Unmasking Imposter Syndrome: Why It’s 'Recursive' Regardless of Experience

Imposter syndrome is generally thought to just affect rookies. In reality, it still manages to have a 'recursive' nature, meaning that no matter your experience level, the feeling of not being good enough can pop up at any point in your career.

It’s something that many people experience. This psychological phenomenon doesn't care if you’re a professional developer or just starting out, it will still quietly go after your confidence and leave you doubting all your accomplishments.

What does imposter syndrome feel like?

Imposter syndrome feels like you’re not good enough (even though you’ve proven that you are) and being scared that other people will find out that you’re not as good as they thought you were.

It can include: 

  • Playing off your achievements: Not giving yourself enough credit for what you've accomplished.

  • Comparing yourself to others: Always checking your skills or career against other people.

  • Finding it hard to accept praise: Not believing or feeling awkward when receiving compliments about your work or accomplishments.

  • Having unrealistic and high standards for yourself: Expecting too much from yourself and feeling like only perfection is good enough.

  • Having the fear that you won’t live up to others’ expectations.

What are the 5 types of imposter syndrome?

Not everyone experiences feeling like an “imposter” the same way. Why? It’s because not everyone has the same definition of competence and success. Dr Valerie Young, an researcher and expert on the subject, identified five main types of imposter syndrome: 

  1. The Perfectionist: Focuses on how things are done and sets extremely high standards. Any small flaw is immediately viewed as a failure. They probably don’t know how to delegate and obsess over even the smallest details.

  2. The Superhuman: Feels like they have to take on as many roles as possible (teammember, friend, volunteer, pet parent, etc.) and be successful in each role. They feel they can handle it all without any help, which usually leads to burnout.

  3. The Natural Genius: Expects to master things quickly and easily. If they don’t manage to do something perfectly on the first try, then they feel shame. They’re probably used to success coming to them without really having to try, so dealing with hard work or obstacles is very frustrating for them.

  4. The Soloist: Prefers working alone because they feel it’s necessary to do everything on their own and that getting help would make them a failure. They often feel they can’t rely on others and can lead to them feeling quite isolated. 

  5. The Expert: Feels the need to know everything and anything. If they lack even the smallest piece of knowledge, then to them it’s a sign of failure. They might also be procrastinators with things that make them feel overwhelmed and inadequate.

Do I have imposter syndrome or am I just bad?

You should keep in mind that feeling like you have imposter syndrome, doesn’t mean you’re actually incompetent. If you notice that you tend to think that your success is just luck, don’t believe you deserve what you’ve achieved, or set super high standards for yourself, you might be going through imposter syndrome. 

Having self-doubt is totally normal, even when there is evidence that says otherwise. 

It can affect anyone, at anytime

What makes imposter syndrome so interesting is that it doesn’t discriminate based on experience. No matter how big or small your accomplishments are, it can still cause self-doubt. Even as you climb the ladder of success, that nagging feeling of being a 'fraud' can still haunt you. It can easily go after even the most productive and accomplished people. 

An infinite loop

The brain's way of thinking is a big part of why imposter syndrome keeps happening. It feeds on the stories you tell yourself. When we are constantly telling ourselves that we're not good enough and only remember when things went wrong, our brain validates the idea you were lying to everyone. 

Our brains have a tendency to get stuck on the things you think you did wrong and ignore your successes, leaving you stuck in a never ending loop of self-doubt. 

Mindset plays a big role

Sometimes, the more you achieve, the more you expect from yourself, which can make you feel like you're never doing enough. So if you feel like an imposter, you’ve probably had some level of success in your life. 

Recognizing this pattern and working on a mindset that appreciates your progress while accepting those times when you feel unsure, is a crucial part of growth. 

🔑 Key takeaway

Embracing imposter syndrome as part of growing can be empowering. If you’re pushing yourself to grow and step out of your comfort zone, it’s normal to feel doubts. It’s okay to not have all the answers for everything!

If you embrace self-doubt, you can normalize those feelings and leave room for continuous growth and improvement.

💡 How do you fix imposter syndrome?

Breaking free from imposter syndrome includes realizing that the feelings of self-doubt usually come from negative thought patterns. To stop them from overpowering your brain, you have to change your mindset and make an effort to actively celebrate even your smallest successes. 

Why does this help? Here are some way that celebrating all your successes can help:

  • It builds your confidence: Recognizing your achievements helps you see yourself in a more positive way. 

  • Helps you shift your mindset: It helps train your brain to focus on the good things you've done instead of always thinking about what you didn't do as well.

  • Lets you focus on positivity: Celebrating successes creates a positive feedback loop. When you think positive thoughts, it gets easier to overcome self-doubt.

Basically, celebrating your successes, no matter how small, is like giving your brain a positive boost. It helps you feel good about what you've achieved and helps break the cycle of imposter syndrome and those annoying negative thought patterns.

Imposter syndrome can be caused by various factors, and can be influenced by your work environment, societal pressures, or even your personality. Talking about your experiences and getting support can make a big difference. You don’t have to be a superhuman and you can ask for help! 

Other things to keep in mind to fight off imposter syndrome:

  • Imperfection is normal and it’s okay to make mistakes!! Embrace it and try to learn from them (it’s cheesy but it’s actually true).

  • Take breaks. Take care of yourself. Productivity isn’t defined by just working all day, non stop. Breaks will make you happier and allow you to get more done and in a more efficient way. 

  • Try to forgive yourself and practice self-acceptance. Failures are bound to happen and learning to accept yourself despite them is key to overcoming imposter syndrome.

Navigating imposter syndrome: Final thoughts

Imposter syndrome might come back to annoy you more than once in your life (it’s quite persistent), but that doesn't mean it has to control your professional career. The important thing is to recognize the signs (perfectionism, self-doubt, and fear of failure, etc.) and understand that it's okay to feel that way. 

You're not incompetent just because you doubt yourself sometimes, but it's also important to cheer for what you've achieved, and embrace the challenges that come with growth. 

So, take a moment to appreciate how far you've come and be kind to yourself.  Forgive yourself for not being perfect and you can break free from imposter syndrome and realize that you're actually have a lot potential.