How To Deal With Imposter Syndrome
How To Deal With Imposter Syndrome

How To Deal With Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is a behavioural health phenomenon described as self-doubt of intellect, skills, or accomplishments among high-achieving individuals. But what does this mean in practical terms? Often that you don’t feel like you belong or are worthy of the role you are in – both of which can be obstacles to succeeding at work. Here, we asked founder and CEO of PR agency EMERGE and Harvard guest speaker, Emily Austen, to run us through the need-to-knows – including how to manage it in your professional life.
By Emily Austen

How do you know if you have imposter syndrome?

I think it’s best to ask yourself some key questions. Does your inner voice sound like a broken record asking you why you deserve to be here? Is your inner voice a critic, suggesting that you’re not capable of providing the right answer? Does your self-doubt slow down your decisions in a helpful way, so as inviting you to make better decisions? Does your self-doubt paralyse you and prevent you from making decisions? Do you productively gather constructive feedback, with the goal of continuous improvement?  Do you respond to constructive feedback by scolding yourself for not being perfect? Do you feel stressed, overwhelmed or sad when thinking of progressing in your career? Do you often beat yourself up mentally for not being good enough? If the answer is yes, then it’s clear you’re feeling some degree of imposter syndrome.

Is it really a bad thing?

Imposter syndrome is a common experience for many women, especially those who are striving to live a smarter and more fulfilling life. Throughout my business journey, every panel, podcast or magazine article has challenged entrepreneurs as to their personal experiences of imposter syndrome. Predictably, and often reassuringly, nine times out of ten, the entrepreneur cites that of course they experience imposter syndrome and confirms to the audience that no one really knows what they are doing. I have two challenges to this: the first is that you shouldn't feel imposter syndrome often. The second is that imposter syndrome isn’t a bad thing. Imposter syndrome can also keep you in check. In fact, research shows that imposter syndrome can actually push us to work harder and strive for excellence. 

What are some of the main factors that contribute to imposter syndrome? 

They are commonly referred to as the four Ps: people pleasing, perfectionism, paralysis and procrastination. Understanding these aspects will empower you to identify and overcome imposter syndrome to lead a more confident and successful life.

People Pleasing

People pleasing is a tendency to prioritise others' opinions or needs over our own. Many women struggle with this, often feeling the need to gain approval and avoid conflict. However, this behaviour can lead to a sense of never being enough, ultimately fuelling imposter syndrome. By recognising the importance of self-care and setting healthy boundaries, readers can overcome people's pleasing tendencies and cultivate a healthier sense of self-worth.


Perfectionism is a relentless pursuit of flawlessness and an unrealistic expectation of one's own performance. Women often fall into this trap due to societal pressures and high personal standards. However, striving for perfection can be exhausting and detrimental to mental well-being. By embracing imperfections, setting realistic goals, and celebrating achievements, you can break free from the cycle of perfectionism and find greater satisfaction in your accomplishments.


Paralysis refers to a state of being emotionally or mentally stuck, unable to move forward due to fear of failure or being exposed as a fraud. This often manifests as self-doubt and a lack of confidence in one's abilities. Overcoming paralysis involves challenging negative self-beliefs, reframing fear as an opportunity for growth, and taking small steps towards goals. By proactively facing challenges, you can build resilience and regain your sense of agency.


Procrastination is the act of delaying tasks or decisions, often driven by a fear of not meeting expectations. This can be a manifestation of imposter syndrome, as you may feel overwhelmed or unworthy of success. By implementing effective time management techniques, breaking tasks into manageable steps, and developing a growth mindset, you can combat procrastination and cultivate a productive and fulfilling lifestyle.

Can you share some first steps to overcoming imposter syndrome?

When we feel like imposters, we tend to compensate by working extra hard or becoming exceptional team players. And while putting in the effort is important, we also need to work smarter, not just harder. Reframing the idea of imposter syndrome is key. Instead of letting it bring you down, see it as an opportunity for growth, a chance to question yourself and gather more information. It slows down your decision-making process, preventing you from making rash choices based on a hunch. When you doubt yourself, it opens your eyes to others who struggle with similar thoughts. It sparks empathy, connecting you with those who have faced similar challenges. When you're willing to question yourself, you become curious and open-minded. You're not afraid to shift your perspective, uncover your strengths and weaknesses, and find better solutions. Doubt breeds creativity and innovation. 

Any other tips for managing imposter syndrome?

Understand the context. Tune into the nuances of each scenario you notice your imposter thoughts surface and ask yourself: are these thoughts helpful? If they are, they will push you in the direction of continuous improvement. If they are not at a healthy level, they end up sabotaging you. When you learn to appropriately discern when, where, and with whom humility is more productive and when, where, and with whom confidence is more helpful, you can slowly learn to dial these capacities up or down according to context, and you will take your leadership skills to the next level.

Separate your past image from your current one. If you have a tendency toward imposter syndrome or imposter thoughts, check in with yourself each year to reassess your competence and ground that assessment in the evidence that supports your actual credibility, not the voice in your head that thinks you are a still a novice. Because confidence can rise faster or slower than your competence and experience, it is a healthy practice to take an honest look at whether yours appropriately align.

Embrace challenges as opportunities for growth. Remember that failure isn't the end. It's a learning experience, and that rejection is redirection. Trying hard is cool, so foster a passion for continuous learning, and seek and appreciate constructive feedback. Environment is everything, so surround yourself with individuals who inspire growth.

Is there a way to improve your mental resilience as part of this work? 

Mental resilience refers to your ability to emotionally process challenges and create thoughtful workarounds. This is really difficult to do if you feel worthless and like you’re about to be found out. In the rawest sense of the phrase, mental resilience is built from hardship. In the same way that we build muscles in the gym, in challenging our brain, we build resilience. However, our gym goals also rely on the community around us, what we eat, how often we train, the rest days we take, how much water we drink, and setting realistic timeframes. The same is applicable for our mental resilience. There are seven pillars which help you to build mental resilience:

  • Self-care
  • Self-awareness
  • Positive relationships
  • Mindfulness 
  • Purpose
  • Challenging negative self-belief
  • Doing things that challenge you 

There’s a lot of talk about ‘being big’ at work – what does that mean?

When I was younger, I wanted to be small. Small in what I asked for, and small in the space I took up in the world. I thought I should have fewer opinions, get on with things quietly, and move slowly. As I learnt more, and grew up, I realised that the best thing we can do in our lives is be big. In an abundant mindset, there is enough space for everyone, no matter how big we are. A lot of this comes down to self-promotion – which is intrinsically linked to self-confidence. Much of the way we self-promote distracts from our achievements, as we all have different measures for what ‘deserves’ to be shared. One of the biggest challenges I see in those who seek a smarter life, is the pressure to share a constant stream of huge wins e.g. winning an industry award, securing impressive fundraising, hiring a C-suite member of staff, a lucrative exit from a company etc. 

The way to tackle this one upmanship, is to consider two questions: if you didn't share any news on social media, what would be important to you? And what holds true value in your life? Try and answer these questions honestly. Not only will these help you to practice gratitude, they reconnect you to your value system and help you understand what you are sharing for you, and what you are sharing for others. Self-promotion is about truly connecting with what makes you happy, fulfilled, and an expert, and sharing more of that with the world.

So how can you get over imposter syndrome without letting your ego run wild?

Self-confidence and ego are two very different concepts. To have confidence is to believe in your own abilities, in yourself. Unlike confidence, the ego operates out of self-interest. It seeks approval, accolades and validation at all costs in order to be seen as ‘right’. It is resistant to feedback and assigns motive where there isn’t any. You’ll know if your ego is in control if you’ve ever disliked someone succeeding; compared yourself to others; felt elevated from gossiping about other people’s flaws; sought attention for things you didn’t do; seen yourself as better, cleverer, or nicer than others; liked talking about people’s imperfections; ever noticed that you’re ‘virtue signalling’; ever looked down on someone for not trying as hard as you; or set yourself impossible goals and then beat yourself up when you don’t reach them. 

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that ego is closely linked to a scarcity mindset. Your reaction to the success of others is a direct mirror of how you feel about yourself. The smarter thing to do is to identify, unpack, control and change your perceptions of the success of others, by focusing on your own success. As you continue on your own journey, practising gratitude for what you have, focusing your time and energy on your own goals and considering the ways in which you can make your own boat go faster, negative thoughts about the success of others, and yourself, will subside.

Emily Austen is the founder and CEO of EMERGE, and the host of The Busi-Ness Podcast. Her book, 'Smarter: 10 lessons for a more productive and less-stressed life' comes out in November and is available for pre-order now. Follow @EmilyMAusten.

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