Unmasking imposter syndrome: 15 ways to overcome it at work

Julia Martins contributor headshotJulia MartinsAugust 31st, 202210 min read
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Summary

Whether you’re personally dealing with imposter syndrome or trying to prevent it on your team, we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll walk you through what imposter syndrome is and how to overcome it from both the individual and the manager's perspectives.

No one wants to feel like an imposter at work. But the truth is, imposter syndrome is a real thing. If you’ve ever felt like you don’t belong or you don’t deserve your job, know that you’re not alone. 

What is impostor syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a sense of self-doubt related to work accomplishments. You might have feelings of phoniness and think you don’t deserve your job. Oftentimes, imposter syndrome makes you feel like you’re tricking your coworkers into thinking you’re good at your job. 

Other symptoms include:

  • Lack of self confidence at work

  • Sensitivity of small mistakes

  • Fear of failing your team 

  • Burnout from working too hard

If any of these feelings ring true, you’re not alone. In fact, according to our research, nearly two-thirds (62%) of knowledge workers worldwide reported experiencing imposter syndrome. All types of people experience imposter syndrome—and not just new hires, either. Team members in more senior positions are actually more likely than average to experience imposter syndrome.

Explore the link between burnout and impostor syndrome

Characteristics of impostor syndrome

Everyone experiences imposter syndrome slightly differently, but common characteristics include:

  • Self-doubt in your skills and competence

  • Crediting external factors—like luck—for your success

  • Decreased self-confidence

  • Isolating from team members

  • Perfectionism

  • Experiencing overwork and burnout

  • Setting impossibly high standards for yourself

  • Low self-esteem

  • Intense fear of failure

Read: Feeling overworked? Strategies for individuals and teams to regain balance

Imposter syndrome during the pandemic

The unprecedented and unique pandemic situation in 2020 also caused a rise in imposter syndrome. In fact, 47% of knowledge workers worldwide reported feelings of imposter syndrome increasing in 2020. Feeling isolated from your team while you’re working from home or distributed is natural.

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With fewer opportunities to connect and celebrate success, remote work is intensifying impostor syndrome. Organizations should ensure that work is still being recognized and championed in remote environments on a daily basis, and that new hires have support structures in place to instill confidence.”
Dr. Sahar Yousef, Cognitive Neuroscientist, UC Berkeley

5 types of imposter syndrome

Dr. Valerie Young, Ed.D., an internationally known expert on the subject and author of “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It” identifies five types of “imposters” in her research:

[inline illustration] The five imposter archetypes (infographic)

1. The perfectionist

The perfectionist is a person whose primary focus is on “how” something is done, instead of the overall outcome. Despite receiving praise, you believe you could have done better.

2. The expert

When someone is more concerned about “what” and “how much” they know or can do, they may suffer from an expert mindset. In a scenario where you have a minor lack of knowledge, this extreme expectation of yourself can bring feelings of failure and shame.    

3. The natural genius

This type of person measures their competence by speed and ease. When you feel like this, you equate not understanding a subject or performing a skill successfully on the first try with failure.

4. The soloist

Focusing more on “who” carries out the task, this type of imposter believes they have to be the one to do everything on their own. If you fall into this archetype, you may believe that asking for help or needing assistance is a sign of weakness. 

5. The superhuman

This describes someone who measures their success by “how many” roles they can both juggle and master. With this mindset, you may feel guilty and ashamed when falling short in any role, even while excelling in others.

You’re not alone: Shared experiences of imposter syndrome

It’s really hard to cope with imposter syndrome. When you feel like an imposter, it’s difficult to tell other people about these feelings. As a manager, you want to support your team, but it’s tricky to spot and address imposter syndrome. 

Explore the link between burnout and impostor syndrome

Regardless of your situation or your exact feelings, you aren’t alone. If you’re a fan of statistics, remember that 62% of global employees feel imposter syndrome. But if you’re not, it’s often more helpful to hear from others who have experienced the same. We asked Asanas to share their experiences with imposter syndrome. Here’s what they had to say:

“Impostor syndrome is much more common than most people realize—and it happens at all levels. If anything, it gets worse as you become more senior and take on more responsibility. That's why building strategies to acknowledge and address it are so important.” – Andrew

“I know that there is a voice telling you otherwise, but hear me out—where you’re going is more important than where you came from.” –Rishika

Read: How to use performance improvement plan templates (PIPs)

“Everyone you esteem in your area of expertise once knew absolutely nothing about the subject. You’d be surprised to learn that people are generally more compassionate and open to helping you and answering questions than you might expect.” –John

“Impostor syndrome feels stronger when you aren't able to reach over and tap a co-worker on the shoulder for some immediate collaboration, but remember: you work in the position you do because the team believes in you.” –Asana team member

“Your unique set of personal and professional experiences are what make your perspective different and valuable! When you share this perspective—even if you’re nervous—it helps us all get to a better answer together.” –Erica

“Give yourself permission to have a growth mindset. Try using ‘I don't know—yet.’ This way, you’re constantly reminding yourself that just because you don't know something doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. You still have a chance to go figure it out.” –Leah

“Try not to compare yourself to others. Everyone has a different journey and you might not be seeing the start of theirs. Instead of feeling inadequate, try learning from people who are more experienced than you.” –Robert

“Career growth is difficult and scary—sometimes, the act of stretching yourself and taking on new challenges brings on a whirlwind of self-doubt. You are not alone! Talk to a trusted peer or manager to see if they can help give you the support, guidance, or validation you need to gain some confidence. Remind yourself that sometimes you are your harshest critic.” –Asana team member

“It took me many years to realize that every person feels insecurity and self-doubt, even the most senior and experienced leaders. It's okay to feel like you don't know what you're doing—most of us feel the same way! Be open and honest with your manager about your feelings so they can help put you in situations where you can prove to yourself that you do belong here!” –Jessica

“I heard a great quote recently that really resonated with me: ‘We compare our innermost criticized version of ourselves with everyone else's outwardly portrayed version of themselves.’” –Dave

“It’s ok if you don’t know who your ‘best’ or ‘true’ self is. Life is about discovery. It’s so important to give yourself grace so you can learn and adapt, instead of feeling like a copycat.” –Rose

Read: How team morale affects employee performance

9 ways to overcome imposter syndrome 

If you’re personally struggling with imposter syndrome, there are a lot of actions you can take to reduce those feelings. The most important thing to do is remember you’re not alone—and these feelings aren’t abnormal. When you want to succeed, it’s common to feel like you aren’t doing a good enough job. Over time, those feelings can turn into imposter syndrome. 

But with time and hard work, you can overcome imposter syndrome. Here’s how:

[inline illustration] 9 ways to kick imposter syndrome to the curb (infographic)

1. Focus on the facts

Imposter syndrome makes you feel like you aren’t good at your job. But oftentimes, these feelings are based on fear—not reality. The best way to fight imposter syndrome is to separate your feelings from the facts. 

The Conscious Leadership Group calls this “facts vs. stories.” Facts are observable truths—things a video camera picks up on. Stories are how you interpret those facts. 

You can’t keep your brain from creating stories, but you can center yourself around the facts. The next time you’re in a situation that makes you feel like an imposter, refer back to the facts vs. stories of the situation. For example, if you felt bad after speaking up in a team meeting, focus on what your team members actually said. 

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Combat impostor syndrome with facts. Take time to regularly reflect on your feelings and the facts. That way, you can identify actionable steps to let go of what you can’t control.”
Asana team member

2. Acknowledge, validate, then let go

Just because your interpretations of an event are stories (rather than fact) doesn’t mean your feelings are any less valid. Combatting imposter syndrome isn’t about ignoring your emotions. Rather, the best way to fight this feeling is to acknowledge that you’re feeling poorly, validate that it’s okay, and then let those feelings go if they aren’t based in reality.

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I use a simple framework to acknowledge, validate, and move on. Noticing, naming, and acknowledging impostor syndrome puts you back in control of your feelings. It helps me gut check or validate the feeling. I ask myself: ‘Is there something real to work on here, or is it just self doubt?’ Most of the time this step helps assure me that, while my feeling is real, it's just in my own head. Finally, I move on. That doesn't mean ignore it—it just means that I can get on with my day and accomplish my goals, feelings and all.”
Andrew

3. Share how you’re feeling

Imposter syndrome is a very isolating feeling. But as we shared above, these feelings are really common in the workplace. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of knowledge workers worldwide have experienced imposter syndrome. So the next time you’re feeling this way, try to share those feelings with someone else. 

There are two advantages to sharing how you’re feeling:

  • Instead of internalizing the emotions, recognize them and move on. When you keep your feelings of imposter syndrome a secret, they grow bigger and harder to deal with. Sharing these feelings with someone else is a great way to recognize them on the path towards overcoming imposter syndrome.

  • You might find someone who has also experienced imposter syndrome. Unfortunately, imposter syndrome is a common workplace phenomenon. You might find that the person you confide in has also felt imposter syndrome in the past. This helps you feel like you aren’t so alone in the way you’re feeling. 

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When I first arrived at Asana, I was transitioning from a team of 50 to a staff of over 1,000. I was sure that I would be overwhelmed. But all of my insecurities, self-doubt, and masquerading melted away when I shared how I was feeling with my team. They all went out of their way to support me. They shared stories of their own journeys. They lifted me up and encouraged me.”
Rose

4. Look for evidence

If acknowledging or sharing your feelings isn’t helping, try fighting your feelings with the evidence. Oftentimes, imposter syndrome isn’t based on facts—so focus on the facts to fight these feelings. 

If you often feel like you aren’t getting your work done on time, try these steps:

  • Go back over your most recent projects. 

  • Review the work you’ve done to see if these feelings are based in fact. 

  • If they are, you’ve identified something concrete you can work on and improve upon. 

  • If they aren’t, use these facts every time that voice in your brain pipes up to tell you you aren’t good enough. 

If you don’t have an easy way to review your work, try using a work management tool, like Asana. These tools help you organize your work, look back on past projects, and get set up for success on any future initiatives.

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When in doubt, I try to find evidence of why I’m unique, talented, and qualified. If necessary, I draw on past experience or feedback others have shared with me. That way, when I feel like others think I’m unqualified or incompetent, I can compare those thoughts with concrete evidence. And if there is evidence, I think of ways within my control that I can improve that situation.”
Asana team member

5. Reframe your thoughts

There is power in our thoughts. The way we approach the world has the power to shape our reality—in both positive and negative ways. 

If you often suffer from negative thoughts, start monitoring your mental voice and modifying it where possible. This technique won’t have immediate results, but over time, it helps you approach situations in a more positive light. 

For example, the next time you make a mistake, try thinking, “That wasn’t my best work, but I’ll do better next time” instead of, “That was awful.” By reframing your mental language, you’re rewiring your brain to be more supportive.

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One thing that’s helped a lot is shifting my language. Instead of using passive, helper language—like ‘I helped,’ ‘I supported,’ and ‘I coordinated’—I use stronger, more confident language—like ‘I led,’ ‘I collaborated,’ or ‘I partnered.’”
Katherine

6. Look for a mentor

To fight imposter syndrome, try actively improving your hard skills and soft skills. That way, whenever that little voice in your head whispers that you’re not good enough at something, you can whisper back that you’re in the process of getting better. 

A great way to do that is to find a mentor. Look for someone in your company or your field who can give you practical advice and support. This might be a senior leader, or a leader at another company that you look up to.

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Find someone you respect highly in the field and put yourself in a position to learn from them. If you trust the person, share your feelings of impostor syndrome with them. When I shared my feelings with my mentor, they were surprised I felt that way, which was a major confidence boost.”
John
Read: The difference between hard skills and soft skills: Examples from 14 Asana team members

7. Learn from your team members

A common symptom of imposter syndrome is comparing yourself to your peers and thinking you’re worse at your job than they are. And while comparing yourself is tempting, there’s a lot you can do to reframe these feelings. 

The next time you feel tempted to compare yourself to your peers, try to take a step back and instead see what you can learn from them. The fact of the matter is, you will have team members who have strengths in certain areas you don’t, and vice versa. That doesn’t make you less worthy—but rather creates an opportunity for your team to learn from one another to grow and succeed in your roles.

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Instead of feeling inadequate when I see something great that someone else did, I choose to save it. I try to recognize other's good work as a tool to make my work better, instead of something that I have to measure myself against. Sometimes you just need a blueprint to produce really high-quality work. Plus, a lot of the time, others have gotten pieces of their work from someone else too!”
Robert

8. Anticipate imposter syndrome to reduce its effects

Over time, you might notice that you always experience imposter syndrome when a specific thing happens. If that’s the case, prepare in advance of that situation so you can combat the effects. 

For example, let’s say you typically get nervous while filling out your self review during your team’s performance cycle. If that level of reflection makes you uncomfortable, try keeping a list of things you accomplish over the course of the quarter or year in your collaboration software. That way, when the performance review cycle rolls around, you already have your self review written, without even worrying about it.

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Accept fear but don’t let it take the driver’s seat. I acknowledge that I’m afraid of speaking up in a meeting. However, when I decide to not speak up, I check my intentions. Is it because I don't have anything to add or is it because I am afraid of losing face? If it is the latter, I embrace that I will be afraid while I do some things instead of waiting for the day when I am fearless.”
Rishika

9. Toot your own horn

Sometimes, the best way to fight imposter syndrome is to face it head on. The next time you feel like you did something well, celebrate it! If you’re comfortable, share your accomplishment with your team. 

You aren’t limited to doing this when you do a good job, either. Try creating a list of the qualities and skills you possess. These can be specific to your role—like being a great salesperson—or more general to who you are, like always being there for your team members. 

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I keep a curated collection of feedback that I’ve received from anyone on my team. Anything from a small Slack message or a meatier performance review. On bad days, I like to go into this section to remind myself that it is one bad day in an otherwise good to great career. On good days, I like to go into this section to review the honest feedback that has shaped me along the way.”
Rishika

6 steps for managers to prevent imposter syndrome

If you manage a team, you want to support them and reduce chances of experiencing imposter syndrome. Let’s take a look at a few ways.

[inline illustration] Imposter syndrome (abstract)

Read: The manager’s guide to preventing burnout on your team

1. Establish clear expectations early on

Explaining the job expectations, metrics for success, and progress checkpoints helps give your direct reports a clear sense of how they’re doing. 

Start by setting expectations on your team member’s first day of work by implementing a 30-60-90 day plan. These should be shorter-term goals that they can accomplish while onboarding and learning more about the company. 

Once the new hire is more established, work with them to set longer-term key performance indicators, or KPIs. The key here is making sure their goals are always measurable and time-bound. If necessary, use a goal-setting methodology, like the SMART goal acronym.

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My manager has validated my feelings, emphasized my strengths and helped me come up with actionable steps to make strides in my areas of improvement.”
Asana team member
Read: Write better SMART goals with these tips and examples

2. Provide immediate opportunities for connection

In addition to laying out the path for success from day one, make sure everyone also has ample opportunity to connect with other teammates. 

One of the best ways to do this is to set your new team member up with a mentor. Their mentor should be a peer in an adjacent team so they have someone to talk to who isn’t their manager.

Similarly, make sure all team members are aware of any resources your organization offers, such as Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). You can also connect them to people with similar interests, like a pet lovers’ group.

3. Clarify communication norms

It can be intimidating if team members don’t know where to ask questions or who to approach. Without a clear sense of team and communication norms, team members can have a hard time overcoming that initial hurdle. 

To help, managers can set up a time to sit with team members and answer any questions they have. For example, make sure to cover:

  • Which tool to use when

  • Who to go to if they have questions

  • Team conventions for things like asking questions during meetings

A communication plan reduces the guesswork and lowers the barrier to entry for easier communication.

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In the past, my manager has encouraged me to share content with stakeholders prior to a big meeting. This helps me get feedback or questions early, so I don't feel 'put on the spot' or unsure of myself during the meeting.”
Erica
Read: 12 tips to effective communication in the workplace

4. Check in frequently 

Consider implementing a check-in during your 1:1 meetings, offering a place for the team member to share how they’re doing. When managers are transparent about their personal experiences, it encourages team members to do the same. 

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I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform in the first six months. My manager helped me recognize that no one else was putting that pressure on me, and how to let that pressure go. She also gave me a good amount of positive feedback that helped me recognize my growth.”
Robert

5. Share feedback early and often

More often than not, imposter syndrome isn’t based on the reality of a team member’s situation. Sometimes, feedback—both positive and constructive—helps team members get a better sense of how they’re doing.

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My manager does a good job of providing real-time micro feedback, usually via Slack. This is usually just a sentence on what went well and maybe a sentence or two on what could have gone better. This level of micro feedback takes away my need to build my own ‘stories’ about how I’m doing. Instead of building stories, I have a foundation of truth, based on my manager’s micro feedback.”
Rishika
Read: How to give and take constructive criticism

6. Support their career growth interests

Sometimes, team members don’t believe they’re good at what they’re doing. The best way managers can help to combat this feeling is by engaging with their team members’ career interests.

For example, if someone is interested in becoming a people manager, offer them a role as a new hire’s mentor or to take ownership of a new intern’s project during the summer. Showing your team members that you believe in them and are committed to their career growth can provide the confidence boost they need.

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Previous managers have asked me to host training sessions in my area of expertise. Hearing myself explain the subject to others helped me realize that I was not only worthy and qualified, but that I was already in a position to uplift others.”
John

Conquer imposter syndrome with confidence

If you believe you’re experiencing imposter syndrome at your job—or notice it in a teammate—try the above 15 strategies. You can also talk to your mentor or manager, who in return can reassure you with positive feedback. Imposter syndrome can be an overwhelming, isolating feeling, but you can overcome it with a supportive team and tools.

Feel confident and productive with Asana

Everyone has experienced imposter syndrome at some point—even managers and CEOs. It happens when we don’t believe we’re performing at our best.

Explore the link between burnout and impostor syndrome

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