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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome During a Career Change

Making a career change is exciting, but the new and unknown often come with uncertainties and anxieties. Something many people struggle with is ‘imposter syndrome’, and, if this is something that affects you, you might be holding yourself back from achieving what you’re capable of.

So, what is imposter syndrome, and how do you overcome it? How do you disrupt feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt and show up as an honest version of yourself? In this blog post, we’ll delve into these questions and offer some practical advice to help you move forward.

What is imposter syndrome?

Although not an official diagnosis, psychologists and others acknowledge that imposter syndrome is a very real form of intellectual self-doubt. It’s that pervasive feeling that you don’t deserve success and refuse to believe your accomplishments are earned.

People with imposter syndrome feel like frauds, especially in their work roles, and often fear they’re not as creative, intelligent or competent as others think. They’ll say, “I don’t deserve this,” or write accomplishments off as ‘just hard work.’ Instead of acknowledging their efforts and capabilities and accepting praise, they’ll attribute their achievements to good luck or timing.

Not dealing with impostor syndrome can rob you of years of progress and professional satisfaction, undermine your performance, or, in the worst-case scenario, lead to an early career exit. A study by MIT shows it can lead to burnout, emotional exhaustion, work-family conflict, low self-esteem and decreased job satisfaction.

How common is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a lot more common than you’d think. Around one-third of millennials suffer from it, and the American Psychological Association estimates 70% of us are likely to experience it at some point in our lives.

It’s often associated with high achievers – a 2020 KPMG survey of 750 female executives found that 75% experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their careers. The MIT study shows it’s also common among high achievers in minority or marginalised groups.

Imposter syndrome affects everyone, no matter who you are or where you’re at in your career. Haroon had reached a point where he was wondering, “What next?” While he loved what he did, he wasn’t sure how he could progress with the skills he had. That’s where the LSE Data Analytics Career Accelerator came in. Hear more about how enrolling in this programme helped him on his career journey.

Five ways to overcome self-doubt during a career change

If you’ve made a career change, overcoming imposter syndrome may feel impossible. But if you fail to manage it now, it can have a detrimental impact on your performance and lead to burnout and depression in the longer term. Here are some practical steps you can take to boost your self-esteem and move forward in your career with confidence.

Challenge negative thoughts

Because our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours are all linked, if you continuously believe you’re an imposter, your actions and reactions will align with that belief. 

For example, think of a time when you did something really well, but you only focused on the one thing you were criticised for. That’s when negative thinking becomes pervasive and self-debilitating.

The trick is to reframe your self-talk with positive affirmations like “I can do this”, and, with practice, it will help you move past feelings of self-doubt and take ownership of your career.

One way to combat imposter syndrome is through a technique known as cognitive restructuring, where a therapist works with you to find the triggers that spark negative thoughts and feelings. They’ll help you challenge and reframe your distorted beliefs by asking how valid your negative self-assessment is and then guide you to form a balanced, realistic view of yourself.

Another is mindfulness. Neuroscientists have shown that practising mindfulness physically affects areas of the brain related to emotion regulation, introspection, complex thinking, perception, and sense of self. Learn to do it the right way with a mindfulness teacher, or try Mindful to get started.

Build a support network

Networking is a powerful personal development tool that can help you overcome imposter syndrome by building your confidence and improving your relationships and communication skills. It provides the opportunity to talk to others who may have been in the same situation and allows you to identify your strengths and share your value, thereby helping you overcome your fears, doubts, and insecurities. Similarly, reaching out to a colleague or mentor could give you the reassurance you need to tackle a new job with more confidence. 

Working with a Career Coach has been a highlight for many Career Accelerator learners. After closing her business and considering a career move into product management, Iryna was convinced she’d have to start from scratch as an intern. Her coach helped her see the value of her previous experience and worked with her to build a CV that impressed her new employer so much that she was hired into an established role before even completing the programme. Read her story here.

Research suggests discussing your feelings with someone outside of your professional circle, such as a loved one, is one of the best ways to combat impostor syndrome. That’s because those close to you are more likely to care for you unconditionally and can better confirm your sense of worthiness, helping you put your doubts into context.

Own your achievements

Confident people own their accomplishments. Acknowledging and celebrating your accomplishments – both personally and publicly – is integral to internalising your achievements and interrupting the cycle of self-doubt. Doing this could also be as simple as learning to accept compliments rather than brushing them off.

Once you can do that, you’ll embody confidence and competence. Over time, this leads to improved performance, increased motivation, and a sense of well-being.

Let go of perfectionism

Adjusting your standards for success doesn’t mean you have to lower the bar, but it will make it easier for you to internalise your accomplishments and take on your new job with confidence.

Focus on your progress rather than trying for perfection, and learn to be okay with being good enough.

When you don’t quite meet your standards, learn to reframe ‘failures’ as opportunities to grow and learn. This will move you towards the success you’re after.

Embracing continuous learning

If you have imposter syndrome, you will likely avoid new opportunities and challenges because you fear rejection and failure. This can negatively affect your learning and growth and prevent you from reaching your full potential. 

When you adopt a growth mindset – the belief that your abilities and talents can be developed through practice, feedback and effort – you are better armed to embrace challenges, persist when things go wrong, and overcome setbacks.

If you struggle with imposter syndrome and constantly think that others are ‘better ‘ than you or know more than you, why not invest some time in upskilling yourself? When you acquire more skills and knowledge in your field, your confidence soars, and you can comfortably hold your own without feeling like you’re faking it.

Ready to step into a new career with real confidence?

Overcoming imposter syndrome is hard, and many people need the support of someone they can trust to build up their confidence.

The majority of learners on our Career Accelerators are in the process of changing their career trajectories and have benefited from the support of a Career Coach as they take this significant step forward. Take Elodie for example – after 16 years in the same profession, she let go of her fear that it was ‘too late for her’ and embraced a whole new career at age 50.

If you’re considering a fresh start and want some support as you recalibrate your career, take a look at our Career Accelerator portfolio and get in touch to find out more about how our career coaching works.

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