Stepping into the real world after graduating from college can be daunting. When I started working at my first job out of college, I felt a sense of low confidence in myself and in my abilities. I genuinely believed that the only reason I got my job was some sort of lucky break. When I confided in my parents and close friends about my feelings, they assured me that being a Division I College Athlete and graduating from one of the top universities in the nation with a high GPA certainly qualified me for my entry-level position. However, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was incapable and inadequate. I decided to turn to the internet to see if anyone else had felt these same feelings, and one day I googled the search term “feeling incapable and unqualified in my job”. The first hit was an article from Forbes titled “How to Address and Overcome Imposter Syndrome”. I had never heard the term before, so I decided to continue reading. 

The term Imposter Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. They defined “imposter syndrome” as “a feeling of phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable, or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” Research shows that 70% of people will experience these feelings at some point in their lives, especially in business. I later stumbled upon a study 

I was shocked when I read that the same feeling of inadequateness and fear of being exposed that I experienced in my entry-level position was strikingly common among many of America’s highly successful CEOs. For example, Ricky Joshi, CEO of the Saatva Company stated that: “While I knew intrinsically that I was competent, I found difficulty in navigating this new space with my new company. That’s what’s so tricky about imposter syndrome: you know you’re good, but it doesn’t always show.” Even Australian tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes, the CEO of software company Atlassian CEO, said that he has experienced imposter syndrome. In a Sydney TedX conference, he stated: “Internally, you know you’re not skilled, experienced or ever qualified enough to justify being there — yet you are there, and you have to figure a way out because you can’t just ‘get out.” What shocked me the most about imposter syndrome was the idea that many successful people think that their success or status at work is a result of luck. How could this be? These individuals are obviously intelligent and have a strong work ethic to land a job as the Chief Executive Officer of a company. However, many felt the contrary.  

Luck is a controversial topic in the business world. While there is certainly something to be said about being in the right place at the right time and a lucky bounce, I would argue that sustained success in business cannot be the result of pure luck. Real Estate mogul Grant Cardone once stated, “everything that happens in your life comes as a result of your own responsibility, not merely some outside force.” Success in business is a result of consistent hard work over a long period of time, not just because of luck. Luck may play a small role, but the outcome of your career and your life is ultimately determined by the actions you take on a day to day basis. Ricky Joshi, Mike Cannon-Brookes, and other CEOs who suffer from imposter syndrome are in the position they are today not by mere luck. 

So if you are suffering from imposter syndrome, how do you get out of it? Through my research, the most popular way to un-do this train of thought is to let go of your inner perfectionist. Many people who suffer from imposter syndrome are high achievers and have high expectations for themselves. Perfectionism only feeds imposter syndrome. In order to let go of the anxiety of feeling like a fraud, one must shy away from perfectionism and adopt a growth mindset. You must realize that you are in the position that you are currently in due to merit: you put in the work, you are smart, you are capable, and your peers believe in you. You are where you should be, and nobody is perfect, so do not expect perfection from yourself.  

Another valuable alternative to imposter syndrome is to turn to other successful CEOs and executives as mentors who can give you valuable pieces of advice.  For example, Jim Fitzgerald, founder and CEO of Taradel, a successful marketing and advertising agency, often gets asked about luck. His mantra is that “Success in business requires a reasonable amount of skill and intelligence, but hard work trumps everything. The harder you work, the more opportunities present themselves. Apologies to the leprechauns, but luck has nothing to do with it.” Whether you just entered the job market or you are an experienced CEO, and you begin to doubt your abilities and skillset, remember these wise words from Jim Fitzgerald: “hard work trumps everything.” While you cannot control the outcomes in both life and in business, you can control your work ethic, so get your nose to the grindstone and get to work!