How to challenge imposter syndrome at work and show up with confidence

Imposter syndrome is common in the tech world. Learn what imposter syndrome is, how to identify the symptoms, and methods to manage it.
Written by Hannah Riley, Contributor
A man looking stressed while sitting in front of a computer inside an office.
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The tech world is advancing, and it can be easy to feel like your skills aren't improving fast enough. Feeling imposter syndrome is common. Not letting these thoughts weigh you down and managing them takes practice. 

Here we look at what imposter syndrome is and how to manage it. We spoke to psychologist Dr. Pauline Yeghnazar Peck to bring you advice on tackling this difficult feeling.

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is self-doubt that doesn't match up with your accomplishments. This phenomenon makes you feel like you don't deserve your position, or someone will find out you aren't actually qualified for your job. 

Professionals might feel imposter syndrome when applying for new jobs, when offered opportunities, or when it's time to negotiate salary. Imposter syndrome can prevent talented professionals from getting ahead if it causes them to pass up opportunities.

You might also feel imposter syndrome if your workplace has poor communication, unclear expectations, or intense competition.

ZDNet: Why do high performers still feel imposter syndrome?

Pauline Yeghnazar Peck, a woman with curly blonde hair, poses for a photo on a chair.

Pauline Yeghnazar Peck, Ph.D.

Dr. Pauline Yeghnazar Peck: Imposter syndrome is an internal experience that's disconnected from what's happening externally. Anyone — even high performers who have accomplished much — can experience it. 

High performers often assume that everyone is like them, and thus, they may dismiss their unique skills and attributes. 

Additionally, since imposter syndrome is an internal experience, there's no threshold that once reached will ease these feelings. High performers often believe that if they just get to "X" — whatever that next level is — the feelings they have will subside. 

We know from research that those feelings do not subside after reaching a new goal because we acclimate and quickly pick a new goal as the next threshold, continuing the cycle.

Am I experiencing imposter syndrome at work?

Recognizing imposter syndrome is the first step toward healing. Feeling like you aren't good enough for your job can lead to overwhelming stress, a sense of burnout, and even resigning from your position. 

If you'e experiencing imposter syndrome at work, you may:

  • Downplay your accomplishments
  • Fail to finish projects 
  • Second-guess your decisions
  • Avoid feedback
  • Beat yourself up for minor mistakes
  • Feel like a fraud
  • Be unable to accept praise
  • Put in full effort to the point of exhaustion

ZDNet: How can an employee share with their manager that they're experiencing imposter syndrome?

Dr. Pauline Yeghnazar Peck: That really depends on the culture of your workplace. There's no perfect way to talk to a manager about imposter syndrome. If you trust them and have been able to be emotionally open with them in the past, I would encourage you to open up. 

Even if you don't talk about "imposter syndrome" with your manager per se, it can also be useful to ask for direct feedback on your work so that you have some concrete, objective measures to reality-test against when feeling like an imposter. 

Often, the positive feedback alone isn't going to ameliorate the feelings, but it can help you find some grounding when you feel thrown off by your thoughts and feelings. 

Additionally, if you are going to talk to your manager, think about some actionable items you might need from them or why you're sharing this information with them so that it still feels relevant to the professional context.

If you don't have a transparent and vulnerable relationship with your manager, I would also suggest seeking the support of peers. Ultimately, you want to go to the well that has water for you. 

A graphic titled "How to cope with imposter syndrome in your career." It recaps the headings below.
Tori Rubloff/ZDNet

How to cope with imposter syndrome in your career

The following tips may provide relief from feelings of imposter syndrome. Some tips might be more effective than others depending on the individual and the situation. 

Remember: Thoughts are not facts. 

When you have a song stuck in your head, you don't blame yourself for it. The best way to get a song "unstuck" is to listen to it. When the song is over, you move on. 

This principle applies to repetitive negative thoughts: Don't blame yourself, let the thoughts have their moment, and move on without them. 

Introspective thinking and self-awareness are signs of emotional intelligence. Although anxious and negative thoughts are normal, they aren't always accurate to the situation at hand. Uncertainty and the unknown can convince our nervous system that there's danger and threats, but that doesn't mean it's true. 

Reframe your thoughts.

Start monitoring your internal narrator for negative thoughts and try reframing them. When your internal narrator says you failed, try reminding yourself that this moment is a learning opportunity.

Reframing your thoughts doesn't mean forcing yourself into positivity. It's a method for challenging thoughts and seeking a more helpful perspective. 

Dr. Pauline Yeghnazar Peck: Get into the habit of responding to your imposter feelings and thoughts like you would a dear friend. If they came to you and said, "I feel like I'm not smart enough and I can't get this done," you wouldn't respond with, "Yeah, you're right. You should quit." 

You would probably encourage them by reminding them of their strengths and times they have persevered, letting them know that you believe in them, and soothing them by assuring them that lots of people feel that way from time to time. 

Learning to talk to yourself in a self-compassionate (and often much more accurate way, rather than being completely hijacked by emotional thinking) can be a great long-term practice for keeping imposter syndrome right-sized.

Make a list of your skills, strengths, and accomplishments.

Looking at your resume can be helpful when you're feeling imposter syndrome. Don't be afraid to make a list of your accomplishments and remind yourself you're qualified to have your position. 

Your accomplishments can include things like organizing the office book club or recommending a company software switch. These accomplishments make you a valuable worker and are worth celebrating.

Dr. Pauline Yeghnazar Peck: I suggest that people keep literal or figurative track of their accomplishments, strengths, and efforts. These things can be so easy to forget when we are in the throws of feeling like an imposter. 

Savoring those positive experiences can help us hold the intense and difficult emotions more gently.

Share how you're feeling with a loved one.

Don't let negative thoughts fester in your head. Find someone outside of work you can talk to about imposter syndrome. Speaking thoughts aloud can help you realize they aren't accurate and help you move on.

Find someone who has dealt with imposter syndrome to help you see you're not alone in your feelings. 

Set reasonable expectations for yourself at work.

You can do anything, but you can't do everything. Setting unattainable standards leads to disappointment and even self-loathing. 

Choose realistic personal goals. Don't set yourself up to feel like an imposter.  

Create a schedule for yourself and devote specific time to the projects you want to complete. Make sure you add extra time for breaks and padding. Does your completed schedule look like something you can do while maintaining your mental health? 

Embrace a growth mindset.

Embracing a growth mindset will reframe the way you see your shortcomings. Remind yourself you're still learning and it's okay to make mistakes. Focusing on shifting your self-talk can make a huge difference in how you view your current success. 

Try these easy swaps: 

Instead of…


"I can't do it."

"I'll figure this out."

"I made a mistake."

"I learned something."

"I don't know."

"I don't know yet."

Write down at least one success you had at the end of each workday.

If you're early in your career or your past successes don't inspire you, try focusing on smaller, daily wins. Write down at least one success you had at the end of each workday. 

Keep your list somewhere you can access it when you need a boost. Include anything on your list that you feel proud of. 

If you led a successful meeting, note what worked and some public speaking tips for future you. Don't forget to add any kind Slack messages you've received or positive comments on a performance review. 

Focus on what you can give to others.

If you see someone in your workplace struggling, try to help them. It may feel counterintuitive to help others when you're overwhelmed, but this method can remind you other people struggle too.

Helping someone else when they need it is likely to make you feel more valuable to the team. These gestures can start a culture of helpfulness around the office that could circle back to you. 

Talk with a therapist.

These methods to overcome imposter syndrome can be helpful, but sometimes you need a licensed professional's advice. 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help explore negative emotions and create personalized methods to manage them. 

Your primary care provider may be able to connect you with a therapist. If that's not possible for you, try an online service like Betterhelp or Talkspace. These sites offer quick appointment availability.

More about Dr. Pauline Yeghnazar Peck, MA, MMFT, Ph.D.

Pauline Yeghnazar Peck, MA, MMFT, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist in California and New York with a private practice in Santa Barbara, California. She works with millennial and Gen Z individuals and couples to create the love, work, and lives they want. She specializes in anxiety, life transitions, trauma, and multicultural issues.

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