Understand how we got here — and how to move forward.


February 7, 2018

When you feel self-doubts creep in, take these 5 steps

Daily Briefing

Nearly all professionals have a moment when they doubt whether they're really as talented as others seem to think they are, Christian Jarrett writes for 99U. Jarrett explains that the feeling is extremely common—and shares how to move past it.

These feelings of self-doubt have been dubbed the "impostor phenomenon" by researchers, Jarrett writes. Individuals experiencing it worry that their success has come down entirely to chance—and that one day, the truth will come out and everyone will realize just how incompetent they secretly are.  Jarrett cites one study showing that nearly 70% of people experience self-doubts like these at some point.

The detrimental effects of this mindset are severe. Dismissing your professional merits will hold you back in your career, Jarrett notes. In fact, another study form the University of Salzburg found that the impostor phenomenon can lead to lower pay, fewer promotions, and lower job satisfaction.

To break out of the cycle, Jarrett suggests the following:

1. Keep your perfectionism in check

Impostor syndrome tends to correlate with extreme perfectionism, according to a recent Belgian study of 200 professionals. Jarrett recommends learning the difference between a healthy level of perfectionism—doing your best for your own satisfaction—and an unhealthy degree of perfectionism, which might include obsessing over past mistakes and avoiding criticism.

2. Stop sabotaging yourself

According to Jarrett, individuals with impostor syndrome have a tendency to self-sabotage: they might purposefully procrastinate or limit work advantages so as to give themselves "a ready-made excuse for when things go wrong." But they also tend to suspect that things will go wrong at the outset anyway—so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To build healthier habits, Jarrett encourages you to remind yourself of the "joy of creation for its own sake." Focus on the process, rather than the end result.

3. Don't put others on a pedestal

If you suffer from impostor syndrome, chances are, you think your colleagues all got to where they are based on some sort of brilliance that you lack.

But, as Jarrett bluntly puts it: "This is an illusion."

In reality, your colleagues' career trajectories probably aren't that different from your own—and statistically, many of them probably also have impostor syndrome.

Jarrett recommends finding mentors or other people you trust and asking about their careers.

4. Surround yourself with support

Anxiety and low confidence contribute to impostor syndrome. But researchers have found that cultivating a network of supportive peers can help not only reduce impostor feelings, but also improve your engagement and satisfaction with work. To work best, you'll need to have people in your network who can provide you with constructive criticism, Jarrett writes.

5. Push out of your comfort zone

Impostor syndrome creates a meaningful drag on your career. The best way to counter this, Jarrett writes, is to be more mindful about pushing forward. Jarrett recommends actively seeking out new opportunities and working toward promotions (Jarrett, 99U, accessed 3/25).

Upcoming webconference series: How to strengthen interpersonal communication

This skill-building webconference series will provide members tips, best practices and helpful frameworks for improving a skill that all health care professionals, and any professional for that matter, need in order to be successful in their role: strong communication skills. The two-part series will cover navigating difficult conversations and effectively getting one's message across.

Register for the Series

Have a Question?


Ask our experts a question on any topic in health care by visiting our member portal, AskAdvisory.