Identify and Conquer Your Imposter Syndrome Symptoms

March 30, 2023

“There are so many practitioners who are more experienced and knowledgeable than me.”

“What if my clients think my new program is useless?”

“I’m going to fail. Nobody will want to register for my next course.” 

If you’ve ever entertained thoughts similar to these, you were most likely experiencing imposter syndrome. It may offer you some comfort to know that imposter syndrome symptoms are most often felt by high-achieving people. Approximately 30% of medical students and residents identify as imposters. Heck, even Tom Hanks, Maya Angelou, and Serena Williams have admitted to feeling like imposters at times. 

What’s decidedly less comforting is the potential for the associated fear and feelings of inadequacy to sabotage your success, particularly when you’re on the cusp of launching a new program into the world. Your imposter syndrome at work could quite literally impact your ability to future proof your business.

We understand how paralyzing the fear of failure can be, so we’re sharing ideas to help you ditch those pesky imposter ear worms. Keep reading for strategies you can use to step into your power and reclaim the confidence you’ve worked so hard to earn.

Imposter Syndrome at Work

Imposter syndrome was first identified back in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. The two researchers found the phenomenon to be more prevalent and intense among a select sample of high-achieving women. Their findings have staying power, with more recent research uncovering that 75% of female executives experience imposter syndrome at work.

This is not to say that imposter syndrome at work is only reserved for women. According to psychologist Audrey Erving, imposter syndrome can apply to anyone “who isn’t able to internalize and own their successes.” It’s a phenomenon that can easily impact people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. The trick is knowing how to acknowledge when you are in the grips of imposter syndrome at work so you can take steps to overcome it.

How to Recognize Imposter Syndrome Symptoms

How do you know if you’re experiencing imposter syndrome anxiety vs regular anxiety? Here are a few things to watch out for. 

  1. Persistent feelings of self doubt.
    Anxiety is typically triggered by specific events or situations. Imposter syndrome anxiety usually involves ongoing feelings of self-doubt, even in situations where you have performed well in the past.
  2. Fear of being exposed as a fraud.
    Imposter syndrome is often accompanied by a persistent fear of being “found out” or not meeting the expectations of others.
  3. Minimizing your achievements.
    If you find yourself downplaying your accomplishments and attributing them to external factors, like luck or good timing, you likely have imposter syndrome anxiety.
  4. Internalizing mistakes. People experiencing imposter syndrome anxiety may perceive mistakes or setbacks as evidence of their incompetence, rather than an expected byproduct of the learning process.

The Five Types of Imposter Syndrome

Valerie Young, Ed.D. is an expert on imposter syndrome who has committed four decades to helping people who suffer from it. Her work has revealed that people with imposter syndrome symptoms tend to hold themselves to unrealistic standards of competence. She also discovered that people don’t have a universal experience of failure-related shame, because there’s no all-encompassing definition for competence.

These discoveries led to Young defining five types of impostor syndrome:

1. The Perfectionist 

This person focuses on “how” things are done, including both the functional aspects of the work and the outcome. 

This type of imposter syndrome at work could look like a health coach continually delaying the launch of their new 30 Days to a Healthier You online program because they feel that the modules they’ve created aren’t “polished enough.”

2. The Expert 

This person is more concerned with “what” and “how much” they know. They typically put unrealistic expectations on themselves to know everything, triggering shame and failure when a minor gap in knowledge occurs.

This type of imposter syndrome at work could look like a practitioner missing out on opportunities to diversify their income because they keep telling themselves they don’t know enough to add a specialty to existing services or branch out into offering workshops.

3. The Soloist 

This is the lone wolf impostor. They believe that getting a gold star on the competence list means completing a task without any help. Needing or asking for help is a sure sign of shame-inducing failure.

This type of
imposter syndrome at work could look like a practitioner missing out on growing their business because they are hesitant to launch new programs for fear of not being able to do all the work themselves – and asking for help is out of the question.

4. The Natural Genius

This person may appear to be like the Soloist on the surface, but they also care a lot about “how” and “when” things get accomplished. Competence is measured in terms of ease and speed, so struggling to master a skill equals failure.

This type of imposter syndrome at work could look like a practitioner taking on too many projects at once, without fully considering the risks or time investment. This can lead to a lack of focus or direction and, more seriously, burnout.

5. The Superhuman

This person measures competence based on quantity and quality. It’s not enough to fill a number of roles simultaneously, they also need to excel in each of them. Coming up short in any one role evokes shame related to not being able to do it all. 

This type of impostor syndrome at work might look like the head of a group practice burning themselves out by managing business and seeing too many clients because asking a colleague to shoulder some of the load triggers feelings of failure.  

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome Ahead Of Your Program Launch

When determining how to overcome imposter syndrome at work, it’s important to remember that it thrives on subjective thoughts and feelings, not facts. The good news is that these thoughts and feelings belong to you, which means you have the power to acknowledge and reframe them. The great news is you don’t have to do it alone. 

Keep reading to learn practical steps you can take to share your experiences, celebrate your successes, and seek out meaningful support to help you launch any new program with confidence.

Connect With Practitioners in Your Space

If you’re feeling impostor syndrome symptoms, you’re not alone. As stated earlier, the pioneering work of Clance and Imes found the imposter syndrome women experience happens in spite of the empirical evidence of their achievements, like degrees, honors, praise, and unsolicited professional recognition. 

Connecting with other people, inside and outside your field, can be an effective way to normalize what you’re feeling. Ignoring your emotions isn’t helpful, but understanding how common your feelings are can help you see that you aren’t alone in experiencing them.

  • Share your experiences around the imposter syndrome symptoms you’re feeling.
  • Stay open and curious about learning how others have overcome similar obstacles.
  • Reach out to friends, family, mentors, or colleagues for support and encouragement. 
  • You can look outside your circle as well. Although social media personalities might appear to be brimming with confidence, they aren’t immune to imposter syndrome and some even share openly about their struggles. Follow health and wellness practitioners you respect and seek opportunities to engage in conversation and compare notes. 

Explore Therapy 

Your own biases can get in the way of correctly identifying the feelings that are driving your self-doubt and inadequacy. Finding a qualified therapist to provide imposter syndrome coaching can help you to get to the root causes faster and develop strategies to get past it. 

For example, engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you identify and challenge the negative thought patterns, attitudes, and beliefs that are driving your feelings of inadequacy. Having a therapist as your imposter syndrome coach can be particularly helpful if you’re feeling ashamed or embarrassed about your imposter syndrome, as therapy provides a safe, non-judgmental, and confidential environment for working through your feelings and reframing negative self-talk.

Ask Past Clients For Feedback

If you’re experiencing imposter syndrome symptoms around launching a new program, reaching out to ask a few of your clients for thoughts and feedback can help to get you out of your own head. You can easily gather this information using a form in Practice Better. 

  • Be open to constructive criticism. If you’re asking clients what they think, you should be prepared for all types of feedback – not just the good stuff. Suppress your inner Expert and resolve to accept criticism as an opportunity for your own growth and learning.
  • Seek proof of your competence. Reaching out to successful clients also gives you an opportunity to ask for specific feedback around how you helped them get on the road to wellness success.
  • Mine for gold. Asking clients what they think offers the added benefit of using this information to market to new prospective clients. Third-party proof of why people like working with you can offer sound bites that help you sell your value to future clients. Just make sure you get consent to share, if it’s allowed in your jurisdiction.

Talk to a Mentor

Leaning on a mentor that you trust is another strategy for conquering your imposter syndrome at work. Whoever is mentoring you will likely be a high achiever, which means there’s a good chance they have dealt with (or, more likely, still deal with) imposter syndrome from time to time.

Whoever is mentoring you will be an empathetic ear in your corner. They can normalize your feelings, help you prioritize facts over those feelings, and share their own stories. Good mentoring will continually remind you that you are good enough, you will achieve great things, and even if you do stumble from time to time, failing is simply learning in real time. 

Be Your Own Hype Squad

You won’t always have access to your community when you’re struggling with imposter syndrome symptoms. That’s the perfect time to reflect inwards. 

  • Revisit the (positive) past. Remind yourself of previous business scaling programs you’ve launched and identify when you met a roadblock and how you overcame it. Lean into past lessons and commit to continuous learning to keep moving forward.
  • Engage in positive self-talk. Make a list of all your strengths and acknowledge that it’s okay to not know everything all the time. Everyone is a work in progress, so give yourself the grace and space to keep growing.
  • Keep a kudos file. When you’re working with clients and colleagues, it’s inevitable that some will send you spontaneous notes expressing gratitude for your expertise and impact in their lives. File those soundbites away to revisit on the days when you’re struggling with imposter syndrome symptoms. Override your own fears and silence your inner critic with tangible proof that you are worthy, knowledgeable, and changing people’s health and wellness for the better.
  • Rumble with yourself. Brené Brown is a researcher and author who famously studies courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. Brown is a big proponent of the rumble, which she defines as “a discussion, conversation, or meeting defined by a commitment to lean into vulnerability, to stay curious and generous, to stick with the messy middle of problem identification and solving, to take a break and circle back when necessary.” A rumble can be between two people, but you can also rumble with yourself in an act of self-reflection and to help soothe imposter syndrome at work.

The next time you’re feeling the familiar pull of imposter syndrome at work, why not get curious about the story behind your feelings (e.g., Why am I afraid that this new program on mindful eating will fail)? Then dig into the story that you’re telling yourself about the new program (e.g., The story that I’m telling myself is that I don’t know anything about launching a virtual program so it will obviously be a huge flop). Finally, dig into the facts and assumptions surrounding your feelings, separating the two so you can reframe your negative self-talk and focus on the empirical evidence that will contribute to the success of your business scaling efforts. 

Don’t Let Imposter Syndrome Paralyze Your Progress 

Launching a new health and wellness program or course into the world is a big undertaking. The last thing you need is a pesky, self-doubting voice in your head sabotaging your brilliant business scaling ideas, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. 

The truth is that high-achieving practitioners will likely feel imposter syndrome at work from time to time. It’s perfectly normal. You don’t have to put pressure on yourself to never experience imposter syndrome, you just need the tools in your toolbox to stop it in its tracks when it does pop up. The strategies outlined in this article are a great place to start.

Practice Better is the complete practice management platform for nutritionists, dietitians, and wellness professionals. Streamline your practice and begin your 14-day free trial today.

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