Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to see their own accomplishments, dismissing them as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.

Impostor syndrome is much more common that you’d think—over 70% of people have experienced it at one time or other in their lives. It is known that lots of entrepreneurial and high-achieving women have it, but I’ve also found that it’s pretty common in men, too.

In fact, it seems like people in the software or online industries present lots of cases of impostor syndrome.

The speed at which technologies grow means you learn new things in almost every project, and that may make you feel like you are not performing as you should (or that you aren’t in control of what you are supposed to be an expert in).

When problems start to arise, lots of times they are already solved by somebody else. In environments like that, it’s easy to feel you aren’t smart enough.

I’ve felt like this sometimes. Receiving positive input about my performance or work, and not believing it just because what I did was easy, or I got lucky. Or I just dismissed those opinions, thinking that if a real expert came in and looked at what I had done, he would show everyone that I was a fraud.

When that fear strikes, you start thinking that everyone is smarter than you, that there are lots of things that you don’t know that everyone else already knows, and that they are expecting you to know them, too.

But there are ways to reverse this cycle and overcome impostor syndrome. Here are 8 steps that can help.

8 steps to overcoming impostor syndrome

imposter syndrome

  1. Recognize that it exists.
  2. When you receive positive feedback, embrace it with objectivity and internalize it. By denying it, you are hurting that person’s judgement.
  3. Don’t attribute your successes to luck.
  4. Don’t talk about your abilities or successes with words like “merely,” “only,” “simply,” etc.
  5. Keep a journal. Writing your successes and failures down gives you a retrospective insight about them, and re-reading them makes you remember equally both of them.
  6. Recognize that the perfect performer doesn’t exist, and that problems will pop up eventually. Take them as little fires under you that make you move forward.
  7. Be proud of being humble.
  8. Remember that it’s OK to seek help from others, and that even the best do it.

Extra tip by Hackbright Academy’s blog: Accept the fact that there are things that you do not know, there are things that you will never know and there are things that you can decide to learn. A beginner’s mind can be a very big advantage!

This post originally appeared on my personal blog. Go there to find more posts on engineering, productivity and more.

Image credit: Alicia Liu

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Written by Mike San Román
  • Belinda

    I recognise myself as one of the 70% ! I’m gonna put these tips into practice right away – especially love 5 – helps give a balanced perspective and 6 -next time I have feelings of inadequacy I’ll remember that even the best don’t get everything right all of the time !

    Someone once told me it’s ok to fail – just fail forwards – in other words take what you learn from the failure and use it to improve at the thing you failed at instead of dwelling on the negative .

    Thanks for sharing , great advice :)

    • Sounds like you got some great advice, Belinda! Thanks for reading and sharing this. :)

  • Ronnie Somerville

    There is a lovely poem by a guy called Tom Leonard, originally written in the Scots vernacular.
    “There’s sae much I didnae know I didnae know.
    I get mair ignorant by the hour.”
    = ” There is so much I didn’t know I didn’t know.
    I get more ignorant by the hour.”

    It is a mindset that distinguishes the humble from the blow hards.

  • abelardo

    I can relate with this, it happened to me especially during MANCOM meetings you get “drowned” by another Manager’s imposing idea which you have thought as first yet “stole” it as his own. Since I am new to the Team, I can sense the overly competitiveness and sometimes get entangled with the “impostor syndrome of being no good and not believing in yourself.” This inadequacy can be alarming, I needed to prod myself, hey I can think of a good idea, and it was me, without being too cocky and just remaining cool. I guess I needed to tap my back once in a while to realized that achievement. Thank you for the article, this is a refreshing course.

    • We all need a little reassurance once in a while. Thanks so much for sharing this experience!

  • Thanks Mike – being aware of this and admitting it effects oneself, and those around you, is a great first couple of steps. I get a huge amount of email from listeners to my podcast thanking me for helping move their business forward, and so often I think “Wow, was I really responsible for that?!” It’s quite humbling and does make me feel like an impostor every now and then thinking there are others who know much more. Your post is a great reminder that we’re all there to help each other in some way, shape or form, and we don’t ned to know everything.

    • Great story here; it sounds like you’re doing some excellent work!

  • Christian Rivera

    I think not throwing yourself under the bus, in any situation, is the most important part. It’s amazing how often you see it personally and professionally. Many designers will try to point out what they feel are flaws in their designs before the reviewer sees it as if pointing it out will redeem themselves. If you’re aware of a flaw, attempt to fix it or be prepared to adjust if they find it. In most cases they are just little things that the reviewer wouldn’t notice due to their alternate perspective. Thanks for this.

  • Agnes Dadura

    Aw, yes. This is something that gets to me once in a while, but then I try to remember the successes and kind of feel better.

  • I’ve learned to truly enjoy the beginner mindset. In fact, I love it so much that I often need to try and fight the urge to try something new and get in over my head all over again.

    I’ve found it’s helpful to always keep this one idea top of mind: as soon as you decide to actually start on a new endeavor and put some time in, you know more than the many many people that have only thought about trying.

    Yes, you are miles behind those that have been doing it for decades. But, these people are the exception and not the rule. Most people have only thought about doing what you are now doing. You are probably further ahead than you think.

  • Serpentine J. Pebbles

    what an eye-opener, thanks.

  • There is an excellent talk that goes into some of the psychology and fears behind this issue (as it relates to computer programmers):

    Google I/O 2009 – The Myth of the Genius Programmer
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SARbwvhupQ (about 55minutes)

    I watch every time I feel down on my self.

  • Nyasha Duri

    This nearly brought a tear to my eye because this is me all over. I’ve changed however in the sense that I’m now able to talk about my problems and I look forward to working on my psyche to overcome this.

    Thank you so much.

  • This is so important! I wrote about this on my blog and was amazed to see how many people struggle with the same thing. Talking about it helps. Thank you Mike.

  • Very interesting.

    Seems like what you’re also talking about is confidence (or lack there of) in one’s ability.

  • Loved this! Thanks for sharing it.

  • My advice sort of inline with number 5: write a blog. Don’t just write in a journal about successes and failures, write in a blog and do it regularly. I used to have imposter syndrome all the time prior to externalizing my experiences, and now those experiences are searchable and available to me all the time.

    Great post.

  • Adrian Willings

    Great article Mike. I’m totally guilty of this so it’s nice to see I’m not the only one! :)

  • What’s funny is I always thought I was the only person that experienced this feeling. It’s good to know I’m not alone & it’s even better to know It can be overcome. Thank you for the advice. I’ll be sure to bookmark this post to refer to it if this feeling arises again.

  • SumTotal Marketing

    Just read this thanks to Kevan Lee’s recent post about losing social traffic.

    Great post. Even though its impossible to know everything, it makes me crazy when I find out there was something I didn’t know that I think I should have.

  • ZOB

    Great advice that applies across every industry and almost every position

  • Malek Hakim

    I waited long time for this article! Now I know that what I have problem with is called impostor syndrome.

  • Mark Casey

    Now. if you would put a “liked” button for Facebook. Thank you.

  • I’ve found, in addition to a journal, my LinkedIn profile is a great place to keep some career highlights organized and top-of-mind. Easy for me to reference back to, as well as see how I stack up (rank) against other digital marketers in the ‘professionals like you’ section of LinkedIn.

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