Superheroes. They seem ridiculously perfect at first instance, but dig a little deeper and there’s a weakness to be found: Superman’s kryptonite, Wonder Woman’s fragile skin, Hulk’s unpredictable rage (hey, Big Guy, we’ve all been there).

While imposter syndrome isn’t among the weaknesses of our fave comic book heroes, it is a weakness for many of us highly qualified, trained, experienced freelancers. 

A reflection exercise for you: you’ve managed to score a top new client on retainer, a published piece for a dream masthead, or had a fee accepted by a client that was much higher than your usual rate (and FOR ONCE on par with your skills and expertise). Hands up how many of you have then felt personally victimised by Regina George these phrases?

  • I don’t know enough to do this job
  • They are going to find out I’m not that qualified 
  • I got this job on pure luck

Mmhmm. Same. 

The trickiest part about imposter syndrome is that it’s entirely internal. That battle with self-doubt; a fear of being ‘caught out’ as underqualified; that nagging feeling that you just *got lucky this time*.

Imposter syndrome was first identified in high-achieving women (surprise, surprise) in a 1978 study by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. Recent studies demonstrate the prevalence of imposter syndrome among professionals in general, and in particular Millennials, which could be attributed to growing up among rapid technological advancement and increased societal pressures via social media and the subsequent strive for perfectionism.  

In short, imposter syndrome can be crippling to confidence and productivity. But, there’s a way to harness those feelings of inferiority into a positive force of change. 

Room to grow

The truth is, no one knows their job inside-out, and professional growth simply *can’t* happen without room in your role to actually, well, learn. Feeling like there’s always room for learning is a very good quality to have. There’s only so much books and tertiary study can teach you before you go out into any job, and there’s nothing quite like learning on the fly. Jumped into the deep end? Channel the doubt into a driver to seek out mentors, extra training and workshops. Ask all the questions (sooner, rather than later).

And remember, even CEOs feel the fear. Take Atlassian CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes, who famously engaged in a Twitter tête-à-tête with Elon Musk regarding Tesla’s proposal to solve South Australia’s power crisis with a giant battery.

“Within 24 hours, I had every major media outlet texting and emailing and trying to get in contact with me to get an opinion as some sort of ‘expert’ in energy,” he explained in a 2017 TedTalk. “I knew I was miles out of my depth. But instead of freezing, I tried to learn as much as I could, motivated by my fear of generally looking like an idiot, and tried to turn that into some sort of a force for good.

Taking ownership

Don’t know about you, but my imposter syndrome is comorbid with a (frustrating AF) inability to accept accomplishment. That is, a successfully completed task is only successful because of blind luck. Whenever you’ve completed something, try journaling a reflection that sort of evaluates the journey, and lists all the steps you had to take to get there, and the feedback you received along the way. Then read it again. Get into the habit of doing this to train your brain to take ownership of the work you’ve done and how your skills have developed over time. 

The power of empathy

There’s value in lived experience with imposter syndrome, in that can equip you with a strong sense of empathy – considered an essential skill of successful leaders. Listening to others and sharing your own experience can open up a host of opportunities in mentoring, peer support and even training. Everyone has to learn from someone, right?