5 ways to turn imposter syndrome into confidence and conviction

Rowena Millward

Rowena Millward, author of Uncomfortable Growth – Own Your Reinvention, is a global leader in business and personal growth. After 25 years working in Top 500 companies, she now provides consulting and capability services for many of the world's most admired brands and companies. Rowena also provides executive career and life coaching, helping leaders navigate significant crossroads to find meaning in both joy and challenge.

Imposter syndrome. That feeling others will discover you are actually not as good as they expect, and at any point you will be exposed and ridiculed as a fraud. If you can relate to this, then you are not alone. It is estimated 70 per cent of the population have experienced and suffer from imposter syndrome. 

At its core, imposter syndrome is triggered by fear, resulting in feelings that you are unworthy (and hence likely to be discovered as a fraud) despite strong evidence of competence and success.  Some of the most successful people have suffered from it.  Former first lady, Michelle Obama, has shared for her “it never goes away”, and Atlassian co-founder, Mike Cannon-Brookes, has admitted to constantly feeling like an imposter throughout the history of Atlassian, a multi-billion-dollar company. Imposter syndrome lives not in reality but fear. 

It is the psychological experience of not being confident in your ability to meet challenges, resulting in self-doubt overshadowing actual success.

So how do you turn imposter syndrome into confidence and conviction?

First of all, it is not possible to ‘turn off fear’. Ignoring it won’t make it go away – rather, it is likely to escalate). It’s wired into us and part of being human. Fear though lives in our subconscious and is mostly irrational. In fact, research has shown 90 per cent of worries and fears don’t come true.

So the best way forward is to recognise your fear, examine it with curiosity, then reframe your fear as an ‘uncomfortable growth’ opportunity. Reframing your fear will reduce its irrational grip. As you learn and gain small wins, your confidence and conviction will grow, until one day your imposter syndrome is not there (or at least dramatically reduced). 

To reframe and resolve your imposter syndrome, use these five steps:

1. Name your fear

Actually stating what your fear is turns the swirling emotion of ‘being a fraud and failing’ into something tangible. Now you have something which can be examined.  Is it a fear of not knowing the detail behind a completely new business? A fear of now being the CMO and responsible for all of marketing? A fear the CEO doesn’t understand your expertise?  

Fears grow when they are formless, so turn them into a specific statement that you can examine. 

2. Examine your fear with curiosity

This enables you to look at the facts behind your imposter syndrome. Is this fear likely? Has it ever happened before? What can you do to reduce the likelihood of this fear happening? Are your expectations unreasonably high?

Use curiosity to look critically at your fear from all sides, and pinpoint what is driving it. The more specific you are, the easier it is to reframe.

3. Reframe fear into a positive

Learning and growth is the positive outcome from embracing uncertainty, but we are more strongly wired for fear so this often dominates. The opportunity is to consciously reframe your fear into a positive. Perhaps this is a new skill, or career path?  Perhaps this is a promotion you worked hard for? Perhaps you have been feeling stuck and bored and this is a new source of growth? 

Focus on the benefits which can turn uncertainty into a positive and give you the courage and conviction to take action.

4. Take action and gain some small wins 

Once you reframe fear as a positive, it becomes less paralysing. So take action. Rebuild your confidence and conviction by demonstrating to yourself you are capable. 

Also don’t be afraid to ask for help. That is not being incompetent, but smart and learning is a life-long skill. 

5. Treat your imposter syndrome as a friend

Imposter syndrome may come and go throughout your career and life. Rather than getting lost in the fear or angry for doubting yourself, see it as a friend who is there to help you navigate uncertainty. After all, it’s just your subconscious trying to keep you safe.

While the heart of imposter syndrome is fear of being a fraud, this fear does not mean it will happen. Rather, it means you are human. Imposter Syndrome is proof that you are amazing and capable of always learning and expanding to become more.      


Tags: business leadership, marketing leadership

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