Have you ever felt like a phony? Like you’re not qualified for your job?
Unless you’re a world-class con artist, you’ve experienced these thoughts. While it’s natural to question your abilities from time to time, obsessing over getting “found out” is a telltale sign of imposter syndrome.
First coined in the 1970s, the phrase “imposter syndrome” still isn’t acknowledged in the workplace, even though 70% of professionals have imposter syndrome. This affects everything from your relationships to your career, diminishing your confidence and holding you back.
In this article, we’ll discuss how James River Capital founder Paul Sanders addresses imposter syndrome in the workplace.
About Paul Sanders & James River Capital
James River Capital came to be in 1995 when Paul Saunders acquired the company with his business partner. Since that time, Paul has served as Chairman and CEO of JRC.
Today, James River Capital operates out of Richmond, Virginia, and with nearly twenty-five years of experience steering the ship at James River Capital, Paul has seen imposter syndrome firsthand. While it’s harmful to people in their personal lives, Paul argues that imposter syndrome is also burdensome in the workplace, preventing employees from recognizing their potential.
What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is defined as a persistent feeling of inadequacy in your job—despite evidence that you are, in fact, very competent. Even the most accomplished professionals experience imposter syndrome, noting problems like:
- Low self-esteem
- Chronic doubt
- Feeling like you’re a fraud
- Destructive perfectionism
- Perceiving every situation to be high stakes
- Always comparing yourself to others
Professionals with imposter syndrome find it hard to accept compliments or acknowledgments for their hard work, saying it was the result of luck. You don’t feel like you’ve earned success. You might even fear getting “found out” by your boss or being fired.
Paul Sanders notes that women tend to feel imposter syndrome more frequently than men, with 66% of women feeling like imposters versus 56% of men. For whatever reason, female professionals in high-performing roles tend to experience imposter syndrome more frequently and more deeply than male colleagues.
Imposter Syndrome at Work
Imposter syndrome affects every aspect of your life. Outside of work, it can convince you that you’re unsuccessful at parenting, marriage, or even your favorite hobbies. But imposter syndrome is particularly potent at work, where your skills and confidence are put to the test.
The workplace can actually contribute to imposter syndrome. Occurrences such as:
- Unfair or harsh criticism
- Self-doubt or mistakes
- Lack of positive feedback
… give talented employees the impression that they aren’t deserving of their job.
Paul Sanders argues that imposter syndrome isn’t just damaging to professionals, but to companies and believe that imposter syndrome should be solved at an individual level because companies as a whole can suffer greatly when a workforce has imposter syndrome.
In fact, if something isn’t done to address imposter syndrome, workers stand to lose in four ways.
Four risks of imposter syndrome
- Unhealthy Fear of, or Extreme Desire for, Input
Imposter syndrome manifests in two extremes. You either constantly crave feedback (due to low confidence) or avoid feedback (for fear of being “found out”).
Whether you beg your manager for feedback or hide behind a cubicle wall, both approaches are unhelpful. Without striking a balance, you’ll either irritate your boss or produce inferior work.
- Turn Down Promotions or Positions of Leadership
When you feel like an imposter, you don’t feel worthy of positions of power. This crisis of confidence makes experienced, talented employees resist leadership roles because they don’t want to be “found out” by their coworkers or trainees. But without taking on new, challenging roles, your place in an organization stagnates. You don’t develop new skills or broaden your horizons, stagnating your career.
- Rework and Lower Quality of Work
Imposter syndrome causes you to be less confident in your work. That leads to reworking a piece several times until it’s perfect, for fear that you’ll be fired for looking incompetent.
But this overthinking and rework often leads to a lower quality of work.
People with imposter syndrome sabotage themselves. It’s a vicious cycle where your work would normally be fine, but because of this lack of confidence, your performance suffers and your boss wants to know what’s going on.
- Quitting Your Job
Employee turnover costs businesses $15,000 per employee. Your employer definitely doesn’t want you to leave, but when you feel like an imposter, it seems like quitting is the only way to start over fresh.
Imposter syndrome causes people to quit their jobs because they don’t believe they’re a good fit. You feel so much pressure that you need to escape. Of course, a new career won’t solve imposter syndrome.
Four Ways James River Capital Combats Imposter Syndrome in the Workplace
So, what should you do? The key to overcoming imposter syndrome is to tap into your confidence. Paul Sanders recommends these four approaches for professionals to overcome imposter syndrome at work.
- Acknowledge and Challenge the Feelings
The worst thing you could do is ignore your feelings. You can overcome imposter syndrome only if you accept you have these thoughts. But once you’re aware of these thoughts, it will be much easier to make progress.
That said, once you’re aware of imposter feelings, gently challenge them. If you think, “I can’t take that position; I’m not qualified,” refute that thought. Tell yourself, “No, I’m actually a great fit for that job.” By challenging these negative thoughts, you’ll start to build more confidence.
- Keep a List of Accomplishments
It’s easy to feel like a phony if you don’t remember all of the great things you’ve accomplished. Combat workplace imposter syndrome by keeping a list of all your achievements. This doesn’t have to be degrees or awards; it could by any positive impact you’ve had on the business.
You can include certifications, classes, reviews, and even positive feedback from coworkers or clients. This is for your personal use; it’s “proof” that you aren’t an imposter. Remind yourself that you’ve succeeded once, and you’ll do it again by logging your accomplishments.
- Set Realistic Expectations
Paul Sanders stresses that at James River Capital, he tries hard to set realistic expectations for everyone, himself included. This can be challenging for people with imposter syndrome, however.
Are you setting unrealistic expectations for yourself? If so, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Human beings can only do so much and giving yourself a 24-hour deadline for work that’s supposed to take three days isn’t healthy. If you wouldn’t assign an expectation to a coworker or team member, don’t do it to yourself.
- Connect With Others
Guess what? If you have imposter syndrome, you aren’t alone. 70% of all adults have imposter syndrome, after all. This is an incredibly common feeling, and it can be a relief to see how many other people have imposter syndrome.
Connect with coworkers to combat imposter syndrome. You can even seek out a mentor to help you build more confidence and take more risks to grow your career.
Of course, if you feel your imposter syndrome is out of control, we always recommend reaching out to a licensed mental health professional. You can also reach out to your HR department to ask if they offer an employee assistance program (EAP).
The Bottom Line
Paul Sanders has learned a lot about imposter syndrome during his time at James River Capital. It’s true that you can get rid of imposter syndrome, but it won’t happen overnight. Commit yourself to these four approaches and retrain your brain. One day you might even notice that you’re looking forward to giving a big presentation, or taking more responsibility at work.
How do you combat imposter syndrome? Let us know in the comments.