I Have Imposter Syndrome. Should I Tell My Boss? 

You’re not as good as people think you are, and sooner or later someone is going to find out.” Did this hit too close to home?

Let’s do a little test.

Do you ever:

  • Feel uncomfortable receiving compliments
  • Focus on what you can’t do, rather than what you can
  • Think that other people are not being honest when they approve your work
  • Worry your boss might see right through you and regret the hiring decision
  • Assume if it’s something you’re able to do, it can’t be a difficult task

If you answered yes to most of these questions, you may be suffering from imposter syndrome.

To put it briefly, imposter syndrome is the nagging feeling that for whatever reason, you’re going to be exposed for not being good enough, a fraud about to be caught at any time.

The term was originally coined by Pauline Rose Clance & Suzanne Imes of Georgia State University in 1978 to describe “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention”. 

According to the study, people experiencing Imposter Syndrome think that their achievements are solely based on luck. It comes down to 3 main beliefs: people always overestimate my abilities, I constantly worry about being judged for everything I do, and I have a continuous tendency to attribute my successes to being lucky.

This might have happened to you or someone you know:

You worked day and night for a new project and tons of positive feedback come flooding in. Instead of thriving on the recognition and using it as an opportunity to grow, there’s a voice inside your head that says – you lucked out.

As the colors of the day rest, the endless stream of unspoken thoughts just won’t go away. All you can think about is, I am not good enough for this.

These worries might chase through your thoughts endlessly and trigger a complete mix of emotions, leaving you overwhelmed and anxious to get started on a new task.

Like they always say, you are your own worst critic. You measure yourself, your goals in life, and overall work performance by standards that are not even remotely true.

How does having Imposter Syndrome affect your career?

Country marketing head of Grab Malaysia, Iris Chang expressed her view on the implications of having imposter syndrome: Many suffer from this unknowingly. It hinders them from valuing their achievements and embracing career opportunities that would make a good fit.

Left unaddressed, this psychological phenomenon can disrupt your focus, prompt self-doubt and frustration, making you feel inadequate both personally and professionally. Worst case scenario, it can eventually take a toll on your emotional well-being

Employees with imposter syndrome are generally blind to their strengths and weaknesses. If these feelings linger, they can lead to destructive working habits, such as disengagement from work, being reluctant to voice out, less likely to put themselves forward for opportunities because they’re not ready yet, overwork and overprepare, which could cause burnout.

Should you talk to your boss about Imposter Syndrome?

Speaking up for yourself takes plenty of courage, especially in the workplace. If you think involving others wouldn’t be much help at this point, it’s perfectly fine to keep your problems under wraps. But do spare a moment to consider what could possibly change when you reach out for support.

Being able to share openly can benefit you and your boss. There’s real strength in acknowledging your mistakes, perceived flaws, and everything else you’re facing in between. Having honest conversations with your superior helps create a mutual understanding between the both of you to identify the places where you’re not as confident. 

Realistically, it helps to get everything out in the open, especially when it happens to be someone you work closely with. Just one thing though, make sure your superior has a track record of being non-judgmental about employees’ personal issues before you confide in them.

How do you ask for support?

Seeking help from more experienced people is one way to conquer the feelings of self-doubt and insecurity when they creep up on us, provided that they are willing to listen and understand where you’re coming from. 

To help you cope with your intrusive thoughts, request a regular catch-up session with your superior. A recent study by The Hub Spot found that 69% of employees with imposter syndrome want positive and helpful feedback on their performance.

Talking to your manager can help you work towards your goals, and break those down into manageable steps to take on one at a time. It can put things in perspective to realize that what you’re feeling is normal.

Alternatively, consult a professional and work things out from there. Check if your company is associated with any online courses on workplace health and well-being, such as the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) conducted by MY Psychology, which offers personal development plans for managing work-related stress.

Surprisingly, Having Imposter Syndrome is Not All Bad

According to an MIT research, those who suffer from this tend to compensate for any perceived shortcomings by working extra hard. They are usually high performers and exceptional team players with strong interpersonal skills.

When employees feel that their competence is lower than others think, they are more likely to do everything in their ability to connect, help, and encourage others on an interpersonal level.

The next time you’re flooded with self-deprecating thoughts, just know this:

You wouldn’t be in this position if someone didn’t think you could do it. 

We all make mistakes and learn from them. Imposter syndrome can make you feel like the occasional mistake is proof that you don’t belong where you are.

It’s important to appreciate the process and see how far you have come, rather than punishing yourself for not meeting an outcome even though you tried your best. Remember what Ralph Waldo Emerson said, the greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.

If you’re a curious soul who takes pride in being a know-it-all, find out what’s the Dunning-Kruger Effect and how it’s affecting employees in a completely different way.

Every ending is the beginning of something else. Make the right choices in your career: