You’re successful. Rising in your field. But you feel this nagging self-doubt about your abilities—fearing that one day, your boss or your coworkers will discover you aren’t really all that qualified for the position.
What’s been labeled “imposter syndrome” in the mental health care field since the late 1970s is essentially the feeling of being undeserving of your position: You’re not qualified for your job. You somehow you sneaked in. And you’ll soon be unmasked as an “imposter” and asked to leave.
It may sound ridiculous on the surface, but studies have shown that women are much more affected by this confidence gap than men. At least 70% of men and women experience these feelings at one time in their lives, according to an article in the International Journal of Behavioral Science.
As the Harvard Business Review notes, high achieving, highly successful people often suffer, so imposter syndrome doesn’t equate with low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence. In fact, some researchers have linked it with perfectionism, especially in women and among academics.
“Imposter syndrome continues to deny exceptionally capable women seats at the top table, and fuels the inequality associated with power dynamics that underpins so much gender discrimination in the workplace,” Anna Jones, a co-founder of AllBright, wrote in a recent opinion piece in The Financial Times.
Shahla Canafax, an IT program and project manager at Amedisys, has been in the business world for over 20 years, having earned a bachelor’s degree in technology and computer science and an MBA. But it was there, in her master’s program—surrounded by business majors—that she was hit with that “I don’t belong here” sense.
In the end, Canafax says she leaned into her tech background, using it to set herself apart in the program and upped her confidence in that distinction.
“Whenever I have completely stepped into a new role, or leveled up into a new role, that sense of imposter syndrome has kicked in,” Canafax says.
Chelsey Gonzales, a business operations specialist at ITinspired, looks back on her transition from her undergraduate internship at a female-led law firm to her full-time professional career for the male-led team at ITinspired as fairly “seamless.”
She’d chastised herself in the past for not getting a more specialized degree. But in the end, her general business degree has benefitted her in a role that’s constantly changing and pushing new things her way.
That educational uncertainty is a big tenant of imposter syndrome and feeling unqualified for a position.
For Gonzales, success has come in growing comfortable saying, “look at what I just did, give me feedback,” and not being afraid to admit “I’m new to this.”
Being open and accepting of help was the hardest part, she says. Fear of asking the wrong question, or offering a suggestion without the hard years of experience to back it up were other hurdles.
The millennial offers this advice to overcome any career-related confidence gap: “You got this far, you’re in the role, just do it. If you have to Google something, Google it. You’re never going to know everything about anything you do.”
As the confidence gap crept back in during various points in her career, whether it was a job change or promotion, Canafax reverted back to the basics: education.
When she changed career fields, from the banking world to health care, there were many times when she questioned if she was fully prepared for the new role in a new sector of the business world.
“It took me a couple of months to get out of that one,” Canafax says. “But I managed through that by really deep-diving into the business.”
She spent countless hours doing her own research until she regained the confidence that now marks her career.