Skip to main content

Stuck in Career Transition? Your Type of Imposter Syndrome May Be Holding You Back.

Stuck in Career Transition? Your Type of Imposter Syndrome May Be Holding You Back.

Where are you now?

You may have climbed to the top of the ladder (or jumped off of it!) with perseverance, smarts, and values.

You have perspective and wisdom that comes with work and life experience. A resume your thirty-year-old self would envy! Are we right?

But yet, you find yourself thinking “Who, ME?” instead of “WHY NOT me?”

If you’re like the women we work with at EvolveMe, you’ve experienced a variety of successes by midlife - both in and out of the paid workforce. Managed teams. Increased revenue. Raised the visibility of your company. Helped family and friends. Started your own venture. Mentored others.

By midlife, why can’t you shake off feelings of self-doubt?

Does this sound like you?

  • Feeling like your achievements are mainly due to chance or luck.
  • Secretly fearing you’ll be “found out” as unqualified.
  • Downplaying your accomplishments.
  • Taking feedback too personally.

It’s common to feel like a fraud -- the fear that once others get to know us, they’ll realize we don’t measure up. Men and women both experience this at work, but women and other underrepresented groups suffer more from underestimating their talents and abilities.

And we, as high-achieving women, feel it the most. Why? Because, rather than signaling how competent we are, each success prompts us to set the bar higher for the next time.

These feelings have a name - “imposter syndrome” - a term coined by researchers Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970s. Imposter syndrome is the cause of reduced confidence in many women in the workforce.

Professional inflection points can challenge your identity and cause you to question whether you’re cut out for more. We see this in women in the EvolveMe community every day. Women who are highly credentialed, accomplished, amazing.

Self-doubt can be even more acute for women in career transition – whether you’re changing roles (within or outside your company or industry) or relaunching your career after a break – for caregiving or any other reason.

Most people with imposter syndrome suffer in silence. But you don’t have to live with persistent feelings of being unmasked as a fraud.

In both our work with groups of women reinventing professionally and in our organizational work with female leaders in companies/nonprofits, we’re creating the space for women to be open about these challenges.

And getting honest, unmasking these feelings, has made all the difference.

Self-doubt can be even more acute for women in career transition – whether you’re changing roles (within or outside your company or industry) or relaunching your career after a break - for caregiving or any other reason.

According to a new study by KPMG US, 85% of women in the corporate world have experienced imposter syndrome. That’s nearly all of us!

But here’s the good news: Just the act of sharing these feelings with others can help reduce self-doubt in midlife (or at any age or stage in your career).

That’s why we’re starting the conversation here.

We fell victim too - when were launching EvolveMe. Who were we to start our own company? Did we have the goods to become entrepreneurs? But we acknowledged it and moved on. And here we are now!

[Related: 7 Common Career Fears and How to Move Forward]

Why imposter syndrome matters.

Where does imposter syndrome come from? Perfectionism, taking on the expectations of others (including family), and cultural/gender roles are often the biggest culprits.

Imposter syndrome holds you back and keeps you playing small. It’s important to identify so it doesn’t stop you from being your best self in and out of the workplace.

Self-doubt can keep you from networking (internally and outside your company), trying for advancement opportunities, asking for a promotion, negotiating a higher salary, speaking up at meetings, or proposing something new.

And imposter syndrome affects not only you. It also impacts those you work with. If you’re a leader of a team or mentor others, you need to be aware of it.

The behaviors associated with imposter syndrome – like not taking risks or avoiding new approaches out of fear of failing — can be costly for you and the people around you. Not only women you work with directly but women across sectors.

[Related: Design Your Career Trajectory with Smart Growth]

What “flavor” of imposter syndrome do you have?

Building off the original research, another psychologist, Dr. Valerie Young, identified five categories of imposter syndrome.

Thinking about it in this way can help you better understand how self-doubt is showing up for you:

  • The Perfectionist: You beat yourself up if you forget one minor point in a presentation or other work product. You need to be flawless.
  • The Expert: You never have enough information to feel qualified. You want to know everything - check all the boxes - before you do anything.
  • The Natural Genius: You have such natural talent in certain areas that when you struggle to learn something, you feel like an imposter. You believe intelligence is innate rather than developed.
  • The Soloist: You go it alone and think asking for help is a sign you don’t really know what you’re doing.
  • The Superhuman: You need to prove you can do it all – and be the best at everything you do. You can’t say no (that would be admitting you have limitations) and have trouble setting boundaries.

These nuances matter. Think about what “flavor” of imposter syndrome you may have now. How can knowing how it shows up for you help you to tackle it?

For example, if you suffer from being a “perfectionist,” can you adopt the mindset that “perfect is the enemy of good” in order to move forward?

Or if you’re a “soloist,” can you identify someone to ask for help the next time you need a sounding board?

Some women tell us their imposter syndrome is a combination of categories. Are you a “superhuman” who can’t say no AND also an “expert?” This may leave you taking on too many projects and needing to research ALL of them exhaustively before you feel qualified to take action.

You can see how understanding your brand of imposter syndrome can be an advantage.

Having imposter syndrome is not destiny! If you think different thoughts, you’ll take different actions and get better results.

[Related: Three Exercises and Prompts to Figure Out What to Do in Your Career]

--

Ready to take the next step and invest in yourself? Become more self-aware of your approach to work and you’ll feel more confident and satisfied... and be a better teammate! Download EvolveMe's free tool - The EvolveMe Personal User Manual. It will help you understand your work style and how you work best with others.

Linda Lautenberg, Co-Founder of EvolveMe, is a return to work expert, women’s career advancement strategist, and champion for all midlife career changers. Along with her co-founder, Linda developed EvolveMe’s proprietary DARE Method of Career Reinvention to help cohorts of high achieving women find clarity, gain confidence, and launch the best chapter of their professional life. Linda's work has appeared in Forbes.com, cnn.com, Reuter’s World at Work, the Ellevate Network, and Fairygodboss. And she was nominated for the Forbes’ 50Over50 List. Get the inspiration you need for your next career move by downloading EvolveMe’s FREE training: 6 Mindset Traps that Sabotage Career Transition in Midlife.

As Co-Founder of EvolveMe, Judy Schoenberg is a career strategist and leadership expert for women in midlife career transition who are exploring a return to the workforce or are pivoting careers. Through the DARE Method of Career Reinvention she created with her co-founder, Judy helps cohorts of women find the clarity and confidence to own their value and pursue new opportunities. She’s appeared in Forbes.com, cnn.com, Reuter’s World at Work, the Ellevate Network and Fairygodboss. If you need a place to start getting unstuck, download EvolveMe’s FREE training: 6 Mindset Traps that Sabotage Career Transition in Midlife.


Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.

{{playbook.title}}

Continue learning with this Ellevate Playbook.: