Michelle Obama was once asked how she felt about being a “symbol of hope”, to which she responded “I still have a little imposter syndrome, it never goes away, that you’re actually listening to me.”

If you put your political allegiances aside, this is someone who, as I’m sure most would agree, handled the fight of being the First Lady of the most powerful country on the planet with ease.

She exuded a down-to-earth attitude, confidence, and a determination to own her position. Yet, in her words, she expressed the rhetorical “what do I know?” question, one which is all too familiar for a lot of us.


What is imposter syndrome?

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“Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.Harvard Business Review.


Have you ever been in university or work, faced with a daunting task, such as giving a presentation, and had that unnerving sense that you’re not meant to be there? As though you’ve fluked, chanced, and winged your way into a position that you’re underqualified for. A position that you’ll soon be ‘found out’ in? One where once the luck runs out, people will see you for the “fraud” you are?

If you’re reading this article, then I’ll presume you have and that’s why you’ve begun to ask “what is imposter syndrome?” I definitely have.

This self-sabotage is common and is felt from the First Lady of the United States, all the way down to ourselves. This is not a feeling that discriminates, nor does it care. You could be worth a million, or a penny. Educated or uneducated. Extrovert or introvert.

This fight affects everyone and does daily.


What causes imposter syndrome?

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There’s no one clear answer to this, but it can stem from certain underlying beliefs, such as:


  • Self-doubt
  • Low self-esteem
  • Attributing your successes to “luck” or “overachieving”
  • Fear of the future and the outcomes of your actions


You may have all the evidence to the contrary, yet some of these core beliefs will mean that you still dismiss it as a bygone time of luck.

“It was lucky, I was overachieving. I didn’t mean to get here, but now I am crunch time, I don’t think I’m qualified for it.”

Not only do you put yourself down, but by doing so, what you believe your future prospects will be. Before you know it, you’re fighting on two fronts, with imposter syndrome and self-sabotage both swinging digs at you.

Unfortunately, a lot of our generation take these punches and allow it to wear us down. A 2017 survey has shown that a third of millennials have “imposter syndrome due to feeling intimidated in the workplace.”

This then means we have a rougher outcome from our flight, fight, or freeze response when in reality, we do not need to let it be that way.

You are not on that course by accident, nor are you in that job by accident. By working hard, overcoming your own battles and your own challenges, you’ve succeeded. You’ve been accepted onto a course by someone who has determined you’re the right person, or you’ve passed an interview in which the recruitment team saw the fight you can bring. Not only have you come this far, but others, at all levels of life, can see it too.

You should not forget this level of success is and use it as a tool of positivity to surge through anything you’re yet to face.


How do you fight imposter syndrome?

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When you find yourself with limiting beliefs, it’s important to have a strategy, filled with techniques, in your armoury to break them down.

These are internal struggles, and as such, you’ll need to tailor the approach to you. Below are some steps you can follow, as I do, to beat that feeling of being a ‘fraud’.

If you need to go outside, do 50 pushups and say affirmations to yourself, so be it. Do what needs to be done to kick the hell out of these limiting beliefs.


Acknowledge your thoughts and core values

These thoughts exist, and burying them will do more damage.

If you’re asking ‘what is imposter syndrome’ and where does it come from, these emotions will give you a good indicator.

Acknowledge they’re there, and question why that is. Are you truly unqualified for what you’re about to do? Very unlikely.

What is more likely is some of your core beliefs are restricting you. By acknowledging these thoughts, you can begin to ask yourself important questions which can kick start a mental revolution in the long run.

In the short term, you’ll see that you’re ready for the challenge and that you’re battling your mind, not the situation in front of you.


Acknowledge how far you’ve come

One of the most common themes in imposter syndrome is not acknowledging your successes.

The wins you’ve had from the battles you’ve faced, and the experience you’ve gained from both the good and the bad, is the perfect bedrock for where you’re at. You’ve earned it.

Through everything, you’re still here standing and finding more ways to move forward. That in itself is incredible.


Recognise you deserve to be there

Where you are is no fluke.

You deserve to be there as much as the next person. Regardless of what your mind thinks, your background and actual development tell more of a story than anything.

You’ve earned your position, so stop giving away the credit you’ve earned.


Develop areas where you need to develop

Running a personal SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), will allow you to break everything down in front of you.

From here, you can determine how you move forward in ensuring you’ve got what you need to succeed.

Be honest, but fair. Look at it objectively and even get feedback from colleagues, managers, friends, and family if you want to develop a fuller picture. You may be surprised to hear how things look externally, but be sure that the people you ask have the best intentions for you. It’s a trust exercise, so lying, or being overly critical on a sensitive topic, doesn’t help.


Stop the comparison mindset

As Instagram is the highlight reel of people’s lives, the professional demeanour of others is the highlight of their work life.

The chilled-looking, easy-going student in lectures may be full of assignment anxiety behind the veil.

You don’t see people’s breakdowns behind the scenes, their lack of confidence or what they’ve done to get there.

So discard the comparisons, as they won’t do your development any good.


Share with others in the right environment

If you have a circle you can trust, both with the information and for honest feedback; confide in them.

Sometimes your thoughts will be so outlandishly wrong, so full of self-sabotage, that sometimes you need someone to end them for you. It can be the vital confidence boost you need to move on.


So, what is imposter syndrome? Is it a fluffy, made-up construct that can be simply dealt with? Absolutely not. It’s a very real, present issue that most of us will encounter at one point in our lives.

For most of us, it will never truly go. As Michelle Obama put it, “It doesn’t go away, that feeling of ‘I don’t know if the world should take me seriously; I’m just Michelle Robinson, that girl on the south side who went to public school’.”

You might not be able to choose your conditioning and core beliefs, but you can decide on your choices from now on. Do you accept defeat and wilt, or do you follow the likes of Michelle Obama and millions of others on working to manage it and find your success?

By acknowledging your feelings, your success, and your techniques, you’ll not only manage your imposter syndrome but thrive in the face of it.


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