Niklaus Gerber

September 20, 2022

Are you feeling like an imposter at work? Here is what helped me.

The feeling that your accomplishments are never enough and that your skills don't live up to the expectations of others is known as the impostor syndrome. 

It is this overwhelming feeling that you do not deserve your success. This little voice in the back of your head tells you that you are not as talented, intelligent and creative as you may seem. It feels like what you achieved in your life was either excellent timing or luck and that you will be exposed as a fraud one day. 

The worst part is that these feelings usually creep up on you in your most significant moments of success, like starting a new job or receiving praise from others.

But why do we feel like this? The root cause of the imposter syndrome is an unhelpful picture of what other people are like. We end up feeling like frauds not because we are uniquely flawed but because we do not see how deeply flawed everyone else is. 

The fact is; We are very well aware of our feelings, thoughts, imperfections and fears. We spend a lot of time thinking, worrying and hopefully reflecting on ourselves. But we do not gain this kind of insight from anyone around us. We can see their actions and what they decide to share with us. But these are not insights but a narrower and edited view of how they operate. 

We completely fail to imagine that others must have similar feelings as we do. Rest assured, they will have some agonising feelings that haunt them. Vulnerability and shame are universal, and no one can avoid these feelings. The imposter syndrome, therefore, is not a disease or an abnormality. It is just human.

We cannot know how hard others work, how much they struggle, how anxious they are and how many times they fail. So what is the solution to feeling less like an impostor?

It is a leap of faith to acknowledge that other minds must work as ours. If we were in their roles, we would not be an imposter. It does not matter if they are our co-workers, boss, the fancy CEO or a famous TV host. Everyone is as flawed and anxious equally as we are – they are - we are normal.

When I started heading the user experience team at Vorwerk, I struggled with feeling like an imposter. Everyone around me seemed bright and innovative, and I could not understand how they even considered hiring me. I wanted to understand what I could do to control these strong emotions. There is a straightforward way to get the hang of it. 

The first thing you have to do is to acknowledge your feelings. Once you can do that, the best thing you should do is talk about it. Once I shared with my team or the boss that I had a moment of doubt and low self-esteem that I was the right person for the job, I was amazed by how the whole dynamic changed. 

It made it possible to hear how others feel and enabled me to revisit positive feedback. Sharing will take the weight off you and will bring you the headspace you need to go forward.

Lastly, you have to start owning your successes. Step away from perfectionism. Try to gain a holistic perspective of your value and the things you change for the better. Small wins are better than no wins. The proof lies in the pudding. 

There are still days when I feel like an imposter. Now I share with my peers that it is one of these days and then move on. This simple reframing helped me a lot. If you want to explore this topic more in-depth, you can ask me anything in the comment section.

About Niklaus Gerber

My thoughts on leadership, life, productivity, design, and innovation.