How to overcome imposter syndrome for project professionals

This is a blog post to introduce the common anxiety felt a lot throughout professional careers, but not really spoken about. The aim is to fully understand what these feelings are and mean, and how they may be overcome. Some of the methods to overcome imposter syndrome may seem simple, but working through anxiety is a unique journey for everyone. Around 25-30% of high achievers may suffer with imposter syndrome. Overcoming these feelings help people to feel less like an imposter and grow to be confident and achieving in what they do.

What is ‘Imposter Syndrome?’

Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon and type of anxiety where an individual doubts their abilities and accomplishments and feels like a fraud, even though they may have achieved significant success. This feeling is particularly common among certain types of personality, who often experience pressure to achieve success at a young age. However, this can also be common with professionals of any age and at any stage of their career. If you’re struggling with imposter syndrome, you’re not alone. All professions have professionals who experience imposter syndrome, but the next example focuses on project managers.

Imposter syndrome usually manifests itself for a project professional at the beginning of the project. Using the example of a new or junior project manager, they may have been given their first project to manage through the full lifecycle. It may not be a big project, but it is a project. They have a small team, and all eyes are on them to deliver with the responsibility and accountability on the project manager. It is the first project kick-off meeting. The new project manager is sitting in a room with a number of stakeholders and senior project professionals. The first question that tends to enter an ‘imposter’ at this stage is “Am I really meant to be here?”

The answer is yes. If they weren’t meant to be there, then they wouldn’t have been (unless they are a really great con artist). Everyone has to start somewhere, and everyone will most likely feel like an ‘imposter’ at some stage. The example given was for a new or junior project professionals, however even high-achieving senior project professionals still feel like this. In fact all professionals will feel like this at some point. Everyone wants to do a good job, and there will always be anxiety about what that will look like to everyone else.

5 Ways to reduce imposter syndrome

1. Recognise that imposter syndrome is normal

The first step in overcoming imposter syndrome is to recognize that it’s a common feeling. Many successful people, including celebrities and high achievers, have experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. Recognizing that it’s a normal feeling can help you feel less alone and more confident in your abilities. Reflection is a great way to understand if you are experiencing imposter syndrome. Being able to fully understand what and why you may be feeling can help you to strategise a solution for overcoming this obstacle. It is also a good way to also understand what your triggers might be.

2. Embrace your unique perspective

One of the reasons new professionals often struggle with imposter syndrome is that they are entering the workforce at a time of rapid change. Instead of feeling like you need to fit into an existing mold, embrace your unique perspective and use it to your advantage. Your fresh ideas and willingness to embrace change can help you stand out and succeed. The workplace is becoming a more inclusive environment, and is making it easier for people to be unique. This however can also be the reason as to why some senior people who have been used to a certain way of working might be feeling like an imposter themselves. Using emotional intelligence and being aware of other people around you can help create a better cooperative environment.

3. Focus on your accomplishments

When you feel like a fraud, it’s easy to focus on your shortcomings and mistakes. Instead, take time to reflect on your accomplishments and the progress you’ve made. Write down your successes and acknowledge the hard work that went into achieving them. This will help you feel more confident in your abilities and remind you of your value. In the example of a millennial this could be qualifications you possess and are proud of, or you may have had a great start in your career. The reason you are in the position you are in is because you deserve to be there through hard work and achievement.

4. Find a support system

Having a support system can be incredibly helpful when dealing with imposter syndrome. This can be a mentor, a friend, or a therapist. Find someone you trust and can talk to openly about your feelings. Having someone who understands what you’re going through can help you feel less alone and more supported. It’s always good to talk to someone about how you are feeling. They don’t always need to be connected to the work you are doing, but just talking about feelings can help put them in to perspective. Someone else may be able to share their experiences with you to make you feel less alone in these feelings. Knowing someone else has felt like an imposter and overcome them may give you the confidence to feel you can overcome these feelings too.

5. Practice self-care

Taking care of yourself is important when dealing with imposter syndrome. Make sure you’re getting enough rest, eating well, and engaging in activities that bring you joy. Practicing self-care can help you feel more confident and better equipped to handle the challenges that come your way. Imposter syndrome is a form of anxiety, so if you are good at dealing with anxiety, you can use the same techniques for imposter syndrome. Use your support network (as mentioned in the method above) to help you find techniques for self-care if this is something you need help with.

Why is it important to fight imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome (being a form of anxiety) if not overcome can stifle your growth and development as a professional. This can cause missed opportunities for career development through promotion, but also ways to overcome this anxiety. Imposter syndrome if not dealt with can also affect personal life, for example relationships and hobbies. Being able to identify and confront imposter syndrome will help you to overcome this anxiety and achieve goals. Like any anxiety, it can become manifested and halt your way of life if not tackled head-on in a constructive manner.

How to end imposter syndrome anxiety in the workplace

A recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article published in 2021 focussed on how workplaces should stop telling women they have imposter syndrome. The article looked at how fixing the workplace is the solution rather than ‘fixing the woman’. However, reading this article I feel like this can be applied to everyone suffering with imposter syndrome, and that workplaces should inclusively help everyone to overcome these feelings at work.

It is an interesting read and an addition I wanted to include as it covers some very real and interesting topics. You can read the review here:

In conclusion, imposter syndrome is a common feeling among all types of professionals. Recognizing that it’s normal, embracing your unique perspective, focusing on your accomplishments, finding a support system, and practicing self-care can all help you overcome imposter syndrome. Remember, you are not alone, and with time and effort, you can learn to overcome these feelings and achieve your goals. If you know someone else who may be feeling like this, pass this blog post on. Don’t let a form of anxiety stop you from being the best version of yourself and achieving your goals.

If you want to talk to a professional about your anxieties around imposter syndrome, you can speak to mentor (in a similar professional), speak to your doctor or find a registered professional through this website:

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