Brown: The pandemic is making impostor syndrome worse

Columnist Jake Brown offers a few tips on how to overcome an overwhelming increase of impostor-like thoughts during a pandemic. 

Jake Brown

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust all of us into a brand new world, and some of us, myself included, are wondering if we are doing a good enough job of “keeping up.” This fear of not doing enough can manifest itself as impostor syndrome, which is detrimental to mental health. 

Feelings of self-doubt can sometimes cause impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome is when a person doubts their accomplishments or talents and has a persistent internalized fear of not being good enough. During a pandemic, with everything in chaos, it’s easy to feel like we aren’t doing enough. 

Lisa Orbé-Austin, a New York City-based psychologist and career coach, explains that anytime you’re in a new role, facing a set of challenges or simply out of your comfort zone, there’s a lot of pressure to perform well.

“That can trigger these feelings of ‘I’m not good enough to do this,’” she said. “This situation we’re in has created a lot of high-stakes moments for people.”

It has been supported that a time of crisis amplifies our biggest fears. Feelings of being ineffective and inadequate are magnified as we struggle with staying productive while working from home. The fear of being overlooked due to lack of face-to-face interaction or appearing unproductive is suffocating and may cause people to work longer hours and participate in more virtual meetings. Once impostor syndrome flares under pandemic-related challenges, it can quickly unravel, and overcoming it becomes much more difficult. 

Messages you got in your childhood, the field you’re in, being in a new situation and not having others around you to express self-doubts with can all contribute to impostor syndrome. However, it is important to note it is actually very common. Sixty-two studies suggest up to 82 percent of individuals may experience impostor-type feelings. 

The good news is impostor syndrome is not a clinical condition. Recognizing these feelings, whether during a pandemic or any other time, can help manage feeling like an impostor. 

“The goal is not to never feel like an impostor again,” said Valerie Young, author of “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Impostor Syndrome.” “The goal is to have the tools to talk yourself down faster when you have a normal impostor moment.”

Here’s how to overcome impostor syndrome and keep impostor-like feelings in check so they don’t hold you back. 

  1. Normalize your impostor feelings. It’s normal to feel self-doubt when you’re walking into a new situation or facing a new challenge, Young said. “You’ve never done this before. Why wouldn’t you feel like an impostor?”

  2. Don’t go at it alone. Having a team around you who can back you up and remind you of your successes and competence when you need it is essential. “Start to tell people you’re struggling with this,” Orbé-Austin said. “Share it.”

  3. Don’t let fears and impostor feelings stop you. “If impostor syndrome is holding you back, making you play small or burning you out, everybody loses.” Young said. “Sometimes you have to get out of your own way, not just for you, but for your organization, for your customers, for your community or for your family and friends.”