What is Imposter Syndrome and How Do You Overcome It?

When are they going to catch you out?


Words by Paula Coogan
June 4th, 2018

It happened again! A total fluke! You got through the meeting/pitch/presentation and you looked like you knew what you were doing. You fooled everyone again! But you don’t feel happy about it, it’s not something that you’re proud of. In fact, you get anxious every time you think about it. “How much longer can I get away with this?” you think to yourself. “Soon, they’re going to catch me out and then they’ll know I’m not good enough. They’ll know I don’t belong here.”

If you can relate to this, then you are far from alone in feeling this way. This way of thinking is so common that it even has a name- it’s called ‘Imposter Syndrome’. Impostor syndrome describes a situation where someone feels like an imposter or fraud because they think that their accomplishments, skills and achievements are nowhere near as good as those of the people around them. But usually, their accomplishments are just as good if not better, and the individual is being needlessly insecure. The interesting thing is that the people who are most likely to experience these feelings tend to be high achievers and highly successful people!

Imposter syndrome does tend to plague women more often than men but it is common for both sexes. Some of the ways in which it can hold you back in your career include the following:

 not applying for jobs, promotions, and other employment opportunities
 disclaiming or understating your experience or skill
 nervous talking to others in your field, especially if you perceive the others as highly experienced
 you feel like a fraud
 you worry that someone will find out your lack of qualifications and fire you
 you over-prepare for tasks
 you attribute much of your success to chance or luck
 you’re less willing to put yourself forward for a job as you feel you’re not qualified
 you feel not good enough
 you feel like you don’t belong

I’m sure I don’t need to point out that when you feel this way, you feel pretty lousy which then adds to the pot of insecurity and self-doubt which then bubbles away and over time your self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth all dissolves away! We don’t want that to happen so if you can relate to what I’ve said so far, then I’m sure you’re wondering, “Paula, what can I do about it?” So, what can you do to overcome Imposter Syndrome? Below are my top 5 tips.


1. Identify the emotions and thoughts.
The first important step is to recognise that you are experiencing these thoughts and acknowledge how they are making you feel. Awareness is the key to bringing about a change in the way you think and act. The moment you become aware of what you’re doing, you are opening yourself to different possibilities of managing yourself.

2. Challenge your beliefs.
What needs to happen for you to be successful? Or happy? Or good enough? Or accepted? Do you know? Often, without being aware of it, we have criteria in our mind of what “needs” to be in place for us to be worthy of success, happiness, love, opportunity- you fill in the blank. You might find that you come up with answers like “I always need to know the answer” or “I can never call in sick” or “I need to be the yes woman”- this exercise is often an eye-opener!
Get a pen and paper, see what comes up for you and then challenge it by asking, “Is this true?”

3. Reaffirm your worthiness.
Accept your success and be kind to yourself. Do not attribute to luck or jamminess what was the result of your preparation, hard work and being open to opportunity. Don’t shy away or dismiss compliments by attributing your success to external factors. Own it! When you feel undeserving, go back and review previous accomplishments or positive feedbacks. Make a list of the people that you have helped and supported. This will help remind you of who you are and assure you that you belong. Often we shy away from really claiming our success because we’re fearful of being seen as cocky or conceited, but downplaying your success will help no one.

We all do it! We compare ourselves to other people and then determine how we’re doing in our own lives based on how we see they are doing. If we were just simply being curious, that would be one thing. But we’re not simply being curious, and what we end up doing is judging ourselves. And, we all know that there is no bigger critic of you than yourself.

Have you ever noticed that you may have everyone else cheering you on, thinking that you are great but if your inner voice is telling you that you’re a waste of space, then you never get past go?

The thing about comparison is that you can never win. I mean, really, how often do we compare ourselves with someone less fortunate than us and consider ourselves blessed? Not very often! Most of the time, we compare ourselves with someone who we perceive as being, having, or doing more. And this just leaves us coming up short, feeling small and inadequate.

But our minds do want to measure. Our minds were built to rank and file and organise information. Our mind wants to know where we fit into the grand scheme of things. We need to give it something to do. So, instead of training it to stop comparing altogether, why not simply redirect the comparison to a past version of you and your present self? Keep the comparison within? You see, we are always becoming more. Who you are today is a result of the decisions you made yesterday.

So, when you catch yourself comparing yourself to someone else, stop for a moment and redirect the thought. Instead of submitting to the temptation to compare yourself to someone else, ask yourself a few questions instead.

 What are you doing today that you couldn’t have done five, three, or even a year ago?
 What new decisions have you made that resulted in a change in your life?
 What are your wins this year, compared to last year at this time?
 How has your life improved?
 How have you improved?
 What have you done recently that you never thought you could do?
 How have you continued to become a new and improved version of yourself?

This is really the stuff that matters! Our own journey and our own progress. Our own lives and what we do and achieve. Directing our own lives based on what we want for ourselves, not what we think we should have because those people you stalk have it! Comparing ourselves with someone else is an inaccurate and irrelevant measuring stick so how about we put it down?

5. Keep on going.

The best way to beat impostor syndrome is to continue taking action even if you feel scared, while at the same time, owning your successes. Learn to recognise your wins and what you have brought into being because of who you are! It takes a lot of courage to pursue challenges when you’re doubtful. But the more you step up, do the hard things and see how much you’re progressing, the easier it becomes to start realising and believing that you’re incredible. And trust me, the world needs women who have woken up, started to believe in themselves and can hold the space for others to do the same.

Please share your story if you can relate to this article as the more we realise that it’s a common experience for many people, the easier it becomes to talk about and overcome!

Until next time,

Own it!

P x



Paula Coogan is the founder of The Quarter Life Coach – a vibrant career and life coaching company aimed at empowering women in their 20s and 30s to practice courage, figure out their true desires both personally and professionally and then, to make it happen.

Her work is delivered through several live group programs and Masterminds including Career Breakthrough Mastermind and The Wisdom Circle. She also works one-on-one with clients who are ready for big transitions in their relationships, careers and businesses.