Ending Imposter Syndrome: Stepping out from behind the mask


With Mardi Gras fast approaching, it’s time to break out those party masks and prepare to celebrate. It’s interesting though that many people already seem to be hiding behind a ‘permanent mask’. Take Joe, who desperately wants to be a make-up artist yet is studying law because it’s what his parents wanted. Or Sarah who is always smiling, but on the inside miserable because she hates her job in admin. And Joshua who smokes and drinks every day because all his friends do however he knows it will eventually impact his ability to be drafted in the NFL.

From a young age, the experiences people have and the advice they are given forms the basis of their career paths. Too often, however, these well-meaning contributors guide people onto completely the wrong career highway. At the time people think nothing of it. Then fast forward 10, 20, 30 years and our older selves realize we’ve been stuck in the same office cubicle, continuing to carry out the same old stuff, in an organization we don’t really respect and we soon start to question why we didn’t do more to be true to ourselves. “If only…” is a sad phrase and to avoid ever having to say it, listen up now!

So to ensure you don’t fall into the same trap, here are my three tips to help you step out from behind the mask and stay there. They’ll help you learn to be true to yourself in your career decisions:

Know what you stand for

In order to pick the right career and employer for you, it’s vital that you are clear about who you are and what you stand for. Only then will you know whether the place and / or role is where you will be yourself and, most importantly, be happy.

The key to this is knowing your personal values. To help you understand yours really easily, visit www.janesunley.com/freestuff where you’ll gain access to a free eValues tool. Through this you’ll identify your core values; the things you must have within your work-life to remain enthused and able to progress.

Once you have this information you’ll be able to use it to your advantage throughout your career journey. For example, if your number one value is achievement, you won’t thrive in a business where there is no focus on the goal and things are consistently not getting done. Therefore look for goal focused language in job ads, ask about corporate objectives in the interview and, when in a role, set yourself clear milestones to ensure you’re always achieving.


Be true to yourself

[Tweet "Gallup, estimates that unhappy employees outnumber happy employees two to one."] A pretty shocking statistic when we spend on average 100,000 hours at work. Who wants to spend a significant portion of their lives miserable?!

It’s a well-used cliché; life (really) is too short to be unhappy. We should, and must strive, to feel engaged, enthusiastic and positive every day – be it with work or otherwise. Do you laugh at least once a day? You should – it’ good for your health.  If you’re unhappy at work then it is your responsibility to do something about it. If you don’t, it will impact your well-being, those closest to you, your colleagues and your performance. So be honest and brave and do something to change it.

This could be:

  • Change of company: perhaps you love your job yet the organization isn’t quite right. First use your energy to see if you can bring about change. Talk to the person or people who can make this happen rather than moan to others. If things don’t improve then consider how you can move on.
  • Change of career: this can happen at any stage of the career journey and I encourage you to seek out trusted advice if this is your decision. This can be from a mentor, colleague, family member, friend or even a professional coach. Explore why you want to change careers, what you want to do and how you can make that happen.
  • Career break: taking time out to reassess what it is you want to do. Looking at your values, strengths and weaknesses and identifying the types of business and role which will ensure you’re engaged and fulfilled daily.
  • Beware: imposter syndrome

‘Imposter syndrome’ impacts an individual’s ability to recognize their achievements. Instead they put things down to luck, timing or to deceiving people into thinking they are more talented than they actually are. Those with the syndrome live in fear of being ‘found out’. That one day someone will recognize them as a fraud and so they hide behind a mask of ‘perfection’.

With studies claiming that up to 70% of the population experiencing ‘imposter syndrome’ at some point, it’s important to watch out for it and nip it in the bud before it takes over. First is accepting we all have flaws, perfectionism is not perfect so learn to recognize yours and use them to your advantage.

Secondly believe in your success. You didn’t get to be on the first float at Mardi Gras because you were lucky; you won your place on there because of talent, determination and clear achievements. Right now list out five things you’re proud of achieving over the last three years and keep them in mind to counteract the times when you begin to feel like an imposter.

Finally stop comparing yourself to others –it’s not helpful. We are all individuals for a reason…just like all of those diverse participants of the Mardi Gras parade.

About the Author

Jane Sunley is the best-selling author of ‘It’s Never OK to Kiss the Interviewer: and other secrets to surviving, thriving and high fiving at work’. She is also CEO of people engagement specialist, Purple Cubed.