prior experiences) is freaking me out! I’ve never been afraid to jump into new projects and make mistakes along the way, but for some reason this feels very foreign and scary :(

    1. AB Normal

      Confuzzled,

      I actually thing it’s a good thing that nobody has done your new job before. You are getting a clean slate to define what excellence is, without having to justify why you are doing things differently than your predecessor :-).

      Like I wrote below, I do think the solution to the impostor syndrome is to establish clear metrics and monitor your performance. Then you’ll have objective data to prove to yourself (and others, if necessary) that you are doing well (and have the information you need to fix any performance issues in areas you may not be doing as well as you could, without having to rely on a manager’s feedback, which often is too vague to help).

      In your case, you’ll be implementing a new database. You can start from the “job to be done”. Imagine moving home – you don’t simply bundle rubbish into boxes and pile it out again; you sort out, clean up and throw away as you go along. Likewise, one of the jobs to be done implementing a new database is to make an inventory of the data that needs to go into it (which may be stored in different sources, such as Excel, an old database, etc.), and clean it up before moving to the new database. Once you have listed all the “jobs to be done” in your new position, you can associate metrics with it (e.g., # of duplicates, such as someone with the same name and three different phone numbers they no longer have, that you got removed during the data clean up). With your metrics in place, it will be much easy to convince yourself you are doing a great job (because you won’t have to rely on your boss complimenting you without hard data to back up the claim).

      Speaking of your boss, of course you should discuss with him/her the list of measures you’ll use to monitor your performance. But do some homework to identify the key metrics that represent success in your new project to start the conversation, and you’ll have a great tool to help you make course corrections as needed, and build confidence that you are doing a great job, without having to compare yourself with someone who did it before you. Good luck!

  8. Immy

    Do you think imposter syndrome is the same as the I’m not good enough self talk? I have felt like an imposter for sure, but lately I have this cycle of negative self talk that’s holding me back from stretching myself professionally, or applying for some new jobs.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      Self talk matters a lot. I think Imposter Syndrome is a little bigger than that because it’s also a feeling, beyond just the tape that is playing in your head. Negative self talk feeds Imposter Syndrome and Imposter Syndrome causes negative self talk, but I don’t think the syndrome is 100% just dialogue in your head.

      Or maybe I’m not qualified to talk about it.

      (See what I did there? :p)

  9. JMegan

    Oh, do I ever. I had a long period of stagnation in my career – fourteen years of doing pretty much exactly the same work at the same level. The job I started in October is finally an appropriate step up from where I was, including increased skills, responsibility, and pay. But the down side is that this is the first time in fourteen years that I’ve been in a position of having to learn a new job, so I’m really not used to the idea of not knowing everything about what I do.

    Logically, I know they wouldn’t have hired me if they didn’t think I could do the work, and logically I know I’m learning and figuring it out and probably doing just fine. But I can’t help feeling that I’m here by accident – that maybe I just “interview well,” and was able to baffle them with bullsh*t to the point that they were willing to hire me, and any day now they’re going to find out that I really don’t have a clue what I’m supposed to be doing here.

    I’m firmly in the “fake it till you make it” camp. Basically, I ask myself what a person do who actually did know what they were doing here, and do that. And I remind myself that it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s still a constant battle for me, and a whole lot of self-talk, but hopefully soon I’ll get to the point that I’m actually doing it, rather than just worrying about doing it all the time.

    1. Mabel

      This is really helpful to me because I’ve been at my company for 13.5 years (4 different positions), & I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever be able to get a job somewhere else. I’m not looking now, but sometimes I think I need to move on before it’s too late. It’s good to know that you left your long-term company and got a good position.

  10. Emmy

    Oh, man. I need to bookmark this post and reread it whenever I start something new. Over the summer I did this internship at a research institute and it was VERY INTIMIDATING. Luckily the program coordinators were very involved in making it an educational experience, and were super supportive of us undergrads. The scientist running our grant even made it a point to talk to us about impostor syndrome, and how common it is in the sciences since you’re basically learning new things all the time. I think his words were something like, “If you shift the focus of your research every few years, which I highly suggest, there are always going to be times when you feel underqualified. But, you have to remember that the people in this field have included you in this conversation because they think you have something interesting to say. You have already arrived.”

  11. Stachington

    This was a timely article, thank you. I feel like this ALL THE TIME in my new job, despite getting great feedback, praise, and even cash awards for my performance. I am extremely self-critical and compare myself to others too much, which I’m sure all adds to or causes Imposter Syndrome. I will take this advice and fake it until I make it, I guess.

  12. The Maple Teacup

    Heck yes, I am usually dealing with some kind of imposter syndrome. I’m afraid that I’m not qualified to do the work, and it’s only a matter of time before management realizes it. This is in direct conflict with what my supervisor is saying to me. “Maple Teacup, you are one of our strongest employees!” So yes, the fear keeps coming back. But I try to follow Alison’s advice and not think about negatives too much.

  13. Basiorana

    I feel like that all the time. Having a manager who was willing to say “Yes, you are awesome” helped. Now I’ve been promoted into a new and different role (receptionist to market development, so biiiiig change) and I’m scared shitless!

    I just take it one day at a time and I’m honest with my supervisors when they give me a task I’m not sure about. Then I look at how often I have to do that, and honestly, it’s not as much as I thought it would be.

  14. stb5114

    definitely liked the link from this article-I first heard of Olivia Fox when Brett McKay did a podcast with her over at Art of Manliness (one of my favorite websites besides this one for advice on being an adult)

  15. INTP

    I’m a grad student so I have absolutely felt imposter syndrome. What is it about grad school that makes this so universal? I’m not an insecure person but my first semester, I literally turned in a paper feeling truly ashamed about how awful it was and got 100 on it. Somehow we all feel like our peers are all true experts who live and breathe our fields, even though none of us really are yet. I can see how it would then carry over into PhD-required jobs.

    1. Tau

      +1 on grad school being terrible for this… I submitted my thesis a few weeks before Christmas and part of my brain is completely and utterly convinced that during the oral exam the examiners will tell me how utterly crap and basic and superficial all of it is and how they’re astonished I thought it was worthy of a PhD. I try to fight against it by telling myself my supervisor would never, ever have let me submit if that was true, but it’s hard. :(

  16. Lady Sybil

    This came up in my book club: all high flyers, all described this feeling. It made me like them more :)

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      It’s interesting how making yourself a little vulnerable to others can make you more likable, isn’t it? Within certain boundaries and contexts, at least.

  17. MNT

    It is a very real thing, and even the most brilliant people suffer from it. (And it well may be that the most brilliant people are most susceptible to it…I don’t know.) It is so much a thing that a very dear friend of mine just defended her dissertation on Impostor Syndrome. You’re not alone!

    FWIW, I was in this exact same situation about two years ago. I had just graduated with my PhD, and when I accepted a position with a new firm, I panicked. I just knew that everyone was going to be looking at me with cocked eyebrows, whispering behind my back about my lack of competence, or asking me to prove myself. But I soon realized that absolutely zero people were doing this (or would want or have time to do it, frankly), and almost simultaneously, I realized that I DID have things to say, and input to give.

    You’ve successfully defended your dissertation and have earned a PhD, which almost guarantees that you’re an intelligent person who can learn to think through just about anything, even if you don’t know the “answers” immediately off the top of your head. Though I still definitely have my moments, it definitely does get better. Good luck!

  18. Kat M

    When I started my first professional blog, I was still a student, blogging primarily for other students. At first I kept wondering why on earth someone should listen to somebody else who hadn’t actually succeeded yet. But when teachers started following my blog and sending their students to it as well, I realized that it was okay to be confident in what I knew. I kept the focus on what I was learning and how I learned it, which enabled me to balance confidence with humility (not to mention have a never-ending source of material).

    Now that I’m helping to write a textbook, I have the same exact feeling. But this time I know that it’s just a normal process of growing beyond your previous area of expertise. (Most days I get that. Some days I still feel like the world’s biggest fraud). But if you never feel like you’re out of your league, it probably means you’re not growing. And that’s no fun at all.

  19. Katie the Fed

    There’s nothing scarier than the first time you realize you’re the smartest person in the room on a certain issue – when other people look to you for advice and you’re like “I don’t know what’s more terrifying – that they won’t listen to me or they will?”

    1. hermit crab

      Oh my gosh, yes, exactly. It also leads me to discount whatever I do know how to do — like, “Even I know how to do X, so it must not count.”

    2. Dolly

      This. I came to Current Job with zero experience in the industry (although I had a few years of experience in a similar role in another industry) and I knew n.o.t.h.i.n.g. about their product. Given that it is a very technical nature, I had to learn from scratch.

      Now, there is a new subdivision in which I became a subject matter expert. My boss and my boss’ boss know next to nothing about this subdivision and there have been countless times in meetings when they turn to me. There is always a small moment of panic that I will be wrong or say something dumb.

      I am lucky that I have a boss that praises freely (along with giving important, timely critical feedback) so this helps. I think he recognizes that I sometimes need to be told that I’m actually doing it right because some days it feels like there is no way I should be able to do this.

    3. Jake

      Its terrifying when you specifically aren’t supposed to be the smartest person in the room on a subject, yet you are. It is not nearly as terrifying, although still disconcerting, when you are specifically supposed to be the smartest person in the room on the subject.

  20. AB Normal

    I used to wonder why my brilliant husband always suffer from impostor syndrome, and I never do (we have the same educational background and work on complementary fields).

    Then I realized why: over time, I developed a set of measures that I use to monitor my performance. For example, for a long time I was responsible for the requirements in complex software projects. My measures were about the number of defects found in my requirements during requirements review, number of questions elicited by my requirements (which meant they weren’t as clear as I hoped), etc. With objective measures, it was easy for me to not only identify areas for growth, but also compare myself to my peers, and realize that I was indeed a high performer (getting promotions and more challenging work helped confirm that, but the measures were the main source of verification for me). My husband also shows a history of progress and recognition by others, but because he never developed his own performance measurement system like I did, he still doubts himself.

    My suggestion for people who want to overcome the impostor syndrome is to find meaningful measures that are based on results and impact of your work, and start tracking your performance. Then, you don’t have to rely on other people’s opinion, and can have real data that will tell you how you are doing compared to your peers. Being a knowledge worker, I know that sometimes the right measures aren’t obvious, but with a little effort it’s possible to arrive at a small set of metrics that can help you understand your performance and stop doubting yourself so much.

  21. Kirsten

    I’m a therapist, and despite being out of school for five years, I still have these thoughts regularly- especially since I’m a fairly young professional working with people who are mostly significantly older than I am. If I’m not careful, I start asking myself why I, certainly with plenty of faults of my own, am at all qualified to give advice to people. My usual way of coping with imposter syndrome is to make sure I keep up with developments in my field as much as I reasonably can, and to remember that I am facilitating change by having been educated in specific techniques, not because I am the be-all-end-all of life experience.

    I do still get weirded out when I’m asked to give career advice to college students, though. Wasn’t I just that age?!

  22. Elfie

    Hi, I’ve been lurking for a while, and this is the first post that has prompted me to comment. I suffer from this ALL THE TIME! Like Confuzzled above, I also am the only person who has ever done my specific job, and it’s quite obvious that my colleagues don’t really understand why I’m here (they used to get along fine before they ever had one of me, so what exactly am I bringing to the table?). All I can do is echo the advice of everyone else – fake it till you make it. It’s what I’m trying to do, and I think I’m slowly making inroads. I only learnt about Imposter Syndrome last year, but I felt a light bulb moment when I did.

    1. Dolly

      Oh yea. I had one of those roles. For me (do to some serious office dysfunction) it never got better. They always outright questioned my purpose in the office. However, when I left I did get some delayed gratification. I received several messages on LinkedIn from some of the worst offenders telling me how hard it was with me gone and how they realize now how much I had done, etc.

      Would have been great for them to see that while I was there.

      1. Elfie

        I feel ya, Dolly! With Imposter Syndrome though, I sometimes feel like they’re right, and I’m not really needed. Doesn’t help that, all things considered, it’s a pretty dysfunctional organisation to work in (certainly in my area). I’m considering my options. Hope things got better for you when you left!

  23. NE

    Does this feeling go away if you try the ‘fake it til you make it’ approach? I’m more aware than ever of how much damage I’ve done to myself by failing to own my expertise and knowledge. This is such a hard thing to overcome.

    1. Jake

      It hasn’t completely left me, but it has gotten less severe. It used to be crippling terror, whereas now it is slight discomfort.

      The frequency has not lessened though.

      1. NE

        For me it’s a pervasive lack of self-confidence that prevents me from doing what I could be doing. I sometimes find myself in classes and realize that I could be teaching them. I would love to be one of those people who just leaps into something without worrying about competency. I look at other people and feel like I am just as competent, but I lack the ability to self promote and/or act with confidence.

        I hope the discomfort also goes away for you with time. I wonder if some people are just wired this way.

  24. little Cindy Lou who

    Totally feel this. Felt it in my first accounting job out of college, felt it when I was in charge of training interns and subsequently the new team when that first department was outsourced, felt it when I moved into a new career in finance, felt it when that boss (CFO) called me her right hand, felt it when I was in charge of evaluating IT projects against accounting guidelines and would have a herd of project managers vying for 5 minute pitches, and feel it currently after another career shift into a hybrid IT/Finance/business analyst type role.

    And I also second that no one else seems to question how the heck I got here. I even had another manager jokingly offer me the open spot on his team after a meeting the other week, and I know next to nothing about the real techie stuff!

    I find it helpful to focus less on what you feel like you don’t know (because I find those thoughts like breathing vacuum) and more on how you go about learning in those situations (because I’m a nerd and totally love learning new things). I had a fantastically wise tech teacher in high school say that you should never bother to memorize that which you can look up. It’s become a mantra to me. So much of what I initially feel that I don’t know is actually the stuff I can look up (system documentation, accounting guidelines and government regulations, etc) or eventually learn just by working with those who have the experience and knowledge base. Which seems to be a long winded way of saying I’m in the fake it til you make it camp.

  25. Impostor Gadget

    I realized recently that my sense of being an impostor is partly because I grew up thinking that people in the position I have now were somehow different from me – smarter, better educated, more ambitious, etc. I was the first in my family to go to college, let alone grad school. I was always looking up at these people from below, working my way through school, internships, and entry level jobs. And now, here I am, working with them and realizing they did the same thing I did, just a little sooner than me. I think, at the end of the day, we’re all just making it up as we go along.

    1. Fantasma

      + 1

      Since I got my current job a few months ago, I’ve been really struggling with impostor syndrome (more so than usual). My position is new, and it’s in a developing field so I feel uncertain a lot of the time and like I’m not doing enough work. Even though I got a raise (after less than 3 months), I’m still waiting for them to figure out I’m not the expert they think they hired.

      Part of the mental block stems from the fact that I worked for 10+ years in environments where nothing was good enough. Praise was superficial and sort of backhanded, like “that was good — and much better than expected.” And another part, like you said, is that I’m from a lower-status background (member of a minority group from a high-poverty area) and looked up to people from below as I worked my way up.

      I’m sure as I get a handle on the work and feel more comfortable at my new company that the negative feelings will start to go away.

  26. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

    The timing of this repost is funny. Literally four hours before this post went up, I was thinking about Imposter Syndrome when I was doing my first half of fiscal year analysis and reports.

    I’m having Imposter Syndrome for our entire division! We’ve worked our asses off for years. I have great people. We are objectively very good at what we do and we are always fighting, fighting, fighting to get ahead and stay ahead.

    This FY, we are kicking ass. Our growth rate is high. Our December was jaw dropping (76%!), and as happy as I am pulling the numbers together, it wasn’t pure joy at all. My little voice was saying “this can’t be right. what external factors are effecting this. what is going to go wrong now. next quarter is going to fall flat, you can’t sustain this. ” etc. I made myself sick worrying instead of being happy!

    And then I went, Imposter Syndrome! AHA!

  27. Felicia

    Being in my first full time permanent job post-graduation, I have really struggled with impostor syndrome too. For me it’s made worse because the person before me had very poor performance before she was fired, so just me doing adequately at the job, and doing what i say i’ll do by the time I say i’ll do it is considered a big deal. So it’s like “Soon they’ll realize that doing what i’m supposed to do shouldn’t be that big of a deal and then they’ll realize i suck”. I know I dont really suck, but it’s hard to feel like i know what i’m doing in a professional setting. It also doesn’t help that i have a lot of freedom in my job to make it what i want, and figuring out things I should be doing in my job terrifies me.

  28. DrM

    Reading everyone’s comments about Impostor Syndrome, I had to chime in with my two cents worth. This happened over 13 years ago, but I can remember the feeling like it was yesterday. I was a month out of medical school and working in the E.D. and a woman was brought in with a dog bite on her face. She’d pissed off her cocker spaniel and Fido put a pretty good tear in her lip. There was blood! There were tears! There was more blood!

    I walked into the exam area and the very first thought I had was, “Holy #@#*, someone get a doctor!” followed immediately by, ” Oh, #*@&, I’M the doctor!”

    In the course of about a second, it ran through my head that I’d trained for this, I’d worked my butt off for that MD after my name and, yes, I CAN help this woman. So I swallowed my fear and doubt and dove in. I’m proud to say that I did a lovely job suturing the patient’s lip and after that I felt like I did belong there.

    I guess the moral of my story is that it’s natural to feel like you’re an impostor when you’re in a new situation. But when you meet and beat your first crisis it goes a long way toward making you realize that, yes, you deserve to be here!

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      Great story. Reminds me of the feeling I got when they let me walk out of the hospital with my first baby. Where was that kid’s mother?

    2. ArtsNerd

      Yep! I’ve had jobs that just bounced from one crisis to the next. I used to be terrified of messing up, but many high-pressure successes (and a few failures*) have knocked the Impostor Syndrome right out of me. Now, while my much more experienced business partner still struggles with it, I’m perfectly comfortable saying “We make magic happen, and you’re lucky to have us working with you.”

      *I’m pleased and surprised to report that very few screwups are actually fatal. On the other hand, I am NOT a doctor.

  29. Penny

    Nice to know I’m not alone. While watching Parks and Rec reruns this weekend, April said something that pertains to this situation, so here’s some of her advice for you, “I’m going to tell you a secret about everyone else’s job: No one knows what they’re doing. Deep down, everyone is just faking it until they figure it out. And you will, too, because you are awesome and everyone else sucks.” Hee, classic April, but you get the gist.

  30. UK Nerd

    My company was making my entire team redundant, and we were all looking for jobs, so people were calling my manager for references on a regular basis. After one such call she called me over and told me the team leader was going to have a word with me about my CV. I panicked, thinking I must have drastically over-represented myself in it.

    Of course I hadn’t. I’d drastically under-represented myself in it. And wasn’t asking for enough money.

    The talk had come about due to someone calling for a reference who didn’t seem to believe, based on my CV, that I actually was a developer. This wasn’t entirely due to my inadequte CV, however. They interviewed me, and it rapidly became clear that when they said they wanted a developer, they actually wanted my team leader, but only wanted to pay for me. I wonder sometimes if they ever found anyone.

    (Happy ending: shortly afterwards I accepted a job at another company who knew what a developer was and were prepared to pay for one. And I feel a lot less like an imposter.)

  31. LillianMcGee

    I fluctuate between impostor syndrome and indispensability syndrome (should such a thing exist). It’s all “Oh god, everyone’s older and wiser than me why do they think I can do all the things” until someone says “If you got hit by a bus, this place would fall apart” which makes me just as frantic.
    Just gotta brush off the ridiculous thoughts/comments and keep on chuggin’.

  32. Marjolein

    Glad I’m not the only one.

    I have always had low self-esteem. Being bullied from age six to age eighteen, when I graduated, will do that to you. Recently I finished my graduation internship and part of the grade consist of the evaluation your supervisor. I got a really good evaluation from not only my supervisor, but also from my colleagues. And apprarently my supervisor was happy enough with me to give me a part-time job now that I’m heading for my pre-master and master’s degree.

    But I feel as if those evaluations and any compliments I get about my work are for another person. My colleagues know about my low self-esteem (it is hard not to notice when you’re around me for more than a week), in fact they even commented on it as part of my evaluation. It is hard to change though, to not feel like an imposter, even though my supervisor gave me a part-time job because he likes my work and is happy with me as an employee.

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