Imposter Syndrome: 6 Signs You Might be Highly Competent but Hugely Under-confident

“It was a fluke!’ ‘I was just lucky’ ‘If I can do it anyone can’, ‘It was someone else’s hard work or talent’, ‘I had a lot of support’ ‘I’ll be found out’ ‘I’m a fraud’ ‘I’m not that talented’ ‘I’m a one-hit wonder’ ‘I’m not that good’ ‘I could do better’ ‘I was in the right place at the right time’ ‘I don’t belong in the VIP room’ ‘how did I get here?’ ‘I’ll fail or disappoint’.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? If so, it could be a sign that you’ve experienced imposter syndrome.

It’s often thought that if you’re successful or ambitious or striving to get to where you want to be, that you’ll feel ultra confident because you’re competent and you have the skills, knowledge and ability and even talent. However, for some people, this is simply not the case. Ella Fitzgerald once claimed that it wasn’t her voice that made her famous it was the compositions and songs. Either this was an aspect of her modest character, or does imposter syndrome really plague most of us (even if you’re an icon)

For most people, being competent and skilled almost carries with it a sense of power and confidence. However, having worked in this field and also having experienced aspects of imposter syndrome in my own life, this is simply not the case. Competence does not automatically mean that you’ll feel confident (and sometimes far from it) In fact, on the flip side of experiencing competence, progression and positive development, competence carries with it the pressure of responsibility as well as your own and others’ expectations anxiety and stress. This, therefore, challenges any idea of success and what it might feel like and looks like for each person.

6 Signs and Tips For How To Challenge Imposter Syndrome

  1. Fear of Failure

Underlying imposter syndrome is a fear that you’re a fraud, you’re not that talented and skilled and that you’ll be asked to leave the VIP room. The largest fear of all is feeling unable to fulfill, meet or exceed expectations and the fear that you’ll fail or disappoint in some way.

Tip: Ask yourself how true and realistic is it that you’re a fraud? Write down all of the reasons why you deserve to experience acknowledgment, happiness, and success.

  1. The Pressures of Responsibility and Expectation

The pressure of responsibility and expectation can affect almost anyone from a first time mum or dad and their experiences with their new born baby, to first time home owners, to students, entrepreneurs, high flying professionals, CEOs and Directors through to celebrities, public figures and role models. The fact is that imposter syndrome can affect anyone. Where change and transition happens in life or work, promotions occur and roles evolve, there will always be the step into the unknown, the lack of a handbook or manual, the feeling that you don’t know what you’re doing, when really it’s ok not to know, or you may surprise yourself with how well you actually apply yourself.

Tip: No one is superhuman! This means that there isn’t anyone in the world who has all the answers or who doesn’t necessarily stumble or who doesn’t feel under-confident. So the positive outcome of this, is to know that you’re really not alone and that it’s ok not to have all the answers all of the time.

  1. You Hold Yourself Back

Self doubt and low confidence can impact personal development and can stagnate action and even living life to the full. For example, you may not want to apply for opportunities, awards or career promotions because you fear that you won’t be successful. Or perhaps you resist opening yourself up to new relationships, friendships or personal experiences for fear that you’ll be rejected.

Tip: Ask yourself what’s the risk of not being open to new professional or personal opportunities or relationships. What will or won’t change if you don’t at least try? Will you regret it if you don’t?  Then ask what’s the absolute worst that could happen?

4. You’re Only Playing a Role 

Feeling and actually believing that you’re only ‘playing a role’ is a huge part of imposter syndrome. I’ve seen executives or CEOs who are well respected role models who feel under-confident to the point that they cannot deliver a speech, or they choose to wear oversized, shapeless or bland clothes for fear that they do not deserve the attention and would rather blend into the background. Equally, there are people who ‘dress the part’ but who deep down feel as though they are only wearing a mask.

Tip: I don’t know anyone who hasn’t felt this way. After all, even William Shakespeare famously wrote ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women, merely players’. Ask yourself why you think you’re playing a role? Then ask trusted people around you to write in a little book reasons why you’re deserving of your past, current or future achievements. This will then provide a little book of visible evidence to back up the case that you really aren’t playing a role. If this is difficult to do, think and write down of all the reasons why you are deserving of where you are or what you’re striving for.

5. You Lead a Double Life

Secrecy and shame are two of the biggest signs of imposter syndrome. Fear of losing your job, reputation, position, your partner, your friends and respect can be a huge catalyst for secrecy, loneliness and shame. This then impacts who you are, how you feel, and what you choose to show to the world compared to how you feel in private. For example, you may seem confident and in control to the outside world, but deep down you may feel vulnerable, under-confident, lonely and stressed. Or perhaps you shy away from the limelight and hold yourself back for fear that you’ll be rejected.

Tip: This is possibly one of the hardest and unhappiest experiences of imposter syndrome. At this point it’s important to turn to your most trusted allies, friends and family. Although sharing can be painful, it can also be a huge relief. If you’re not sure who to turn to, try researching and attending social or networking groups of people who may be experiencing similar situations. Therapy or coaching can also be a great way to share and explore your feeling in a confidential and safe space.

6. You Overcompensate, Discount and Undervalue Yourself

Do you find it difficult to own your right to your own accomplishment and success? Do you give more than you receive? Do you undercharge clients? Are you under confident or fearful when setting either your personal or professional boundaries? Perhaps you feel as if you’re watching someone else achieving, but you find it difficult to accept that it is you and so you pass on the acknowledgment or success onto someone else?

Tip: Ask yourself why you’re overcompensating? What are you overcompensating for? Do you really need to do this? Does overcompensating satisfy a personal self-fulfilling prophecy, and how is this robbing you of progression and development? Then finally ask yourself how much energy do you spend overcompensating, when your time and energy could be used for self-nourishment and personal development?