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How This Common Trap Can Stunt Your Career

When I got my first promotion I felt it was due. I was confident and ready for it; I’d been doing the job for months unofficially. Granted, I was only managing 2 other people…hey, you gotta start somewhere!

Sadly, that’s where the confident promotion cycle ended.

Just a couple years later, I was given earned my next promotion. It had me managing several people including the person who hired me (awk-ward!), overseeing a side of our business I knew little about, and put me in a class with people who’d been with the company for years.

My first thought: I’m in over my head.

Every promotion following had me experiencing something similar. It went like this:

“Great! There’s a leadership position available!”

“I can do that job. I’ll go after it.”

Interview where I convince everyone (but myself) of my track record, skills and more importantly my potential.

Get promotion. Yay!

Cue: holy-shit-type panic. “How’d that happen? I must’ve fooled them.”

Ah, the old Impostor Syndrome. I’d pulled one over on everyone and at any moment they’d realize I didn’t know what I was doing.

Living with this kind of self doubt is terrible and totally confidence-shaking.

Ever been there?

According to wikipedia, Impostor Syndrome is:

“is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”

Since we’re in the trust tree here, I’ll admit I even felt this way when I started my own business. Although I was trained in leadership development and had proven myself as a leader, I still felt like I was faking it.

Seems I’m not alone.

The more I spoke with people, the more I realized this afflicts many of us. Check out this book by Dr. Valerie Young, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women.

Ignoring the signs and remedies may stunt your career momentum and your chance at being an effective leader. (Tweet this!)

Here’s what you need to know and what you can do about it:

Signs you suffer from Impostor Syndrome:

  • When you should be celebrating and riding the confidence train, instead you have a gut sinking, all-eyes-on-me feeling.
  • You believe you’re nothing special. Your accomplishments could be achieved by anyone, really. Right place, right time.
  • You over-compensate, becoming a yes-person and no longer speaking up; the kind you’d find annoying if it weren’t actually you.
  • You’re convinced your true calling is as a con artist since you clearly tricked those in charge into “granting” you this opportunity.
  • You’re sure you’re going to be found out, exposed, like the nightmare where you’re naked in front of your co-workers (that’s probably not a thing but it seems pretty nightmare-ish).
  • The confidence that got you to this point is M.I.A.
  • Since you can identify an unqualified impostor a mile away, you have a sick feeling others have discovered your secret. Avoiding the break room, anyone?

Side effects may include:

  • tightness in your stomach
  • words caught in your throat when you know what you have to say is right or helpful
  • snapping awake with a shortness of breath
  • panic monkey on your back- a lingering feeling of fear and doubt

The Prescription:

Become friends with yourself instead of being your own enemy

Trust in yourself. Take it easy on the self-criticism and any unrealistic goals for perfectionism.

Celebrate your accomplishments

Accept the highs that come from your accomplishments. As Dr. Young says, focus on what you love to do; doing so can convince you that you’re doing those things well.

Change your mindset

See this new challenge as a thrill. Accept the learning curve and know you’ll make mistakes, and that’s ok.

Get yourself a mantra

Stuart Smalley- style. Try this one:

Impostor Syndrom Mantra

Be the beginner

Ask questions and listen. Take it all in. The way to build confidence is to be authentic and accept that you don’t need to know everything right away.

One of my favorite quotes:  “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki (Tweet this!)


Be sure you understand what’s expected of you. Reach out to a mentor so you don’t feel alone.

Take Risks

Don’t let your fraud feelings hold you back. Who you are and what you bring to the table are of unique value. Remember that and go for it!


If you’ve just self-diagnosed, that’s ok. You’re not alone. Recognizing and overcoming Impostor Syndrome can help you reach your career potential.

There’s a special place between competence and growth that leads to success and confidence. I can show you how to find that sweet spot with my new leadership assessment, Discovering Your Signature Style. Click here to get in the Inner Circle and be the first to know when it’s launched + to receive special offers.

I’d love to hear from you: What cheats can you share on overcoming Impostor Syndrome? Let us know in the comments below!


 Anne Omland is a leadership development expert and mentor. She uses her years of experience as a VP for a Fortune 500 company to share all she knows from the “other side” of the table. Her mission is to help ambitious women create corporate careers that are sustainable, mindful and purposeful. Seen as a career stylist, she can help you customize your career to fit your lifestyle perfectly. Click here to inquire about working with Anne. 


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  • Stacey August 18, 2014, 6:50 pm

    Ha…I love Stuart Smalley…that definitely brought a smile to my face! I think your tips are spot on for working your way out of impostor syndrome! I guess I never realized how much of an impostor I really was, and at time still am. Fortunately, I’ve learned to soak in even the smallest of success, and give my self a pat on the back for a job well done with my clients, blog posts, personal development, etc. Life is certainly a lot lighter when you choose to live that way!

    • Anne Omland August 18, 2014, 9:13 pm

      Amen to that! While I haven’t learned to avoid it entirely, I am constantly working on reminding myself of what I know I am doing well- like you said, soaking up even your smallest successes. Thanks for your input!

  • Janine August 18, 2014, 7:22 pm

    Anne, love this article! I could talk all day about imposter syndrome. (SO been there.)

    Love your tips. I’d add that getting out of the comparison trap helps too (I know a lot of us swim in those seas too much and spend a lot of time scoping out our competition until we feel crappy about ourselves). I try to avoid dwelling on my competitors and focus on my own goals, which helps a lot.

    • Anne Omland August 18, 2014, 9:11 pm

      That is great advice- I hadn’t thought of that. But yes! That’s the worst. You begin comparing yourself to others or the person in your position previously…it’s a dangerous place to be. Thanks so much, Janine!

  • Beth K .Bedbury August 18, 2014, 8:20 pm

    I learned very quickly to say I didn’t know and found out no one thinks you aren’t qualified because you do not know a detail, especially when in a new position. Of course I went and learned about what I didn’t know which helped me grow. It also let me come back later on and address the question.

    • Anne Omland August 18, 2014, 9:10 pm

      That’s awesome. We often think it shows weakness to admit we don’t know everything but you’re right- it only helps us grow!

  • Mike Goncalves August 18, 2014, 10:28 pm

    What a great post Anne, love your content. Thanks for sharing this information with us as well as your own experiences, it’s awesome and much appreciated. I’ve always found that the more I’m honest with myself and others and the more vulnerable I let myself be, the more I connect with them. I do believe in myself (hasn’t always been that way), and I do believe in others as well. I also know that I don’t know everything and that I’m not perfect, none of us are, and that’s OK. After all, it’s not about being perfect, it’s about making progress. You’re awesome Anne, thanks again! Cheers!

    • Anne Omland August 19, 2014, 1:38 pm

      You’re awesome, Mike! It’s true- I never would’ve admitted my fears or allowed myself to be vulnerable until recently. It’s freeing to be able to put it out there and know it’s a common feeling. It also helps me to move past it whereas when I wasn’t admitting it, I found myself stuck in it. Thank so much for your support!

  • Your Dad August 19, 2014, 3:58 pm

    Sounds like every golfer I know. Lots of self doubt on the links. Bet you could find some good quotes there.

    • Anne Omland August 19, 2014, 8:58 pm

      Why hadn’t I thought of that, Pops!

  • Sara Yamtich August 19, 2014, 9:08 pm

    Oh, I love this topic! It’s one of my favorites. I’ve dealt with Imposter Syndrome my entire life… and I my biggest tip for overcoming it is continued observation of my own successes. I remind myself that I’ve never failed, not really. And I talk to my girlfriends about it. Having an “objective” outside voice of validation is ALWAYS helpful. <3

    • Anne Omland August 20, 2014, 8:48 pm

      That’s great advice. You’re so right. Sometimes we don’t believe it when we’re reminding ourselves. That extra validation is a great thing. Thanks Sara!

  • Mui August 20, 2014, 9:25 pm

    Great post! I found that the time when I experienced Imposter Syndrome is when I wasn’t in my zone of genius. I was doing what I thought I should be doing with my life, rather than what I love doing.

    • Anne Omland August 20, 2014, 9:58 pm

      Totally! Thanks Mui!

  • april August 22, 2014, 7:10 am

    i love your prescription, anne (and i love that you call it a prescription). and, of course, i also appreciate your reference to stuart smalley! :) for me, i think taking risks is the most important thing to snap me out of that “i’m not worthy” mode. i definitely feel the fear, but the accomplishment is that much greater because of it.

    • Anne Omland August 23, 2014, 2:42 pm

      Love how you say that, April.

  • April August 25, 2014, 12:07 am

    As always, you are right on Anne!! Yes, I’ve been afflicted with this (and still do occasionally). Your prescription and tips would have helped me in the past, and I’m so glad I have them now. I have found a pep talk most helpful. I remind myself of accomplishments that I made (solo or with my team) and the contributions I made towards them. It helps, but your tips will give me more to fight with next time. Thank you!!

    • Anne Omland August 25, 2014, 1:19 pm

      That’s great! Thanks for your support, April!

  • Camesha September 5, 2014, 3:58 am

    I’ve definitely suffered from impostor syndrome. When I stepped into my first job in network television here in L.A., I totally felt like I was in over my head. I ended up rocking it! Leaving that world to start my own business…impostor syndrome showed up again. I find that I rise to the occasion in these situations and end up doing better than I thought I could. Great post!

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