What do Serena Williams, David Bowie, and Emma Watson have in common? Apart from being famous and successful people, they all have imposter syndrome! 

Despite all their achievements, there are still things in their lives which knock their confidence. You might relate to some of these: 

  • Serena Williams worried that people would see her as copying her sister Venus, who is also a professional tennis player. 
  • David Bowie had low self-esteem and self-image problems, so he hid behind his work. 
  • Emma Watson felt overwhelmed by the praises for her acting skills and that one day someone will find out that she was a “fraud”.  

Imposter syndrome can happen to anyone at any age. You might only feel it in one aspect of your life, or you might feel it all the time. It can start to affect your personal and work life and stop you from taking opportunities to grow. 

As someone who is from an ethnic minority, I always felt it was down to luck when I got a job offer. In my mind, maybe there was a better candidate than me, but I fitted a diversity target the company needed rather than my abilities to do the job.  

During my research for this blog, it turns out that lots of people also have these feelings of self-doubt, and it made me feel less lonely.   

So maybe it’s time to understand what it is that you are feeling and take steps to overcome it! 

woman in a professional setting, talking to her colleague

What is imposter syndrome? 

Imposter syndrome is when you doubt yourself and feel like you don't deserve success, praise, or reaching a milestone. You may feel like you're pretending to be someone you're not, fooling everyone into thinking you're better than you actually are. 

The feeling generally happens to women more often than men, particularly to high achievers. However, the difference between feeling low self-confidence and imposter syndrome is that you have been successful! Whilst low confidence is a fear of failure which would prevent you from making a start in the task in the first place.   

Man speaking to team in a meeting

Ways to start overcoming imposter syndrome 

Here are some ways to start putting your anxiety and stress at ease and start to appreciate yourself and what you can do: 

1. Acknowledge your feelings 

The first step in overcoming imposter syndrome is recognising and acknowledging it. Feeling like an imposter is normal, affects many people, and doesn't show your real skills. 

2. Talk about it

Sharing your feelings with trusted friends, family, or colleagues can provide reassurance and perspective. Others may have experienced similar feelings and can offer valuable insights and support. 

I have a visible disability, it’s always in the back of my mind that I get hired to fit a disability quota, rather than my work skills. I also feel that the neurodiversity of my brain may be a hindrance to my peers. My team at work has without a doubt put my mind at ease regarding this and they have reassured me that I’m a valued member of our team.

Eleanor, WEA

3. Celebrate your achievements

Keep a record or journal of your accomplishments, big and small. Reflecting on your successes can help reinforce your capabilities and remind you of your progress. 

4. Challenge negative thoughts

When self-doubt creeps in, challenge it with positive affirmations and evidence of your achievements. Reframe your thoughts to focus on what you have done well and how you have earned your success. 

I’m a working mother – I work full-time, look after two kids and I am also a school governor at a local school. When people say, “I don’t know how you do it all,” there’s always a little voice in the back of my mind that says “badly”, as I never feel like I can be the superwoman they seem to think I am.

The thing I find that helps me with my imposter syndrome is knowing that so many people I look up to actually suffer from it and I am not alone in self-doubt. Sometimes all it takes is someone saying “you can do it” to help me believe in myself.

Jess, WEA

5. Avoid comparing yourself to others

Many people show off their success and happiness on social media. They might make success look easy, but they might not have chosen to share everything that helped them get to where they are.  

6. Seek professional help if you need it

If your imposter syndrome significantly impacts your life and you need a bit of support, seek help from a professional healthcare provider. 

By implementing these strategies, you can combat imposter syndrome and unlock your true potential. Remember, everyone has moments of self-doubt, but it shouldn’t define your journey. Embrace your achievements, trust in your abilities, and continue to strive towards your goals with confidence! 

If you’re looking to gain more confidence in yourself for work or life, why not explore our WEA courses? From courses to look after your emotional wellbeing, to boosting specific work skills or even an actual confidence course, there's something for everyone.

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April Cheung
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About the author

April Cheung

Marketing Officer

April Cheung is a Marketing Officer at the WEA. She specialises in employability and recruitment marketing as well as supporting learner engagement.