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Imposter syndrome—preferably termed imposter phenomenon—is an individual experience.

Imposter Syndrome: Insights for Better Self-Understanding

Some strategies for coping with and overcoming imposter syndrome

Photo portrait of Alison Foo, MSc, PMP
Alison Foo, MSc, PMP
Photo portrait of Alison Foo, MSc, PMP

Alison Foo is a career, communication and leadership coach. She’s passionate about changing lives through teaching professional skills. She has worked with graduate students, newcomers, marginalized groups, and professionals from various industries. Her specialty is the clinical and research sectors. Alison is also a clinical research professor. She teaches at Seneca College, McMaster University Continuing Education, and ACCES Employment. Previously, she worked on all phases of clinical trials and specialized in clinical trial management, clinical data management, clinical monitoring, and stakeholder management. When she’s not working or volunteering, she’s spending time with her rescue dog, watching Asian TV, and saving recipes she’ll never use.

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Published:May 03, 2024
|4 min read
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I recently had the privilege of spreading awareness about imposter syndrome at the Today’s Clinical Lab 2024 Women in Leadership Digital Forum. Here are some of the key concepts from the webinar, as well as more stories and strategies from my personal experience. 

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What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome—preferably termed imposter phenomenon—is an individual experience. Although there are many potential indicators, there are three main attributes associated with this phenomenon: 

  • Believing that you’re not as intelligent/talented/capable/qualified as others perceive you to be

  • A fear of being exposed as the fraud you think you are

  • An inability to internalize success despite having objective achievements due to  attributing success to external factors

More simply put, imposter phenomenon is when someone thinks they’re an imposter when, in fact, they aren’t. 

In my webinar, I cover the following topics:

  • Two imposter syndrome tests  

  • People with imposter phenomenon vs actual imposters  

  • Types of imposter syndrome

  • The vicious imposter cycle 

  • Contributing factors, including early childhood experiences, chronic illness, disability, neurodivergence, systemic racism, etc. 

  • How shame, perfectionism, and imposter phenomenon are interrelated

Effects and coping with imposter syndrome

Perhaps the most damaging effect of imposter phenomenon is the belief that unhealthy coping mechanisms are favorable traits. For example, many pride themselves on their hard work ethic (i.e., overworking), risk mitigation skills (i.e., overpreparing), ability to work independently (i.e., fear of asking for help), and attention to detail (i.e., perfectionism). Most people won’t admit that these go hand in hand with anxiety and self-doubt. Although these characteristics can initially earn positive feedback and career success, they serve to reinforce the imposter cycle and lead to burnout.

Other coping mechanisms include procrastinating, avoiding responsibility, challenge, or new opportunities, and self-sabotaging success. For instance, I procrastinated creating the slide deck for my webinar on imposter phenomenon for fear of being “the perfectionist” or “the expert;” as a result, I was worried, fatigued, and self-critical the entire time. Perhaps I was self-sabotaging my chances of being invited back. One’s relationship with imposter phenomenon is always a work in progress.

In my webinar, I cover the following topics:

  • List of imposter feelings and effects

  • Risks of reaching your career ceiling prematurely

  • How self-doubt may be instilled from early childhood 

  • How imposter phenomenon manifests in adolescence and adulthood

Strategies for overcoming imposter syndrome

During my recent webinar, I shared 14 strategies, 9 motivational quotes, and some advice during the Q&A. Here are 10 more strategies that have worked for me, but try only one strategy at a time: 

  1. Measure your competency based on your best performance, not your worst.

  2. Celebrate every single win, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem to others.

  3. Schedule fun, play, and silliness, and prioritize all forms of rest: physical, mental, social, emotional, spiritual (i.e., mindful rest and self-reflection), sensory, and creative rest. 

  4. Try new things to build your confidence and become comfortable being uncomfortable.

  5. Explore self-understanding from a place of curiosity and compassion, not from a place of criticism or shame. 

  6. Ask yourself if your self-talk or decisions will bring you closer to or further from your goals.

  7. Remember that it’s not a moral failing if you make mistakes or perform less than perfectly. 

  8. Remind yourself of a quote by award-winning author on imposter syndrome, Dr. Valerie Young: “It’s not about knowing everything. It’s about not knowing with confidence.”

  9. Focus on how far you’ve come, not how far you need to go.

  10. Choose a simple mantra, such as, “practice starting,” from Zack Prohaska.

Imposter syndrome and the job market 

The last slide of my webinar included my contact information and my headshot from my LinkedIn profile. Having gained some weight since the photo was taken, I feel like an imposter when I meet people who expect me to look as I did. This is similar to an issue many people develop from using social media. When people portray a persona online that’s different from their authentic self, they may experience internal conflict about their self-image and begin to feel like imposters. 

In today’s job market, people may begin to feel like an imposter or exacerbate their imposter cycle when they experience numerous rejections during their job search. I see this pattern prominently among high-achieving newcomers who face unique employment and cultural barriers in a new country. 

If you’re trying to find or change jobs, check out my other resources: 

Unique Approaches to Cover Letter Writing

Overcoming Employment Barriers with a Winning Résumé

Unique Job Interview Preparation Strategies

TRENDS in Professional Networking

Imposter syndrome is a natural response

Although complex, imposter phenomenon is a natural response to certain experiences, circumstances, or environments that can affect anyone. I wish you the best of luck on your journey of self-understanding and well-being!


Insights on Imposter Syndrome for Self-Understanding