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The fear of being “found out”: What is Imposter Syndrome?


After the initial celebration, the rush of adrenaline, and the ego boost, many people have sat in the office of a new job or promoted position with a sense that they don’t really belong there. The fear is that they will be quickly “found out” as a fraud and imposter, undeserving of the position and ill-equipped for its demands.


This is popularly termed “Imposter Syndrome”, a term first created by Clance and Imes in 1978, and refers to the concept of talented individuals who are unable to fully own their achievements and skills, and so feel that they are not deserving of success and the position they find them themselves in.


This occasional self-doubt is surprisingly common amongst professionals, even among the high-achievers that make up different organisations’ boards and management positions. In itself, the fear it can create is not necessarily a bad thing; it only becomes so when it actually impacts on an individual’s will to take action in their new position.


Avoiding this feeling might, then, be unavoidable, but there are certainly ways prevent it impacting further on your working life. This can start with recognising and taking responsibility for the achievements you have accomplished to date. It also means surmounting the fear to the extent that it stops preventing you from taking risks or pursuing particular goals. Being overwhelmed by imposter syndrome can mean an individual never goes beyond what is familiar and known to them, and therefore never fully tests themselves for fear of being discovered as a fraud.


It can also help to develop a focus on what a particular situation is teaching you, rather than concentrating so heavily on how you might be performing. Treating every experience as part of a learning experience that ultimately gifts you new and more developed skills means that you are able to handle even occasional failures far better.
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