Imposter syndrome: 5 steps to kill the monster


If there’s one thing that raises its ugly head from time to time, and threatens to undermine all freelancers, it’s imposter syndrome. I don’t know a single freelancer who hasn’t been hit with it at some point.

It starts off as a niggle … ‘oh, I do that differently to Freelancers R Us.’

Then, despite the shoulder shrug and the acceptance that we all do things in a different way, the little niggle turns into a monster that runs off to hide in the corner.

Within a few days the little monster wants feeding again … ‘Oh, hell, am I doing this right?’ (Yum, he likes that … back to the corner a little fatter and more satisfied).

By the end of the week he’s sitting by your side as you work, he’s stroking your shoulder and feeding off your fear … ‘Oh, I’m rubbish, no-one will want to hire me ever again, I really don’t know what I’m doing. I’m a fraud.’

It’s about time we all understood the genesis of this particular type of monster, and learned how to crush him.

The Imposter Monster seems to prefer a solitary environment and he also seems to prefer women (are men naturally more confident?) although he will attack both genders and will creep into a busy office if it takes his fancy. If you work on your own, and have no-one to reassure you, there are steps you can take to avoid monster propagation.

Step 1

Realise that this monster will attack the vulnerable.

Step 2

If you feel the first niggle, take stock, understand the situation and realise that the monster is trying to feed. This may be enough to kill the monster dead – accept what it is and let it go.

Step 3

If the monster does take hold understand this:

  • Just because you find something easy, or something comes naturally to you, don’t discount it.
  • Remember that not everyone knows what you know and not everyone deals with things the same way.
  • You don’t necessarily need the same pathway to a career as everyone else.
  • If you think you are a fraud, most other people you know think the same thing about themselves.

Step 4

To keep the monster at bay realise your self-worth. It is not a dirty word.

  • Print out and keep emails that praise your work, or even just say thank you for a job well done. Pin them to your board, keep them in a jar, put them in a folder. Imposter syndrome thrives on the lack of outside validation – keep these positive messages and believe them. You didn’t ask for them to be written did you?
  • If you did ask for testimonials, believe them … those clients would not react favourably to a job badly done.
  • When you have good days keep a note, put them in a jar and go back to them when you feel the monster growing beside you.
  • Talk to someone. If the monster has grown huge and won’t let you go, take a realistic view of your work. If you really feel a fraud ask someone you can trust for an honest opinion.
  • Keep a book of training, accomplishments and successes. Prove to yourself that you are not a fraud. Be a Vulcan, leave emotion behind and concentrate on the cold, hard facts of your working life.
  • Laugh it off. If it gets bad, take the day off if you can, do something fun and remove the stress for a short while. Stress to the Imposter Monster is like a fine dining experience.

Step 5

Kill the monster. By believing in yourself, and understanding the nature of the beast, you may eventually kill it. If you do you are one of the lucky ones.

So … realise, take stock and understand the problem to keep the monster at bay, then kill it. Imposter syndrome can be a career killer, it’s about time this monster was vanquished.

(For the record, I haven’t killed my monster yet, it’s right beside me as I type this … I may feed it in a minute).

Sara Donaldson - FreelanceThis post was originally published on Sara Donaldson’s s blog. Sara is a freelance editor with an eye for a mystery. When not editing a range of projects (mostly non-fiction) she can be found with her Sherlock hat on as a professional genealogist. You can find her on Twitter.