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Conquer the Imposter

Posted on: Thursday, July 26, 2018 Category: Blog (58)
5 min read

By Rhys Blyth

Remember Dr. James Barry? The British Armed Forces surgeon that was a pioneer of their field and was stationed all over the world? Remember that James was actually Margaret?

In Jo’s blog on Imposter Syndrome, Jo introduced the phenomena, its background and Dr. Valerie Young’s 4 steps to dealing with it. As a quick recap, Imposter Syndrome is the belief that you are inadequate and incompetent, despite evidence that indicates otherwise, coupled with a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.

Dr. Valerie Young’s tips for dealing with Imposter Syndrome were:

  1. Talk to someone you admire.
  2. Recognise what you do well.
  3. Realise that no one is perfect.
  4. Change your thinking and reframe your superstitions.

Dr. Young expands her theory to include five subgroups of Imposter Syndrome. Each subgroup has different ways of dealing with the underlying problem of self-doubt:

  1. The Perfectionist
  2. The Natural Genius
  3. The Rugged Individualist
  4. The Expert
  5. The Superwoman/man

The Perfectionist

You have to get it perfect, every time.  Delegation is hard to do.  If you want something done properly, you have to do it yourself. Do you subject yourself to self-blame and feelings of inadequacy when you miss a mark you have set for yourself?

Perfectionism and Imposter Syndrome go hand in hand. Perfectionists are prone to setting high goals, and when they fail to meet them, they experience crippling self-doubt. The Perfectionist is also a control freak, struggling to allow others to complete tasks on their own.

Being a Perfectionist is hard work, mostly because success is rarely satisfying. The key to breaking through Perfectionist Imposter Syndrome is to own and celebrate achievements while learning to take your mistakes in stride and view them as a natural part of progression – not a flaw. We are our own harshest critic and not everyone has the same view of our work. Realise that opinions differ, and that doesn’t necessarily mean your work is bad.

The Natural Genius

Used to excelling with minimal effort? Have a track record of straight As? Does the idea of a mentor leave a bad taste in your mouth? Does your confidence plummet when faced with setbacks, because poor performance provokes shame? Do you avoid challenges as it is daunting to try something you haven’t done before or feel you aren’t good enough at?

Natural Geniuses are those that judge their success based on their abilities over their efforts. The internal bar is set impossibly high like Perfectionists and the judgement is on whether they can complete the task right the first time, as well as goal achievement.

Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, your skills and abilities take time to develop. This is the case for everyone, not just the Natural Geniuses. Master the discipline before creating the art. Try focusing on specific, changeable behaviours that you can improve, that are a part of the greater picture. Then, go for that high standard you have set for yourself.

The Rugged Individualist

Is “I don’t need help” your common catchphrase? Is the belief that you need to accomplish things on your own firmly ingrained in your work and life ethic? Are requests framed in terms of requirements of the work, not your needs as a person?

The Rugged Individualists are those that feel asking for assistance will uncover them as phonies. While independence is an admirable trait, being so independent to the extent where one fears or refuses help is detrimental to performance and perceptions of self-worth.

Like the Natural Genius, you need to accept that you cannot do everything the first time. Unlike the Natural Genius, you will try unfamiliar tasks but without seeking any help to develop the skills to meet the requirements of that task. As people, we never stop learning, in life and work. The society you live in is the result of combined efforts, a culmination of a group of individuals creating an ordered community formed for a particular purpose or for co-existence. Even the organisation you work for was created through the combined efforts of various people, not just the founder.

Start with small requests, before working up to ones you perceive as larger. Once you have developed the confidence to confine and work with other people will you be able to move past your perceived insecurities and self-doubt?

The Expert

Despite holding a role for some time, do you still sometimes feel incompetent or that you don’t know enough? Do you hesitate or avoid job applications unless you have met every single requirement? Do you constantly feel you need to improve your skills in order to succeed, often searching or applying for certifications or training?

The Experts are those that fear being exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable. Despite being hired based on merit, the Experts feel that their hiring is a case of mistaken identity, that they have tricked their employer into hiring them.

Yes, there is always more to learn. When taken too far, your habit of information searching can become an obsession and a distraction from work. Instead, acquire a skill when you need it, not when you might need it. Like the Rugged Individualist, there is no shame in asking for help. Knowledge is about sharing, and your colleagues are the most immediate answer to the things you may not know.

The Superwoman/Man

Are you the last of your team to leave the office, despite completing a day’s necessary amount of work? Are you stressed when not working or find downtime wasteful? Are hobbies and passions a thing of the past? Are you constantly working to satisfy a title you feel you haven’t earned?

The Supers are the workaholics. They are those that push themselves to work harder to measure up to colleagues they perceive as the real deal. The problem here is that work will eventually become overwhelming, harming their mental health and relationships with others.

If you’re a Super, you are addicted to the validation that comes from working, not the work itself. As such, train yourself to move away from external validation – only you should have the most power to make you feel good about yourself. Once you have adjusted to internal validation and can nurture your own self-esteem that says you’re competent and skilled, you will be able to cut back the workload and pick up your favourite past time.


Think you have Imposter Syndrome? Check out Dr. Young’s book here.

Not enough? People with powerful personal brands make connections with others.  They get people on side by sharing a bit about themselves and allowing themselves to be known and to know others.

When you are authentically you, you can easily recognise what is distinctive about you and what sets you apart from others in your team. This can help you to identify both your strengths and the things you do less well at.

Wearing any sort of mask is not sustainable in business because one day the mask will slip and with it, trust.   You are not perfect and no one else is either.  It is that simple.  So, change your thinking.  Realise that diversity means there are multiple ways to work and multiple points of view and not everything you do will work all the time.

At BNY, we talk about the importance of being deliberate, authentic and consistent. Our team of Personal Branders are able to show you how to take ownership of your flaws and instil the necessary skills needed to navigate your workplace and industry.


The Muse – 5 Different Types of Imposter Syndrome (and 5 Ways to Battle Each One)


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