Imposter Syndrome in Finance: 5 Tips on How to Overcome it

“If you look for perfection, you'll never be content.” -Leo Tolstoy

Identified in 1978 by social psychologists at Georgia State University, the imposter syndrome is the phenomenon of believing oneself to be undeserving of their achievements. The psychological phenomenon is common with high achievers who believe they are an inadequate and incompetent failure despite evidence and accomplishments that indicate they are skilled and actually, quite successful. Based on self-doubt, the syndrome affects more people than we think – according to an article published by the International Journal of Behavioral Science, 70% of people suffer from imposter syndrome at some point in their lives.

The worst and most severe cases of imposter syndrome could be observed in industries which encourage top overachievers and expect professionals to perform to the highest standards. Finance is one such industry. Working for big banks, accounting and consulting firms comes with working extraordinarily long hours and believing that this is the norm. Constant competition with peers and setting the bar impossibly high in order to ‘stand out from the crowd’ and be noticed is also considered normal by the industry.

The chronic self-doubt and crippling fear of being exposed that comes with the imposter syndrome can undermine even the most capable finance professionals, regardless of how successful they are in their field. Here are Finance Monthly’s top 5 tips on how to overcome imposter syndrome in the workplace.

  1. Stop seeking perfection.

 There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being driven and aiming for excellent results, however, when we convince ourselves that we should always excel at absolutely everything we do, any result starts to produce some relative degree of failure and we stop being satisfied with what we’ve accomplished – because we feel like there’s always more that can be done to achieve perfection. It’s a very unhealthy vicious cycle which can result in endless hours spent on a project, sleepless nights and an inevitable feeling of unfulfillment no matter what the end result is. You need to find the right balance between working hard towards something and being able to enjoy the praise you get for it, without wishing you had done more. And even when you make a mistake or fail at something, take a deep breath and say to yourself that this is just how life works – you win some and you lose some and that is absolutely OK.

  1. Accept praise for your achievements.

 If your manager or colleague is congratulating or complimenting you on something you’ve done, it’s most likely because you deserve it. It’s common for imposters to ignore such comments because they feel like they don’t deserve them. But guess what – you do deserve them! Remind yourself that you do work very hard and that the meeting with that client was successful because of the insights that you contributed. You are doing great and if you’re hearing compliments, it is because you deserve them. It’s as simple as that!

  1. Stop comparing yourself to people who are not on the same level as you.

We’ve all read a news story or watched a video or a documentary about an extremely successful individual, which has then made us feel like absolute failures regardless of how successful we actually are or all the hard work that’s taken to get to that stage. Comparing ourselves to highly successful people, without considering all the other factors (such as luck, family money, their work-life balance, etc.) that could have helped them get to the top is completely unnecessary and could be very harmful to people who are suffering from imposter syndrome. Accepting that we can’t all be Elon Musk because he works 120 hours a week and his career is an unattainable example for most of us and is the healthy thing to do here.

The worst and most severe cases of imposter syndrome could be observed in industries which encourage top overachievers and expect professionals to perform to the highest standards,

  1. Be kind to yourself.

Of course, this is easier said than done, but it is important to remember that you are just a person and that is absolutely enough. You don’t need to be superhuman and although it may feel like your managers are expecting superhuman results from you – they are not. As important as career is, there are a lot of things in life that are more important and your health, both physical and mental, is one of them.

Do not let the fear of failing, which to people who experience imposter syndrome equates to a fear of not performing to the highest standard possible, undermine the achievements and victories you must be proud of. Don’t compare yourself to your peers and stop doubting everything you do. Work hard, but look after yourself too and know where your limits are. Life’s too short.

  1. Remember, you are not alone.

 As mentioned earlier, imposter syndrome affects 70% of people and the majority of high-achieving people in the world struggle with it regularly. Discussing the issues and self-doubts you’re battling with your colleagues, friends, family and even mentors and managers can only have a positive impact on your mental health – especially if the person has dealt with something similar in the past. Don’t be scared or ashamed to discuss it openly – you are never alone.

 

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