A Survival Guide for Imposter Syndrome

“Being self-critical is good; being self-hating is destructive. There’s a very fine line there somewhere, and I walk it carefully.” — Daniel Radcliffe

Do you ever worry that you’ll be found out as not as smart, capable and creative as others think you are? Most people feel that way from time to time but rarely do they talk about it. That’s why I wrote my new book, Ditch Your Inner Critic at Work: Evidence-Based Strategies to Thrive in Your Career.

Self-doubt isn’t a bad thing unless it starts to consume your thinking. If it does, you may have crossed the line between temporary anxiety and preoccupation. Self-criticism is likely to rear its ugly head during times of change; when you start a new job, have been promoted, you have a new manager, have taken on too much at one time, after you’ve received criticism or if you’ve lost your job.

Here are some strategies for using your inner provocateur to your benefit and not let it get out of hand.

Don’t compare yourself to others — Time and time again research has shown that happiness comes from an alignment between your interests, values, and strengths. A career that’s a good fit for one person may be all wrong for another. Your investment banker friends may be making a lot of money, but don’t forget the personal sacrifices they’re making to earn those big bucks.

Treat failure like a scientist — In a previous blog, I asked scientists to share their perspective on failure since they face it frequently in their work. What they told me is that without setbacks they wouldn’t have the information they need to move forward. It’s these obstacles that help them understand what went wrong and how to work around them.

Remind yourself of what’s going well — From our earliest days on the planet, humans remember negative events more than positive ones. It’s our way of protecting ourselves from danger. Fortunately, we no longer need that biological adaptation but our brains don’t know that. To counteract the tendency to dwell on what went wrong, focus instead on what’s working. Keep a notebook or journal and write down three or four things that went well each day. You’ll be surprised at how much you accumulate.

Find a mentor — When our inner critic is vying for your attention, having a trusted advisor in your corner to help you look at your situation objectively is crucial. It’s important that in asking someone to play this role they understand your industry, role and, most importantly, are willing, to be honest. If you’ve chosen someone who fits this bill, rest assured they will let you know when you have reason to worry or not.

Remember, self-criticism can be positive when it motivates you to set challenging but realistic goals and timeframes. If you find your inner-voice telling you you’re never good enough, you may have crossed the line into unforgiving shame. That’s when its time to question your inner-critic and give her a piece of your mind!

About the author — Susan Peppercorn is an executive career coach and author of Ditch Your Inner Critic at Work: Evidence-Based Strategies to Thrive in Your Career.Get her free ebook 25 Tips for Making a Successful Career Transition HERE.