Mike O'Connell

Imposter Syndrome: How to overcome self doubt, fear and poor self image


Have you ever seen a job advertisement and thought “I could do this”. You send in your application, and a few days later, you hear back from the company. They invite you for an interview. You go through several interviews and eventually, you land your dream job.

However, once you get started, the doubt sets in.

“What if they realize that I do not deserve the job”?

“They possibly made a mistake hiring me”

“Everyone on the team is so smart. I do not belong here”.

“I am a fraud”.

For many people, self doubt may start long before they land the job or the relationship. These negative thoughts often create paralysis and fear and may prevent you from applying for the job, asking someone out on a date, or even putting yourself out there.

If you have ever experienced these types of thoughts, you may be suffering from Imposter Syndrome.

In this article, we will explore what imposter syndrome is and how we can overcome it.

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome, also known as perceived fraudulence, imposter phenomenon and imposterism, is a psychological state in which you feel incompetent, under-qualified and undeserving of your current role, partner, or success.
These feelings of self-doubt exist despite your skills, education, innate talents, interests and evidence to the contrary. This internalized doubt leaves you in a persistent state of anxiety, fearing that others will find out that you do not deserve your success.
We all experience feelings of inadequacy from time to time. However, if you are constantly experiencing self-doubt and feeling incompetent, then you may be suffering from imposter syndrome.
Many of us suffer from imposter syndrome. A 2019 review of various research on imposter syndrome shows that as many as 83% of people have experienced these feelings.
Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanna Imes were the first to identify and study imposter syndrome in the 1970s.

Imposter syndrome symptoms

There are many symptoms that indicate that you have imposter syndrome. You may have some or all the above, depending on your particular type of imposter syndrome. These include;
  • Having very high expectations and having fear that you will not live up to them
  • Not fully appreciating your role in your success and attributing it to external factors such as luck, family background or network
  • Inability to realistically assess your skill set, experience and competence
  • Excess criticism of your performance
  • Over delivering and overachieving
  • Setting unrealistic and highly challenging goals
  • Self sabotaging your own success such as turning up for an interview late, going on a date looking haggard, or not bringing your best ideas to a work meeting
  • Self doubt and negative self talk such as “There will be more smart people at the interview” or “Everyone has many years of experience”
If you can identify with any of the above symptoms, take the imposter syndrome test.

Types of imposter syndrome

There are 5 types of imposter syndrome. Each of these have different presentations, triggers and causes.

The perfectionist

This type of imposter syndrome demands perfection in every aspect of your life. You focus on how everything is done, down to the very minute detail.
Unfortunately, life is not perfect and there are many factors that are beyond your control. These external factors can, and often do intrude into your life making your goal of perfection unrealistic and unattainable.
Perfectionists will often shy away from trying new things – because they do not believe they can do it right the first time around.
Action plan: Learn to acknowledge the hard work you have put into completing a task and rest easy knowing that you will be able to put in your learnings into the next task.

The superman/woman

This type of imposter syndrome involves doing more. You believe that you must be the hardest working person in your field to attain the highest levels of achievement, otherwise you are a fraud.
Superpersons are driven by an innate need to prove their worth and are prone to burnout, high stress levels and workaholism.
Action plan: Get off the hustle train, and get a hobby. Realize that you are not in competition with everyone else but with your own inner overachiever, and give yourself a break. Establish boundaries and identify your specific tipping over points.

The natural genius

This type of imposter syndrome affects many naturally talented people.
Say, you are highly athletic and you easily excel in any sport you try. Or perhaps you have a high IQ and school work comes naturally to you. Therefore, you easily attain high grades or excel in various sports, leading to easy entry into college and are awarded many scholarships. Eventually, you go on to a stellar career, jobs and income.
Unfortunately, you may not be equipped to handle highly competitive environments or failure because you are not used to working very hard.
You may feel like a fraud when something does not come easily or naturally to you. You may experience shame and embarrassment when you fail to shine in your new environment.
Action plan: Realize that you are not going to be great at everything you try. It’s ok to be average and build your skills over time.

The soloist

Independence is healthy, but this type of imposter syndrome believes that they must achieve everything completely on their own without asking for help, otherwise they are a fraud.
Soloists do not believe in asking for help and therefore run the risk of getting stuck, burnout, or duplicating work that has been completed by others.
Action plan: Find a mentor. Reach out to someone you admire and ask them about their journey. Chances are they had a lot of help along their way to greatness. This will help you to internalize that it is ok to ask for help. It does not make you a fraud.

The expert

Do you cringe when someone introduces you as an ‘expert’, a ‘leading authority’, or perhaps invites you to speak on a certain issue within your field? The experts believe that they must know everything there is to know in their field before they can be considered “experts”.
If you struggle with acknowledging your contributions or skill level, you maybe suffering from this type of imposter syndrome.
Action plan: Realize that no one can know everything about a subject. There are always new developments, research, methods and ways of doing things. As long as you are upskilling and open to learning, you are not a fraud to be considered an expert.

What causes imposter syndrome?

There’s no single cause of the imposter phenomenon. A number of factors can trigger and exacerbate the symptom. These include:

Your childhood

Your childhood environment can greatly affect how you relate and view the world.
  • Were you highly pressured to be perfectly behaved and achieve good grades?
  • Was there constant comparison with your siblings or classmates?
  • Were your parents highly controlling, overprotective or manipulative?
  • Was there constant criticism and no praise for achievements?

Your personality

Some of us are naturally more perfectionistic, neurotic, or anxious. These traits can more easily trigger imposter feelings.

Mental health conditions

OCD, bi-polar, depression, among others can easily trigger or worsen the feeling of being a fraud.

New environments

Are you at a new job with increased responsibilities? Perhaps you are a new parent? New and expanded roles can easily trigger feelings of self-doubt. However, this can slowly fade as you settle into the new role and get the hang of it. Unfortunately, these feelings can get worse, especially if you do not have enough support to learn and grow.


Gender bias, racism and other biases can trigger imposter feelings. A recent study from Hubspot found that a whopping 90% of women suffer from imposter syndrome at work.
Imposter syndrome is more prevalent in women and people of color. This is partly historical because they have had less representation in workplaces, leadership and in public roles. You may, therefore, feel like you have to work twice as hard to break prevailing stereotypes.

How to overcome imposter syndrome

To deal with imposter syndrome, start with self-assessment. Ask yourself some difficult questions.
  • What lie am I believing?
  • What do I think of myself?
  • Do I think I am worthy of achievement?

Expose the lie you are believing

We often lie to ourselves and to others. However, the lies we often tell ourselves are the most potent and can easily shape our lives.
  1. The performance lie: Many of us fall into the trap of believing that our worth comes from our performance. If we do not perform, we are useless.
  2. The people-pleasing lie: My value is dependent on other people liking or loving me. Your value is innate, and is not based on the opinions of others.
  3. The lie of control: We can fall into the lie of believing that our value is directly correlated to whether we are in control of ourselves, and our outcomes. You are never fully in control. There are many factors that are beyond you. Accept that.

Change your self-image

Self image is a conditioned set of beliefs that drive your behavior. Any set of beliefs can be changed and this begins with self awareness.
How do we change a set of beliefs? Make a decision: Who is going to be in charge; the thoughts or the thinker? Take control of your thoughts and direct them towards your new self image.
Instead of thinking “I am not that (whatever the skill is)” change it to “I am not that yet. But I am working towards it and soon I will be”. Additionally, take the right steps to achieve what you want. Enroll for that course, attend that networking event, join the gym, or anything else you are looking to achieve.
Before long, you will be what you are looking to become.


“Connection is why we are here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives” - Brene Brown
We often hear “No man is an island”. You cannot do it alone. We all need people in our corner rooting for us, supporting us and lighting the way.
Who do you have in your corner that is going to help you move past insecurity?
Genuine connection with others builds trust. And we build trust by being concerned about others. By exercising empathy.
So you have imposter feelings? Chances are so are over 70% of all others within your circle. Be vulnerable and let others know what you are feeling. This allows us to help each other work through these feelings and we can begin to loosen their grip on our work and lives, a little at a time.
If you are experiencing imposter syndrome, you are not alone. Reach out to me on mike@mikeoconnell.com We offer private and group coaching to work on impostor feelings, and any other difficulties that you and your team may be experiencing. Get in touch with us if you would like us to work with your sports, business or church team anywhere in the country.