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Three Secret Impostor Syndrome Triggers (That Aren't About Self-Confidence)

Three Secret Impostor Syndrome Triggers (That Aren't About Self-Confidence)

You’re a high achiever, someone who gets things done. And this drive to succeed has led to big accomplishments - in both your career and life.

So why do you so often feel like you've just been lucky and/or don't belong? And why do you worry that your colleagues and friends will one day discover that you don’t deserve what you have?

That feeling - like you’re a fraud who doesn’t deserve all you’ve accomplished - is called impostor syndrome. And it’s more common than you might think, especially in high achievers like yourself.

Many people believe that impostor syndrome is yet another term for low self-confidence. Case in point: When I told my husband that I was writing this article, he responded with, “So you’re writing about self-confidence issues.”

But self-doubt and low self-confidence levels are symptoms of impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome is, at its core, a self-assessment problem.

In my experience, the following traits are common in impostor syndrome sufferers:

  • Holding yourself to impossible standards.
  • Trying to control your environment.
  • Comparing yourself to others.

These three traits are silent impostor syndrome triggers. They lead to self-assessment standards that are unreachable, making you feel like you'll never measure up and that you don't deserve what you have.

Let’s break these down and discuss how to overcome them.

Holding yourself to impossible standards.

There are several types of people who fall into this category, including:

  • Perfectionists.
  • Those trying to do and have it all.
  • Soloists who want to do everything on their own.

But no one is perfect, doing it all is a myth, and everyone needs help. When holding yourself to these standards, you’ll never feel good enough (and success will be rare).

The problem is that most people don’t realize the extent to which they hold themselves to these standards. They feel that it's not a big deal and is just a part of who they are. And that’s the key to moving past them.

Identify where and how often these traits show up in your life and be honest with yourself about how impossible they are. After that, it's time to:

  • Replace perfectionism with a standard of good enough.
  • Prioritize and set firm boundaries.
  • Delegate and ask for help where needed.

[Related: Three Questions to Help You Decide Where to Set Boundaries]

Controlling tendencies.

If you’re like most high-achievers, there are too many demands on your time and energy (both from work and personal obligations). This juggling act creates overwhelm and makes you feel like you have no control over your life. And so you naturally want to try to control as much as you can.

The problem is that most people try to control the wrong things, such as other people and circumstances. But you can't control those things. Not only does this create an impossible standard, but doubling down on trying to control things that aren't controllable will only make you feel more out of control.

What’s the answer? Change your focus. Let go of those things and start focusing on what you can control…your thoughts and behavior.

Focusing primarily on input (as opposed to outcome) will help you let go of what you can't control. And it will give you back control of your life.

[Related: How to Take Back Control of Your Life for a Happy Career and Balanced Lifestyle]

Comparing yourself to others.

We live in a culture that loves to compare. And social media has made it easier to get caught up in what everyone else has achieved, how happy others appear to be, and how effortless it all looks.

It's easy to feel like others have it together more than you (especially when you see only what they want you to), leading you to feel like an impostor. After all, you don't always have the answers and can sometimes be a hot mess.

How do you combat this? First, remind yourself that what you see on the outside isn’t real. You’re only seeing the end result they want you to see. Not how hard they worked, their own self-doubt, or whether they’re even happy.

Next, have a clear vision for what you want and why. Connect it to your core values and set your goals based on both your values and your overarching vision.

And then check in often to ensure that you’re aligned with your vision and goals. This will keep you focused on what’s most important to you instead of what others are doing.

Impostor syndrome is more than just a self-confidence problem. If you want to conquer it, identify and change the self-evaluation standards that are contributing to it.

[Related: Four Ways to Get Unstuck at Work and In Life]

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Heather Moulder is an attorney and executive career coach who helps successful yet unfulfilled professionals create a balanced, fulfilling lifestyle without sacrificing their success. She writes and speaks often on how to retrain your mind for resilience and confidently take back control of your life. Go here for additional articles and resources to help you overcome overwhelm, increase resilience, and achieve success from the inside-out so that life can be fun again.


Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.

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