Up to 70 per cent of people have experienced feelings of inadequacy at work at some point in their career, studies have shown. A wide cross-section of people in different industries and at all levels have encountered the “impostor syndrome,” which can leave them feeling in fear of being exposed as a fraud in their role.
Although men and women are thought to be equally susceptible, women tend to allow themselves to be held back by this syndrome to a greater extent than their male peers, according to Dr. Valerie Young, award-winning author and internationally-known expert on the impostor syndrome.
When you feel like an impostor in your role, it can impact your career in a number of ways.
“You may be flying under the radar, not speaking up in meetings or sharing your ideas, and avoiding new opportunities,” said Young. “Some people stay in a job they have outgrown to avoid the fear of failure in a new role.” In extreme cases, Young says that a sufferer of the syndrome may even sabotage her own career by under-preparing for meetings or showing up late, which has a determinantal impact on the business as well as on the individual.
Young recommends trying to understand your feelings by considering the fact that so many people feel the same way. Employers can help to normalise the syndrome by naming it and talking about its prevalence during orientation sessions.
“It’s natural to feel anxious when taking on new tasks and stepping outside of your comfort zone,” said Young. “Instead of feeling shame, remember that you are entitled to make mistakes and it’s okay to fall short sometimes. People need to give themselves permission to feel off-base for the first six months in a new role.”
It is also important to keep going regardless of how you feel.
“You have to do the thing that scares you, even though you don’t feel fully ready. Don’t wait for more confidence to come first,” said Young.
Based in Massachusetts, U.S, Young is the author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It (Crown Business/Random House.)