How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome

70% of people will suffer from Imposter Syndrome sometime in their lifetime. Here's what you can do.


According to a 2020 Asana Study of 1,000 office workers in Singapore, nearly three quarters (74 per cent) of Singapore workers reported experiencing imposter syndrome (the global average is 62 per cent). While most people experience moments of doubt - Imposter feelings can go deeper and left unmanaged, can lead to burnout, depression, anxiety, and guilt.

Imposter syndrome is often defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud despite all your experience, talent, preparation and hard work. It can represent a conflict between your own self-perception and the way others perceive you. Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes developed the concept, originally termed “imposter phenomenon,” in their 1978 founding study. Their findings spurred decades of thought leadership, programs, and initiatives that seemed to address imposter syndrome in high achieving women. Since then, research has shown that both men and women experience impostor feelings, with Clance later publishing a paper acknowledging that impostor syndrome is not limited to women with an estimated 70% of people will suffer from Imposter Syndrome sometime in their lifetime.

I recently worked with a group of women on a service project putting together kits for a women's shelter. As the day progressed I made sure to give each woman a genuine compliment for their efforts. I noticed how many of them would get embarrassed and would say things like "Oh, I didn't do much," or "I could have done better." At the time I put it down to culture (we are often told to not brag and be humble), but it bothered me how few if any could see themselves the way I saw them that day.

In most cases, Imposter Syndrome involves feelings of self-doubt, inadequacies and personal incompetence. Most people will have experienced doubts but what makes Imposter Syndrome different is how the individual reacts to those doubts - Do you write off your successes to timing or good luck? Maybe you don’t believe you earned them on your own merits. Do you tell yourself "You’ll never be good enough!" or “You don’t deserve this!” Does it stop you from asking for a promotion, or pitching to a client? Does it make you hesitant to put your ideas forward?

As much as it's essential for individuals to recognise whether Imposter Syndrome is holding them back it is also essential if you're a manager of a team to recognise these symptoms in your team members and how you can help them.

One of the first steps to overcoming impostor feelings is to recognise your own behaviour and acknowledge your thoughts and put them in perspective.

Stop trying to be Perfect

In our society, there's a huge pressure to achieve. Imposter syndrome can take perfectionism to an extreme where whatever you do you never feel it's good enough.

Being a perfectionist means you care deeply about the quality of your work however, you need to recognise the consequences of your perfectionism. Does it cause you more stress and anxiety by overpreparing and spending way too much time on a task? Are you struggling to meet deadlines because you constantly take projects back to the drawing board? Do you pull all-nighters and keep "fixing" because you're not satisfied? Are you holding up an assignment because you want to make sure everything is perfect? Do you worry and overthink even after you've handed in the project?

The key is to continue to strive for excellence when it matters most, but not to persevere over routine tasks to the point it never gets "finished". Realise that sometimes you just need to do a task ‘well enough." Reframe the way you think about your achievements for instance, rather than spending 12 hours on an assignment, you might stop at 10 or how about letting a friend read your first draft even if haven't yet polished it.

Understanding your worth

Imposter syndrome will have you doubting your capabilities. Studies have found that when someone perceives themselves different in any way from the majority of their peers — if you’re the only or one of a few people in an industry, meeting, or workplace such as women in high-tech careers, or you are much older or younger, your race, gender, sexual orientation or some other characteristic — you can begin to doubt your validity, capabilities and value. You might believe that you didn't "earn" your place at the table. Too often as a minority, we are told we have to work twice as hard as everyone else to get recognised or that they only employed us to meet their quota.

Recognise that your feelings are a normal response to being on the receiving end of such social stereotypes and biases and that it's the environment and culture of an organisation that needs to be challenged not your credibility, (Yes it's them not you). Reframe and define yourself and never underestimate your value.

Avoiding opportunities

The only difference between someone who experiences impostor syndrome and someone who doesn't is how they respond to challenges. Often times those with Imposter Syndrome fear change - Do you pass on promotions or opportunities because you fear failure? Do you think others are more qualified than you and that you don't deserve any form of success? Do you hide your potential because you fear professional growth and personal development? Do you underestimate your services, for instance, you don't feel comfortable increasing your rates even though you need to.

Realise it's not about trying to impress everyone. Ask yourself ‘Does that thought help or hinder me? Learn to value constructive criticism and develop a healthy response to failure and mistake making. Start to visualize success. The most successful professional athletes spend time beforehand picturing themselves winning. Visualise yourself making a successful presentation or calmly answering any questions.

Address your Business Love Language

Do you dismiss compliments?

Do you find yourself saying “sorry”, more than you say “thank you”?

Do you often tell yourself that “I’m terrible at this”, or “I’ll never be successful”?

When you constantly use Negative language such as telling yourself that you are not good enough, or “I’m too young/too old/too unskilled etc…” the more you will believe it.

Replace any cognitive distortions with objective thoughts that are based on real evidence. For instance, if you constantly tell yourself, “I'm not good at speaking in public”, ask yourself: "What evidence do I have that supports this belief?" "Is this a reality I’ve created based on my own fears and insecurities?” “Have I actually tried speaking in public?"

Don't Overgeneralize: Don't take everything personally: When you draw a conclusion from a single, isolated event, for example, if you lost one sale out of five, you might think “I'm terrible at selling."This is most likely not the case, there are a whole load of reasons as to why the client didn't buy. There are things we simply cannot control. Maybe the buyer's budget was low, or their timeline didn't match. When we take everything personally we tend to blame ourselves for the outcome. Understand what you can control and what you can't.

Stop Comparing. We can often feel like imposters not because we are flawed but because we fail to realise that others are flawed. We compare our bad days to others' good days. We measure the success of our Day 1 to someone's Year 1. We want to be at the top right now and forget that everyone had to start from zero.

Reward yourself. Break the cycle and learn to pat yourself on the back. Treat yourself and celebrate the small wins. Maybe you didn't get the sale but you made a good contact.

Recognise when you need to ask for help. The first step is to recognise that you don't have to do it alone. Share what you’re feeling with trusted friends or mentors. People who can reassure you that what you’re feeling is normal.

At the end of the Service Project weekend as each one of those wonderful women left, I stood at the door and once again paid them a compliment, before they could make an excuse or objection I told them to say thank you. They looked at me shocked as I told them to go home and compliment their family members and tell them to just say thank you and to keep paying those compliments forward. We have an obligation to make those in our team feel valued. Pay it forward today.


At CUCO we help entrepreneurs, thought-leaders, business leaders and team executives communicate their Big ideas and Key business messages that win over their clients and get their audience to lean in.

Plan and deliver memorable presentations and pitches that take your audience on a compelling journey. Make an impact, inspire others to take action and spark conversations.