woman confidence in the workplace

When I decided to try my hand at freelance work, one of the first things I did was reach out to other young women in the area who were successfully doing it.

I met up with a smart, friendly woman named Rachel who runs a business that focuses on freelance content creation. Of the many things I made note of during our coffee date, one of the most interesting and helpful was the importance of identifying and overcoming my “Imposter Syndrome”.

I had never heard of this physiological phenomenon before. Original studies have found it to affect women more often than men, though nobody is safe from feeling it regardless of sex, race, or background.

So, what is it?

Put simply, Imposter Syndrome is that nagging feeling that you don’t deserve the attention, praise, or promotion you are receiving, even if you worked hard for it. This isn’t just about low self-esteem. When someone suffering with the problem dismisses accolades or achievements because it was “just luck” or good timing, they are feeling as if they are frauds or deceitful in the way they have presented their talent or intelligent to others.

Why is this a problem for women in the workplace? Besides that it’s not a great feeling to have kicking around in your head, it also makes you less likely to seek higher compensation or to speak up with new ideas. It can also cause you to wrap up your self-worth in your physical appearance.

Big, successful names like Tina Fey, Emma Watson, Maya Angelou and Sheryl Sandberg have all admitted to wrestling with the Imposter Syndrome, so what can be done about it? Whether you think you suffer from it or not, here are three tips to help.

Who couldn’t use a little confidence boost now and then?

Watch the Language
More often than men, women use qualifiers in their speech. This kind of tentative language can read as insecure and even make you unsure about your own abilities in the long run. How can you expect others to trust your ideas and work, if you are questioning yourself without even realizing it? Drop the use of words like just, maybe, possibly, and somewhat.

[Imposter Syndrome] also makes you less likely to seek higher compensation or to speak up with new ideas.

Remember the Good Stuff
When you start to doubt yourself, remember the good things that have happened or that have been said about you in order to negate the doubt. It may even be helpful to keep an easily reachable, running list that you can add to whenever a friend gives you a compliment, a boss praises your work, or you reach a landmark that you have set for yourself. Read it when you feel yourself getting bogged down in the “not good enough.”

Fake It ‘Til You Make It
There’s a reason this advice has been around for decades; it actually can work. This doesn’t mean you have to lie, but when you are having trouble believing in yourself, pretending like you actually do believe in yourself can project confidence. Over time, this way of thinking becomes a habit. You may even find yourself not having to fake it anymore.

What if you are due for some tough love? Check out The Tough Task of Tough Love to try and get a little better at receiving it. 

Think you may just be a little attached to the bad feelings? Check out Are We Addicted to Stress? to dig a little deeper.

Does Imposter Syndrome ring true for you?

Image via Edith Young



  1. This is such good timing. Yesterday I sat down with one of our company interns to share some words of wisdom. She asked what I thought about the fact that women tend not to apply for jobs that they feel unqualified for. Of course, I am saddened by this fact but I too have been in the position to sell myself short.
    I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always remember my worth. And I don’t always know how to accept a compliment. Yet I believe that true humility is being able to look at yourself fully as you are: as both a gift to this world and a work in progress.

  2. I feel this quite consistently, but have been making a conscious effort to stop using those qualifiers. When I catch myself, especially at my internship, I will stop and repeat myself without whatever pesky word I previously inserted. Great post!

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