Impostor Syndrome: Slaying the Beast

Part II: Warning Signs

Posted by 'Tine Zekis on December 20, 2019 · 6 mins read

Welcome to Part II of a three-part series on Impostor Syndrome: Slaying the Beast. In this section, we will go over some of the ways to recognize Impostor Syndrome. Here are the sections for the full series:

This series is adapted from a talk I gave in 2019 at Music City Tech, Cream City Code, and TechBash. You can find the slides from that talk here, and you can watch the talk I gave at TechBash here.

If you have not yet read Part I of this series, you can check it out here.

Impostor Syndrome: Warning Signs

So, let's get into something practical. How can we recognize Impostor Syndrome when it starts to sneak up on us? Here are some warning signs that you might be experiencing Impostor Syndrome:

Cartoon of a person with brown skin and short, black and pink hair, looking through a magnifying glass

Bitmoji: Magnifying Glass

  1. You have difficulty accepting praise. Lots of people feel weird getting compliments, but "impostors" have trouble even recognizing praise as valid.
  2. You're an over-worker. Perhaps you keep working on a project until it is well beyond the level that the average person would deem acceptable.
  3. You feel the need to be the best. Many "impostors" were high achieving as children, and as adults feel compelled to compete when they get into new situations and surround themselves with other smart and talented people.
  4. You're described as a perfectionist. We "impostors" often hold ourselves to impossible standards of perfection. Anything short of this is considered a failure.
  5. The fear of failure can paralyze you. Have you ever opted not to try something, in order to avoid the possibility of failing?
  6. You avoid showing confidence. This one is more common among people from marginalized genders. This avoidance can come from a fear of appearing to overcompensate, or from a fear of not being able to measure up to expectations.
  7. You actually dread success. Not feeling worthy of success can lead us to feelings of guilt when we are acknowledged or rewarded for it.
  8. You compare your struggles and obstacles to those of others. Everyone compares themselves to others, but "impostors" constantly tell themselves that everyone else is getting by with fewer struggles in life than they are.
  9. You associate praise with charm over actual talent. Because people with Impostor Syndrome are typically highly intelligent and good at interacting with others, people often find them charming. It is then easy to associate any praise from supervisors or other authority figures as a result of that charm, rather than of our intellect, talent, or hard work.
  10. You focus more on what you haven't done. Going back to that impossible standard of perfection, it's often difficult for us to meet our goals or milestones according to our own expectations. So instead of focusing on our many accomplishments, we tend to dwell on what we haven't done, or what we haven't done "well enough".
  11. You're convinced you aren't enough. This last one tends to cut pretty deep. This is about that overwhelming feeling of being a fraud - the fear that one day, everyone will realize you're not everything they thought you were. It's the feeling that you are less qualified than your peers, or that you lucked into where you are today.

I also highly recommend the Impostor Syndrome quiz in Sarah Cooper's How to Be Successful without Hurting Men's Feelings: Non-threatening Leadership Strategies for Women. At the end of the chapter on Ambition, Cooper includes a 7-question quiz to determine whether you have — or, perhaps more accurately, the extent to which you have — Impostor Syndrome. Much like the rest of the book, it's very tongue in cheek. But it does shine a light on the kinds of thinking that you can begin to recognize as your Impostor Syndrome talking. And of course, recognizing these thought patterns is a vital first step in learning to disrupt them.

I imagine that you are reading this because you have experienced some amount of Impostor Syndrome in your life. So, now what? It's time for our fight scene! (Part III: Fight Scene)

Cartoon of a person with brown skin and short, black and pink hair, holding up fists as if to fight

Bitmoji: Fight

Thanks for reading! For the rest of the series, check out the other two posts:


Special thanks to all the people who made and released these awesome resources for free:

  1. Images by Bitmoji app and Chrome plugin
  2. Impostor Syndrome definition paraphrased from Wikipedia
  3. Research by Pauline Rose Clance, Ph.D., ABPP
  4. Kimberlé Crenshaw on intersectionality by Columbia Law School
  5. Quotations by InStyle and Goodreads
  6. Impostor Syndrome warning signs by Power of Positivity