How to Get Rid of Impostor Syndrome Once and for All

By on Jul 18, 2016 in Inspiration
How to Get Rid of Impostor Syndrome Once and for All

You're a successful creative professional, and you have no problem selling your work. People compliment your talent, and you seem to be bringing in more income year after year. Yet, somewhere inside of you is a voice that is doubtful. It wonders if you're even really talented at all.

If the above has happened to you, you're actually not alone. In fact, what you're experiencing is a pretty common condition called impostor syndrome, and it affects people of all ages and from all walks of life. Experts Joan Harvey and Cynthia Katz believe that up to 70 percent of all successful people have experienced feelings associated with impostor syndrome at some point in their work.

What Is Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor Syndrome — or an overwhelming feeling of self-doubt or fraudulence — was first officially recognized and named by Dr. Pauline Rose Clance, an American psychology professor in the 1970s who eventually wrote the book "The Impostor Phenomenon." Many people who experience Impostor Syndrome lack confidence and feel that they are somehow fraudulent or phony, despite their level of success. People with the syndrome usually feel that they achieved what they have through hard work, luck or even deception — but not the talents they actually possess.

What Causes Impostor Syndrome?

While no one has nailed down one specific or biological cause of impostor syndrome — and, in fact, most experts believe that there are many causes, there are some common circumstances or experiences that can result in feelings of being an impostor.

  • A new or transitional experience (e.g., a promotion, new career, etc.) that causes unfamiliar feelings, and a difficulty to put those feelings in perspective.
  • Unrealistic notions about what it means to be competent or a perfectionistic personality.
  • Being a minority in a position or situation, and feeling closely monitored (e.g., women as executives in the workplace)
  • "The Photograph Album Effect," or a tendency to over-compare yourself to the people around you (particularly when surrounded by successful people and success becomes normalized).

What Are the Drawbacks of Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome obviously sounds unpleasant, but if you've ever suffered from feelings of inadequacy, you know that its effects go well beyond simply a bit of anxiety. If you're a creative professional with impostor syndrome, you may experience some of the following:

  • A tendency to procrastinate, and feeling paralyzed to start a project because you are afraid to fail.
  • Turning down job opportunities because you are afraid to fail or perform inadequately.
  • Physical stress and anxiety, and the health repercussions that come with them.
  • Expending so much energy at your work that you lack energy for other areas of your life.

How Creatives Can Combat Impostor Syndrome — Once and For All

If you're a freelance creative, you have to be able to find the motivation to get your own work done and find your own clients. And, if you have impostor syndrome, it can often get in the way of you getting your work done. However, what's important to realize is that every single one of us, whether just starting out or heading our own company, is still learning, and there are times when every person questions his own abilities.

So, if you often feel like a fraud at your craft, you don't have to throw up your hands and give up. Instead, there are some actionable ways you can combat the syndrome, which will ultimately help you find the confidence to get more done.

  • In 1978, Clance recommended writing down and keeping track of compliments you receive, instead of blowing them off. Whenever you feel unsure of yourself or your talents, look back at the list, and it will be hard to deny how other people perceive you.
  • NYU professor Justin Kruger recommends talking to your mentors and people you admire about your self-doubt. Most often, you'll find that the people you most look up to have the same exact feelings as you -- and you know that they're truly talented!
  • Accept promotions. Turning them down is an avoidance tactic. Accepting them will allow you to prove to yourself what you can handle.
  • Make a list of what you DON'T know. Experts believe that tackling the things that make you anxious head on will help you face and then overcome those anxieties.

Impostor syndrome is very prevalent, and if you're experiencing it, you don't have to feel alone. Have you ever experienced the feeling of being a fraud at your work? Let us know about your experience and what you did to combat it.

Read More About Impostor Syndrome

Online Sources:

Print sources:

Jones, Jane Redfern. "Unmask Your Talent." Nursing Standard 23.38 (2009): 64.

Buchanan, Leigh. "The Impostor Syndrome." Inc. Magazine Sept. 2006: 37-38. Web.

Frankel, Hannah. "I'm not good enough." The Times Educational Supplement 4873 (Jan 15, 2010): 030.


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10 Comments

  1. I was just thinking about this last night! How I feel like a fraud who has somehow managed to trick my clients into letting me work for them (I haven't). And even when I receive positive feedback from happy customers I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop. I had no idea this was a "thing"! And I feel so much better knowing that it is! Thank you!

  2. It felt good reading this knowing that this feeling is normal. I only do some freelance but whenever I am recommended to a potential client (by my Mother mostly) I immediately feel sick and inadequate, afraid I won't be able to meet their needs. At my university graduation ceremony our guest speaker actually spoke of this feeling and how you will feel it throughout your whole creative career, as he still does.

  3. This article is speaking directly to me. I have been working at my craft for over 5 years, and recently gone off on a little tangent that I am not really qualified for - but very experienced in. I feel this constantly and it is totally holding me back. Thank you for this :)

  4. Thanks! I'm that guy doubting himself all the time and Creativemarket helped a big deal to change that. Selling my own fonts here is a dream coming true.

  5. Ah, I know this well. Unfortunately I lost so many years because of fear and doubt - when I finally decided to jump in feet first - I was in my 40s -- but you know what? Better late than never! I never wanted to live with "what if" and "If I'd only..." now I know I DID IT and have no regrets and never looked back! If you're young - GO FOR IT!! Whatever it is! Don't wait!!

  6. Ugh. This has to stop. Everyone has self doubt. It's part of life and who we are. You have to deal with it and move on. Calling it a syndrome is pretty much ridiculous. We all do things that we're not 100% confident in or with. But it's not a syndrome for crying out loud. It's just doubt. And that's all it is. Someone came up with this stupid syndrome idea and all of the sudden everyone's got it! I've been a creative for over 30 years. I love it and wouldn't change it for anything. Have I had doubts that clients wouldn't like things I've created? Sure I have. Still do... everyday. But do I dwell on it? Nope. Not one bit. I present my work and if a client loves it GREAT! If they don't, that's okay too. I know I have work to do and I'll keep working on it until they do love it. It's all part of the business we're in. All this "not being good enough" bellyaching is just that. Bellyaching. Stop the pity party and frankly... just grow a pair. That's the only way to get rid of imposter syndrome. Put your work out there and be proud of what you've created!

  7. I’m with you 100’s Joe. And it’s good to hear someone else say it.
    The only syndrome here is upside-down thinking. Like any good psychiatrist will tell you if you suddenly found yourself facing off with a growling Rottweiler, you now are a victim of some chemical in your brain, the fear gene, which can be resolved with some of their drugs, and no amount of angry Rottweilers will ever scare poor you again. Of course a solution from older, saner times was to simply get away from the dog.
    Feeling guilty about being effective or successful (even more applicable to creative fields) is that the subject of work has being given such a bad name. Work is a drag and a punishment for being human. People no longer pursue the thrill of competence and a job well done (which genuinely is happiness). They wake up in the morning to go make money instead. So if you are enjoying what you do it can’t be work and it therefore can’t be legit if you are receiving reward and acknowledgement for it.
    Your only obligation to yourself and your clients is to enjoy what you do and demand the best from yourself at all times.

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