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Golden Guide Career Advice: Everyone Has Impostor Syndrome

Lydia Lazar

woman holding shard of mirror in front of her face

Golden Tip No. 30: Don’t Let Fear Sabotage You

Golden Guide Career Advice is a series from the AMA in partnership with Lydia Lazar, author of Dean Lazar’s Golden Guide: Pragmatic Career Advice for Smart Young People. A new tip in the series will be posted each Tuesday—all tips are available here.

Do you have a career question? Contact Lazar at deardeanlazar@gmail.com—the answer may appear in a future post.

Everyone has insecurities about presenting themselves as an expert, suffering at one time or another from so-called impostor syndrome. It’s important to face the future without fear so you can find the inner strength to face challenges and seize opportunities when they present themselves. Over time, you’ll become more confident as you live and work in the world. As the Nike slogan says, Just Do It.

Impostor syndrome describes an anxious feeling that somehow you do not deserve your success or that you haven’t earned it legitimately due to your own efforts. It feels like everyone is on the verge of discovering you’re a fraud. Some extremely successful people will admit to feeling this anxiety even as they receive the highest awards in their fields.

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If you sometimes worry that you’ll be “found out,” remember that you’re not alone. Be mindful and give yourself a break—try a few of these strategies for outwitting this confidence-sapping meme.

Fake It

If you find yourself panicking, fake it until you feel confident. Just go ahead and do the thing that you’re worried about doing—and over time, you’ll improve.

Risk It

Being wrong is not the same thing as being a fraud. Don’t let a mistake define you or hold you back. Taking risks will help you develop your expertise—the more you know, the more confident you’ll become.

Limit Yourself

If you’re asked to give an opinion on something you only know a little bit about, limit yourself to speaking about what you know well. Consider offering a question that can help move the discussion forward, or offer to learn more about the subject.

Collect Praise

When people give you positive feedback, save a record of it. Build up your personal repository of testimonials to revisit on days when you’re feeling low, or to present in job interviews as proof of past accomplishments.

Accept Yourself

If you feel like a fraud because you were given an opportunity that others didn’t get, give yourself a break, step back and take stock of the steps you’ve taken to get where you are today.

The Harvard Business Review recently recommended reframing impostor syndrome as “managing learning-credibility tension.” The authors suggested that by turning “a psychological flaw into a vital skill,” consultants—and the rest of us—can succeed despite or even because we don’t know all the answers.

Make good choices going forward, don’t let setbacks beat you down, and celebrate the decisions and actions you’ve taken to bring you to this point. Try not to tie your self-worth entirely to your job or career. Invest in your personal relationships and your connections to other non-vocational enterprises and undertakings.

Photo by Amir Geshani on Unsplash.


Dean Lazar's Golden Guide

For more career tips, read Dean Lazar’s Golden Guide: Pragmatic Career Advice for Smart Young People, available on Amazon and at your local bookstore. Do you have a career question? Contact Lazar at deardeanlazar@gmail.com—the answer may appear in a future post.

Lydia Lazar is founder and president of LHL Consulting. She is the former associate dean for recruitment and career services at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, and previously, dean of international law and policy overseeing international student admissions (LLM) at Chicago-Kent College of Law.