Posted 16 February 2021

A guide to overcoming imposter syndrome

It’s tough to find anyone that hasn’t felt a minor pang of imposter syndrome. It has a habit of creeping in at your most vulnerable moments, making you feel like a fraud, while painting everyone else as the ‘real deal’. It’ll convince you that you don’t belong in a job, or that you don’t deserve your wins. In short, it’s rude, irritating and can be the ultimate blocker of new opportunities.

To help make sense of this all-encompassing feeling, we’ve rounded up some advice from our archive to help you keep it in check.

Understanding imposter syndrome

🧐 What is it?

First identified in the 1970s, the concept of imposter syndrome has been around for decades, but the feeling of being a professional imposter has certainly been around for a lot longer. It’s a term that refers to the idea that you’ve only succeeded because of luck, not because of your qualifications, experience or talent.

🔍 How do you identify it?

Here are some of the most common signs:

  • You’re constantly doubting yourself and undermining your own experience and knowledge.
  • You talk yourself out of new opportunities or applying for roles, due to a fear of not being good enough – even though you’re likely more than qualified.
  • You’ve landed your dream role, but you keep feeling like a fraud.
  • You simply can’t shake off that belief that you’ve ‘tricked’ somebody – that you’ve only made it this far through luck.

Any of the above sound familiar? Well, friend, this is imposter syndrome.

🤔 What causes it?

Unfortunately, nobody is immune from imposter syndrome’s powers. It can affect anyone and everyone, at any given time in their career. In fact, one US study found that 70% of Americans had experienced it at some time in their working lives. However, research indicates that it can be felt most acutely by:

  • High achievers
  • Current students
  • People working in creative fields
  • People who are underrepresented in their line of work (this could be in terms of gender, ethnicity, disability and more)

When you think about how competitive and fast-paced the creative industry can be, it’s not hard to see why imposter syndrome is felt by so many – and particularly those just starting out.

For recent graduates, this can come hand in hand with the confusion, and even depression, of post-student life. This can be a time of heightened uncertainty and insecurity – from applying for jobs and worries about finances, to comparing yourself to your peers on social media.

When you’re at the beginning of your career, you will naturally feel like you’re at the bottom of the ladder, but remember the power you have, too. The industry is always looking for fresh ideas and perspectives – your skills, opinions, insights and way of thinking about the world are all invaluable assets.

Steps to help overcome it

Luckily, there are lots of ways you can stay on top of this sticky feeling*. The next time you start to feel weighed down by these kinds of insecurities, we recommend taking a deep breath and giving the following a go:

💬 Get talking, moving or meditating

Imposter syndrome can bring on destructive thought patterns. This is why a good first step is to find a way to challenge these thoughts. The idea here is to train your brain not to obey these feelings, or be overwhelmed by them, but instead to accept them for what they are, and try to move past them.

Things that help avoiding negative thought cycles include taking part in regular exercise, or meditating to help you calm your inner voice. Another option is to talk openly about it – whether that’s with a trusted co-worker, a loved one, or even booking in to see a therapist.

✍️ Remind yourself of your brilliance

Another approach to managing self-doubt is to counteract it with reminders of how great you are. One way to do this is to write down as many of your skills, attributes and achievements as you can think of; this could be in a note book, or on Post-Its.

We know this can be tough if you’re not feeling your best – but remember to celebrate the small wins, and you could even ask close friends or relatives what they identify as your strengths. Make sure you take the time to absorb it all; sometimes a visual reminder is all you need to for a well-deserved confidence boost.

To add to that, why not also try collecting some real-life examples? Received a lovely comment on your Instagram, or a glowing piece of feedback over email from your boss or a client? Make a screenshot of it, and store these in a folder on your desktop whenever you need a motivating pick-me-up.

The next time you’re applying for a new role, or mustering up the courage to ask for a promotion, you can always check back on it to soak up all that positive reinforcement, as proof of how brilliant you are.

💸 Avoid undercharging

Feeling like an imposter can be particularly damaging when it comes to money matters, as undervaluing yourself can easily extend to undercharging for your work.

This is where talking to peers and being transparent about how much you earn can be particularly useful. While the fear of what others might think can be daunting to overcome, being open about your earnings gives you a broader awareness of how much you should be charging for work, and whether you are unknowingly selling yourself short.

⚖️ Turn self-comparison into a learning opportunity

Being in the company of high-achievers can alter the way you see yourself. We’ve all compared ourselves with other people doing similar roles, or studying similar subjects, and put them on a pedestal. But doing so means we’re automatically measuring ourselves against an imaginary ideal.

It’s easy to think that some are born with natural talent, and others aren’t. But the likelihood is, the people you admire just worked hard at a skill. And that means you can, too.

Think about the people you admire. Note down what makes that person ‘good’ in your eyes. Is it their thorough research skills? Or their impressive motion design skills? What is it about their approach that you could learn from?

By breaking this down, you can turn those admirable qualities into learning objectives. This might take the form of a short course, or even asking them about their process and tips.

🙌 Create a supportive environment

On that note, it’s always healthy to surround yourself with a broad mix of people that inspire you and encourage you to succeed.

Try and assemble a group of diverse peers who have your back; with varying experiences of cultures, schools of thought, disciplines and skills. You could even arrange to meet up regularly – once a week or even every month, either as a group or one-on-one. This becomes a great opportunity to share ideas and inspirations, and listen to one another.

In addition, having a mentor can be a huge boost of support, motivation and encouragement, as it provides a safe space for feedback and advice. This could be with someone you already know and admire who is further along in their career, and the arrangement can be as regular or occasional as you agree to.

🧵 Continue to create

Regaining confidence in yourself is perhaps the most difficult part of this entire process, but it’s not impossible.

Rediscovering joy and purpose in your work can be a great way to sew some new seeds of confidence. It’s no coincidence that we tend to like the things we’re good at, which is why it’s a great idea to remind yourself of what you truly enjoy doing.

Why not try making something for the sake of it – outside the confines of briefs, deadlines or social media feeds? Take the pressure off, worry less about the final outcome and make it more about the fun of the activity itself.

💭 Remember: You are not alone!

Finally, one of the most important things to keep in mind when imposter syndrome creeps in, is that you’re really not alone. Some of the most successful and accomplished people have experienced it at some point in their careers, and that includes the likes of Maya Angelou, David Bowie, and not to mention Michelle Obama.

So start by talking about why you’re feeling insecure, writing it down and remembering what makes you great, and building yourself a supportive community.

While it’d be hard to completely get rid of imposter syndrome, know that a small dose of it can help you keep your feet on the ground, and motivate you to keep learning. Because, let’s be honest, isn’t it slightly more worrying if someone says they’ve never felt a single doubt about their own abilities?


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*Please note that the advice in this article has been drawn from the experiences of creatives we have spoken to over the past few years. Since we are not medical professionals, if are suffering persistent low mood and self-doubt, we would advise seeking advice from a GP or trained therapist.